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This Trade in History: Christian Yelich to the Brewers

Editor’s note: We’ve had some people ask us if we could look back at major trades in history and see how they matched up with our model. We thought that was a good idea, so this is the first in what will likely be a series.

Also note: Since this site (and our model) didn’t exist when these trades occurred, we may not have access to all the data we currently use, so some of the inputs are not as accurate as they would be today. But let’s try it anyway, just for fun.


On January 25, 2018, the Miami Marlins traded OF Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers for four prospects: OF Lewis Brinson, OF Monte Harrison, IF Isan Diaz, and P Jordan Yamamoto.

It was big news at the time. Miami had earlier traded Giancarlo Stanton in another blockbuster deal to the Yankees, and were embarking on a rebuild, clearing salary while doing so.

So imagine it’s January, 2018, and we’re looking ahead.

Yelich has four years to go on a very team-friendly contract. Further, he’s just about to enter his age-26 season, so his prime years are still ahead of him. Let’s examine what his estimated numbers are at this point:

Name Years AFV Salary Surplus Low Median High
Yelich 4.0 160.8 43.2 117.6 94.1 117.6 141.1

Yelich’s projections are very high -- he’s coming off a 2017 season where he produced 4.6 fWAR, right after a 2016 season where he produced 5.4 fWAR. And as mentioned above, he’s not even in his prime yet, so it’s likely that the best is yet to come. Essentially, he’s projected to be a 5-WAR player over his next four years, estimated to produce about $40M in value per year, and about $160M in total.

Meanwhile, because Miami locked him into a very team-friendly contract early in his career, he’s set to earn well below that level in salary terms: $7M in 2018, $9.75M in 2019, $12.5M in 2020, and $14M in 2021. At only $43.2M for his next four years, he’s ridiculously underpaid, which is why the model shows a surplus of $117.6M.

We rarely see trades of players with this much surplus value, so this is a unicorn. For a team to acquire him, they’ll have to deliver one heck of a prospect haul.

And that’s what Milwaukee is about to do. Here’s the prospect package they offer, with estimated values (in $Ms) at this time:

OF Lewis Brinson 61.2
OF Monte Harrison 25.1
IF Isan Diaz 17.3
P Jordan Yamamoto 5.4
Total 109.1


So it’s $117M for $109M. 

Note that at this level of total value, the error bars are wide, so being off by about $8M is a minor rounding error of about 7%, well within our typical range.

In other words, it’s about as fair a deal as Miami is going to get -- especially since teams rarely part with this much prospect capital, much less in one fell swoop. It’s quite a bold move for Brewers then-GM David Stearns.

In this deal, Brinson is obviously the huge get. At this time, both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus rank him as the 18th-best prospect in baseball. He’s considered to have both a high floor and high ceiling, given his loud tools.

Harrison is no slouch, either. BA ranks him at #75 overall on their Top 100 list; BP is even more optimistic, at #49.

Diaz is in a tier below those two, but BP still ranks him at #85 on their list.

Yamamoto is in the next tier, considered a back-end starter, a role which still has some value.

So that’s quite a haul, right? Miami gets three Top 100 prospects (depending on who’s counting), including one potential superstar, two potential MLB regulars, and a potential rotation innings-eater.

The Brewers get an all-star OF for the next four years, while they move into contention mode. Win/win, right?

So the trade is made. Now let’s see what actually happened.


Christian Yelich, fWAR and value produced (in $Ms, per Fangraphs), 2018-2021:

Christian Yelich fWAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2018 7.7 61.4 7 54.4
2019 7.8 62.4 9.75 52.7
2020* 1.7 14.5 12 2
2021 1.5 12.1 14 -1.9
Total 18.7 150.4 43.25 107.2

*Normalized to a full year for ease of comparisons.

Yelich, of course, broke out significantly in 2018-19, in his peak-age years of 26-27 (which delighted the Brewers -- they knew he had his best years coming at the time of the trade, but that was more than they even imagined). He then collapsed in 2020-21, for reasons that are still unclear. But those first two years were so dominant that they more than made up for it.

And lo and behold, he produced $107.2M in surplus value, which is not far from his estimated surplus of $117M at the time of the trade. He did it rather unconventionally, but he still got there.

Now let’s look at the other side of the trade. Brace yourselves, Marlins fans. This is going to get ugly.

Lewis Brinson fWAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2018 -1.0 -7.6 0.6 -8.2
2019 -1.7 -13.3 0.6 -13.9
2020* -0.2 -1.5 0.6 -2.1
2021 -0.2 -1.3 0.8 -2.1
Total -3.1 -23.7 2.6 -26.3

As the lead piece in this deal coming back to Miami, Brinson could not look any worse. Heck, we didn’t even normalize the 2020 results, thinking they probably would have curbed his playing time over a full year (also because that would be adding insult to injury). He’s clearly a bust. And when you compare it to what was expected of him at the time of the trade, it’s even uglier: he was expected to produce $61.2M in surplus value; instead he produced -$26.3M, for a gap of 87.5M. That’s… just mind-boggling.

Monte Harrison fWAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2020* -0.1 -0.8 0.6 -1.4
2021 0 0.1 0.6 -0.5
Total -0.1 -0.7 1.2 -1.9

Harrison is a bit earlier along in his career, but it’s not looking good so far. Like Brinson, he has yet to produce any positive WAR, and although we might pro-rate his salary based on MLB playing time, the difference would be minimal. So the value is negative, and Steamer projects him for zero fWAR in 2022 as well. He’s also out of options, which means he’s a possible DFA. He was projected for $25.1M in surplus value at the time of the trade; instead he’s produced $-1.9M so far, for a gap of $27M.

Isan Diaz fWAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2019 -1.2 -9.9 0.6 -10.5
2020* -0.2 -1.6 0.6 -2.2
2021 -0.7 -5.5 0.6 -6.1
Total -2.1 -17.0 1.8 -18.8

Diaz has had a rough go as well. He’s at least shown brief spurts where the Marlins thought he might be turning a corner, but they were short-lived, not enough to dig out of the negative-WAR holes he’s dug. Further, 2B has been a low-value position in the marketplace, so the value gap may even be understated here. At any rate, he was expected to produce $17.3M; instead he’s produced $-18.8M so far, for a gap of $36.1M.

Jordan Yamamoto fWAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2019 0.9 7.1 0.6 6.5
2020* -0.5 -3.8 0.6 -4.4
2021 0.1 0.6 0.6 0
Total 0.5 3.9 1.8 2.1

This one’s not quite so bad. Ironically, Yamamoto was the first of these four the Marlins officially gave up on, having DFA’d him in 2021 and traded him to the Mets. In any case, he was expected to deliver $5.4M in surplus value; instead he’s brought $2.1M, for a gap of $3.3M. There’s still time for him to get there, but at best it’s a wash, and since he’s not with Miami anymore, they’ll see no benefit from it even if he does.


Now let’s look at the big picture:

Brewers got:

Player Expected surplus value Actual surplus value delivered Gap
Yelich 117.6 107.2 -10.4

Marlins got:

Player Expected surplus value Actual surplus value delivered Gap
Brinson 61.2 -26.3 -87.5
Harrison 25.1 -1.9 -27.0
Diaz 17.3 -18.8 -36.1
Yamamoto 5.4 2.1 -3.3
Total 109.1 -44.9 -154.0

The Marlins had hoped to receive $109M in surplus value; instead, they got -$44.9M in value, for a whopping gap of $154M.

So they clearly “lost” the trade. By how much?

On a field-value basis, Yelich delivered over $150M. The four prospects the Marlins received delivered (so far) -$37.5M. So on that basis, Milwaukee “won” the trade by over $187M.

But we knew the Marlins were rebuilding, so that’s not quite the right measure.

On a surplus-value basis, which is what most trades are based on, Yelich delivered $107M; the prospects delivered -$44.9M, so Milwaukee “won” the trade by $151.9M.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more lopsided trade in history (although we’ll try).

Key takeaways

So what can we learn from this deal? I’m not sure there is anything to learn here. I think it’s mostly a case of bad luck for the Marlins. It’s not often that you see all four prospects in a package deal bust, but it’s within the realm of possibility. Every trade is a gamble on the future, and not all bets pay off.

Could the Marlins have scouted the prospects better? Maybe. But there was industry consensus on Brinson (and the others, for that matter), so it’s not like they were going out on any limbs.

Could they have made a better deal with another team? Sure, but as mentioned above, it’s highly unusual to trade a player like Yelich with over $100M in surplus value, and very few teams have the prospect capital (or the willingness) to go that high. So this may have been their best option by far.


Despite the huge win for Milwaukee here, not all is rosy anymore. Ironically, Miami is arguably in a better spot now on a roster construction basis. They can just write off all four of these guys as losses and start fresh.

But the Brewers made the now-unfortunate-looking decision to extend Yelich after his big 2019 season, after which he promptly turned into a pumpkin. At this point, he’s owed $188.5M through at least the 2028 season, and given his recent struggles and lowered performance projections, his value is now firmly negative, to the tune of -$104.6M by our modeling.

Having a zero on your books is surely better than having a $100M-ish albatross weighing you down, right? So the Marlins might have the last laugh after all.


The Marlins announced that Lewis Brinson was designated for assignment on 11/30/21.

About the Author

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Really excited for more of this retrospective trade series. Good stuff

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Thanks for the feedback. Glad you like the idea.

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Excellent analysis, I really enjoy how the values are determined. I am excited for more trades to be analyzed!

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Thanks for the feedback.


Good read and this is why I believe the team giving up the most valuable player in a trade should walk away with more surplus value at that time. Clearly it's not going to be $151.9M in surplus value, but a little padding for insurance. It's crazy to look back and see that none of those prospects going to Miami amounted to much of anything. If a person could factor unpredictability accurately then they would become very rich, very quickly. John, maybe sometime in the near future you could show a trade that worked out for both parties. I'd be curious to see how the surplus values compared. In a perfect world both teams would be looking to exchange similar values for different periods of time. I hope I'm making sense. A team trading prospects is looking to extract value from a player now while a rebuilding team is looking to exchange current value for future value with some interest baked in.

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Thanks, good idea. Naturally, the lopsided ones came to mind first, but you're right, it would be good to balance it out with trades that worked out well for both sides. More to come.


Curious how the Marco Gonzalez-Tyler Oniel trade turned out in value

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We'll add it to the list. Thanks for the suggestion.


I love these types of articles. I would be interested in the Quintana - Eloy/Cease trade. It's clear that this tipped in the Sox favor this year and should look like a steal when all is said and done, but was it fair at the time of the trade? It seemed to me that adding Cease was an overpay on the Cubs part. Giving up their top pitching prospect when they could not develop any pitchers was a head scratcher to me.

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Thanks -- and yeah, that one's a good idea. We'll add it to the upcoming list.


Really cool analysis! Building a baseball team is hard. And prospects are definitely a gamble. Interesting to see that this trade was pretty much right-on value-wise for the Marlins, but they just got unlucky with the guys they got back.

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Thanks. Agreed on all counts.


This is a great article. If you're taking suggestions, I'd like to see the impact of the Zack Greinke to the Astros trade.

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Thanks -- and good idea, I'll add that one to our list.


Love this new feature. I believe there should be some sort of documented, historical recap on trades after five years or so. It would also be of interest, who the GM’s were for each club. We could then look up such stalwarts as “Dombrowski, Schuerholz”, etc, to see if they were actually better at the draft or trades. Adds history or even some background on other GM’s that a club might be looking into hiring. Erik Neander from the Rays would be interesting to create a profile on. Although his five years isn’t up on many of the deals he has made. Yet, they still win somehow with “Pieces” (really, no major blockbuster moves). My gut also told me that the Marlins did quite well in the return for Yelich. It’s just ANOTHER indicator that I need to reduce the size of my gut. Besides, Stanton, the Marlins ended up replacing their entire all-star outfield (Ozuna). This trade could be rated as a “Disaster”.

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Thanks for the feedback. Great ideas!


case of bad luck for the Marlins. no it was a bad trade from day one. i said that from day one on sb fish strips site . people keep saying you got to give it a change to work. trying to call me out in every bad way. the value Yelich had at the time. far out wade anything marlins was getting back. you had a greet guy for the team. just remember marlins gm was on phone going on vacation to south Africa. when this deal was put together. and Lewis Brinson was a last minute throw in. i also call jt. Realmuto a bad trade. but like the marcell ozuna trade a good one . till zac gallen was gone. like to see jt Realmuto trade , zac gallen and marcell ozuna marlins.