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A Yelich You Can’t Scratch: Solving the Middle Order Woes

Christian Yelich

It’s official. MLB has approved the Marlins sale and the Jeter/Sherman group appears prepared to rebuild. This is great news for the St. Louis Cardinals because, as we’ve heard so many times this year, they need a middle of the order hitter. The Marlins will be looking to shed payroll in a significant way and luckily enough, the Cardinals have room to add payroll. The two teams are a great match to make a deal.

So who do they target? All of the buzz is about Giancarlo Stanton, and for good reason. Stanton just hit 59 home runs while playing his home games in the very spacious Marlins park. The issue is that Stanton has an incredibly difficult mega contract attached to him. He is owed a minimum of $295 million over the next ten years. And if that weren’t difficult enough to value, he can also opt out after the 2020 season. There’s no doubt that if the Cardinals could add Stanton it would immediately put them back into serious playoff contention. I just don’t believe that he’s the best fit for them among Marlins outfielders.

That’s where Christian Yelich comes into play. I know, I know, “But he’s not a power hitter!”. I get it, fans want the big thumper in the middle of the lineup. Yelich may not be the huge source of power that Stanton is, but he is an extremely good young player, and is on a contract that is an absolute steal. He just completed his age 25 season and I believe his best days are ahead of him. This type of player almost never becomes available, and the Cardinals need to do everything in their power to get him.

His contract is incredibly team friendly

Yelich signed a 7 year/$49.57MM deal before the 2015 season. Taking into account the player that he has become, calling this contract a bargain would be an understatement. Here’s how it shakes out by year.

Age Salary
2018 26 $7,000,000
2019 27 $9,750,000
2020 28 $12,500,000
2021 29 $14,000,000
2022 30 $15,000,000*

*2022 is a team option with a $1.25M buyout.

As you can see, this deal is incredibly team friendly throughout the life of it. He never even meets the amount of a qualifying offer in any season.

So just how good is he?

After appearing in 62 games his 2013 rookie year, Yelich has played four full seasons in the big leagues. Three of those four seasons he has finished with an fWAR of exactly 4.5. The only exception was an injury shortened 2015 season in which he played 126 games and had a 2.4 fWAR.

Yelich has played left field for the majority of his career but he transitioned into center field full time this past season. He rates slightly better as a left fielder but it looks like he can handle center field pretty well. Which would be nice considering we don’t know whether Dexter Fowler will be manning center going forward or not.

At the plate Yelich is a very interesting guy. He’s been very good at getting on base his entire career with a .369 OBP. When he initially came up he showed a little bit of pop. Enough to hit 10 or so home runs per year. That has quickly developed into 20 home run power as he has started hitting the ball in the air more often. The past two seasons he hit 21 and then 18 homers. I believe that he’s on his way to 25-30 home run power but that’s something that I’ll get into in a separate piece, probably sometime next week.

If we look at his wRC+ since his power developed the last two seasons we’ll see that he’s in some very good company. His 123 wRC+ puts him inside the top 50 of all MLB. Just behind guys like Michael Conforto, Carlos Santana, and Ryan Braun, and just ahead of guys like Willson Contreras, Trea Turner, and Mookie Betts. Not bad for a 25 year old right?

Conclusion

I think it’s clear that Yelich is an extremely talented player, and on a great contract to go with it. He would immediately step in as one of the Cardinals best players. The thing about him though, is that the numbers he’s put up the past couple of seasons are what I believe his floor is. He has the potential to be one of the very best players in baseball, with the safety net of being a highly productive player.

Now the downside is that Yelich is going to cost in prospects, and he’s going to cost a lot. Think of something on the level of what the Nationals gave up for Adam Eaton last offseason. They traded away Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning.

As I said, the cost will be high, but Yelich is as close to a sure thing as there is on a baseball field. It hurts to give up the prospects, but this is the type of player the Cardinals need to pull the trigger on. He’s a cornerstone player that doesn’t affect the teams abilities to improve in other ways. It would leave them the payroll flexibility to be competitive in the highly anticipated 2018-2019 free agent class, whereas a deal for Stanton wouldn’t.

Thanks for reading

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