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Brewers take center stage at MLB's winter meetings with signing of Jackson Chourio

NASHVILLE – It's not often that the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves front and center at Major League Baseball's winter meetings.

But that was the case Monday morning at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

Taking full advantage of the spotlight afforded them at the game's annual offseason gathering, the organization formally announced the signing of 19-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Jackson Chourio to an eight-year, $82 million contract that includes a pair of team options – a record-setting deal for a player who has yet to debut in the big leagues.

Chourio, accompanied on the dais by Brewers general manager Matt Arnold and agent Cesar Suarez of Beverly Hills Sports Council, was presented with a No. 11 jersey and hat as the cameras rolled and the flashbulbs went off.

He handled himself well considering the magnitude of the event, answering questions with the help of an interpreter. Chourio flashed a megawatt smile – he recently graduated from braces, again a reminder of how young he is – but also wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke about those who helped him get to this point.

"You've got to invest in special people," said Arnold, who afterward showed a small group of reporters a headshot of Chourio when he was just 12 years old, the age at which the Brewers began scouting the native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, in earnest.

Milwaukee eventually inked a 16-year-old Chourio to a $1.8 million deal on Jan. 15, 2021 and since then he's rocketed through the ranks, being named the organization's minor-league player of the year in 2022 and 2023.

Chourio has logged only six games and 24 plate appearances above the Class AA level, but the Brewers and the industry both are bullish on his chances.

"It's important to invest in talent," Arnold continued. "It's important to invest in work habits. And it's important to invest in character, and we believe that Jackson checks all those boxes."

New manager Pat Murphy was in attendance, as were many of those in the Brewers organization who helped scout and develop Chourio.

He summed up the goings-on succinctly.

"It was pretty sweet to see," Murphy said. "Beautiful kid. Beautiful smile."

Here are some of the major takeaways from Monday's announcement.

Jackson Chourio, at just 19 years of age, is now one of the faces of the franchise for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jackson Chourio, at just 19 years of age, is now one of the faces of the franchise for the Milwaukee Brewers.

This was a deal that has been in the works for quite some time

Largely because of their small-market status and limited resources, the Brewers have for quite some time tried to be proactive when it comes to some of their big-name talent.

There have been extensions with proven players such as Ryan Braun in 2011 and Christian Yelich in 2020 as well as with younger, ascending players such as Jonathan Lucroy in 2012, Freddy Peralta in 2020 and Aaron Ashby in 2021.

Chourio becomes the latest, not to mention the first to sign on despite never suiting up for the Brewers.

His deal is the largest by far for a player who has never played in the majors, and one that likely will serve as a template for future deals for teams seeking to similarly lock up their own top prospects – the Baltimore Orioles and Jackson Holliday would appear to be a prime example.

According to Arnold, the roots of the discussions between the Brewers and Chourio stretch back into this past season. Word that the deal was nearing completion broke about a week ago.

"It's taken a lot of time, honestly, and a lot of people were involved," Arnold said. "Matt Klentak (executive advisor to the GM) did the lion's share of work from our side. Cesar and his incredible partnership. This process, it took them months and a lot of work. It took a lot of give and take from everybody involved. And that's why we're here today.

"It's exciting when you can get to a spot where everyone's in agreement. It's a really exciting day for us."

For his part, Chourio has lined up unprecedented financial stability moving forward. But he's also potentially leaving money on the table if he pans out and becomes the superstar the Brewers believe he can be.

"This is a blessing. It's something you don't see every day," Chourio said. "I know this is a great opportunity for me and I just want to take advantage of it and enjoy every day."

More: What to know about Jackson Chourio and his new big-league contract

Now that he's signed, how will Chourio handle the inevitable pressure?

There are plenty of positives that come with a deal of this magnitude.

But along with it will come scrutiny like Chourio has never experienced before.

It's going to be difficult enough making the transition to a 162-game season while facing major-league pitching on a regular basis for the first time; doing so under the glare of the spotlight will make the challenge that much more daunting for Chourio.

But the belief in him is there.

"I met him very young, when he was in the academy before he signed," Suarez said. "Every challenge we presented to him, he always excelled, and I think it's something that he's going to continue to do. Obviously, it's at the hardest level of baseball, but I feel that he's going to be able to manage it.

"It's something that I've seen since he was 12 years old, so I don't think he's going to change."

Arnold is convinced Chourio will shine as well.

"He's got that 'It' factor that you see around his teammates and in the clubhouse," he said. "You hear about it from all the coaches, the opposing players – everybody knows he's 'the guy' already, and he's got the confidence when he's between the lines and does everything the right way.

"It's everything you could ask for."

How does Chourio himself view the situation?

"There's definitely a little bit of pressure," he said. "But I'm going to work really hard. This money's not going to change me, and if something changes, it's definitely going to be for the better."

Murphy said it's now incumbent on him, as well as his coaching staff, to give Chourio the support and feedback that he will need in order to thrive.

"I think that's a huge part of our job right now, to understand what he needs," he said. "He doesn't know what he needs. We've got to be the ones that understand that. What's our support system like for him going forward? Managing expectations and getting him to bring out close to his best self.

"It might not happen right away, but that's in the forefront in our minds, and our staff has got to do that."

Will Chourio open the 2024 season with the Brewers?

Paying the kind of money the Brewers are now to Chourio, one would assume he's a lock to be on the opening-day roster.

Perhaps that will be the case. But according to Arnold that will be determined by Chourio's play in spring training and not by any sort of guarantee that was included in his contract.

"No guarantees. But he will have every opportunity to make our opening-day roster," Arnold said. "I think Jackson will determine his progress at his own pace. He's obviously somebody that's moved very quickly at a very young age and he's met every challenge, so we're excited to see his growth continue at the pace he's already shown."

Murphy, for his part, was much more blunt.

"Everybody's got to earn it. He's no different than anybody else," he said. "I told him today, 'You're No. 94 to me.' He's always worn No. 94 (as a late-game substitute in Cactus League games in spring training). 'You want that No. 11, you've got to earn it.'

"I'll hang that No. 11 in my office and he can look at it every day if he wants. But he's going to wear 94 until he earns that."

As Arnold noted, Milwaukee has been very aggressive in pushing Chourio through the minor leagues – the approach is typical for its top prospects, allowing them to determine the pace of their advancement. And Arnold pointed to Chourio's recent performance in the Venezuelan winter league as more proof he'll be up to the challenge.

Playing for Zulia and being managed by Brewers coach Nestor Corredor, Chourio in 17 games hit .379 with a .984 OPS, a home run and six runs batted in.

"Nestor said he was arguably the best player in the league this winter," Arnold said. "He just continues to meet and exceed every challenge that we put in front of him."

The Brewers' cup runneth over in the outfield

There's Yelich in left field. Holdovers Tyrone Taylor and Blake Perkins remain in the picture as well. Recently acquired Jake Bauers is listed as an outfielder on the Brewers' 40-man roster, but it's more likely he'll play first base.

Then there's the wealth of youngsters who will be prowling the outfield for the Brewers with Chourio, Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell and Joey Wiemer.

How, exactly, will all the pieces fit?

"We certainly feel like it's a good problem to have," Arnold said. "We have a lot of talented outfielders. Jackson is certainly one of those. But as you know, we've churned through a lot of our depth. We had multiple injuries on the same day last year, so things like that tend to work themselves out."

Frelick, Mitchell and Wiemer have had their moments in their brief stints in the majors, with Frelick and Wiemer debuting last season and Wiemer in particular getting a long look.

And that depth could work to the Brewers' advantage with regard to the trade market.

"It's certainly possible," Arnold said. "We always have to listen on trade opportunities. We do have a good amount of depth there, but we also had to work through almost 60 players on our roster last year. So, we need a lot of good players to win another division (title)."

And finally, is Chourio being viewed as strictly a centerfielder?

"He can play all three," Arnold said. So, too, can Frelick, Mitchell, Wiemer and Perkins. "Frankly, he's that good. He's as good as you can find defensively, whether that's in center, left or right."

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers announce Jackson Chourio signing at winter meetings