Christian Yelich has picked up right where he left off
Regression? What regression? Christian Yelich has taken any talk of a 2019 backslide and blasted it 400 feet into the nearest set of bleachers.
It was almost assumed that the Brewers outfielder would take a step backwards this season, after his ridiculously hot second half propelled Milwaukee into the postseason and earned him National League MVP honors last year. There were obvious reasons to predict a slight dip in 2019, though his youth and impressive hard hit rate rate last season indicated the potential to sustain his performance definitely existed.
And sustain he has! Even though all small sample size caveats still apply, Yelich has picked up right where he left off in 2018. Through four games – against the division rival St. Louis Cardinals, no less – the 27-year-old slugger is 6-12 with four home runs, eight RBIs and six walks.
He is just the sixth player in history to homer in four straight games to open the season, joining Willie Mays, Mark McGwire, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis and Trevor Story. Yelich will go for the record of five consecutive games on Monday in Cincinnati, where he batted .448 with four home runs in seven games last season (including this legendary outing).
Entering Sunday's game, Yelich already topped baseball in a bevy of key offensive statistics dating back to the start of the second half in 2018: OPS (1.219), batting average (.367), slugging percentage (.770), runs (58) and RBIs (67). On Sunday, he sandwiched three more walks into his ledger between a first-inning solo shot and a ninth-inning walk-off two-run double.
Even the most optimistic Brewers fan probably expected Yelich's meteoric rise to find gravity in 2019, but it may be time to officially bump him alongside the game's elite. Since he became a full-time contributor in 2014, Yelich is eighth among all players in wins above replacement, and some of the names above him (such as Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson, and Buster Posey) have already begun their decline. Yelich, meanwhile, is still finding his ceiling at age 27.
He is a true five-tool player and is working through a bargain deal that locks him into Milwaukee through 2022. Neither Yelich nor the Brewers are under pressure to do so, but ownership and the front office could explore a fresh contract with Yelich sooner rather than later. Extensions for stars have been all the rage around baseball over the past six weeks, and the Brewers and Yelich could be the next pairing to pull off such a deal.
The Brewers may be hesitant to give Yelich more money than they have to – especially because they are already dishing out a franchise record in salary – but ripping up Yelich's current contract is a show of good faith for an underpaid player and would allow Milwaukee to keep the outfielder for the entirety of his prime.
Yelich would postpone free agency in return for a few million more in annual salary for the next two or three seasons, with the new contract's additional years coming in at market price (somewhere around $25-30 million per year). Who knows if the California native is even thinking about a long-term deal, but he has certainly shown plenty of affinity for the Cream City thus far and would probably like a raise on his current deal that pays only $13.8 million from 2020-22.
That's a question for another day though. Right now, Milwaukee has the hottest player in the sport, and just took three of four from an NL Central competitor to open what should be a thrilling campaign. They still have a few issues to iron out this spring, but a budding superstar can paper over a lot of holes until the rest of the squad gets up to speed.
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