Exactly one year ago, the Milwaukee Brewers signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a massive five year, $80 million contract, just minutes after completing a trade for Christian Yelich.
This was a wild hour and a half for Milwaukee Brewers fans exactly 365 days ago. First, the news broke that the Crew was acquiring Christian Yelich for a package of four prospects. There was much excitement with that news, but before we could settle down and take a hard look at the Yelich deal, GM David Stearns also signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain.
The five year, $80 million investment in Cain, a 32 year old centerfielder, seemed a little odd at first glance. The Brewers were already flush with outfield options before the Yelich deal, and even though they replaced Brinson with Yelich, that depth didn’t really go away. Then paying the sticker price this late in the offseason for a centerfielder, who relies on speed, that’s on the wrong side of 30 was a puzzling move.
But as the days went on, and the season got rolling, it became increasingly clear why the Brewers made the move for Cain.
Cain’s First Season Back In Milwaukee
In 2018, Lorenzo Cain hit leadoff for most of the season, which will have a negative impact on his RBI ability, but his other stats definitely saw improvement.
Cain hit .308/.395/.417 with 90 runs scored, 25 doubles, 10 homers, 38 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, and a 119 OPS+. Those are some pretty strong numbers.
The defense that Cain brought to centerfield was also strong, posting a +20 DRS and robbing several home runs before being robbed of the Gold Glove Award back in November.
2018 saw Cain’s career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, stolen bases, and walks. Cain also finished seventh in the NL MVP voting after his fellow January 25th acquisition ran away with the award during the second half.
Overall, the Brewers got everything they could have expected out of Cain and more in 2018.
The 5 year, $80 million pact Cain signed was the largest free agent contract in Milwaukee Brewers history. Considering what the team’s needs were at the time, it was certainly a surprise Stearns spent this money on another outfielder.
The deal Cain signed was backloaded, paying him only $14 million in 2018. In 2019, he will earn $15 million, and his base salary will continue to increase by $1 million per year until his contract ends after the 2022 season, when he will earn $18 million as a 36 year old.
There are rightfully some concerns about how this contract will age. As a center fielder who’s main strength is his speed, paying him that much money through his mid-30s is a huge risk.
But when the Milwaukee Brewers signed Cain, the reports were that the Brewers believed Cain would age gracefully and wouldn’t fall off a cliff like other mid-30s center fielders would. Something in their advanced analytics told them that he’d age well, and the Brewers jumped and made the investment in him.
Whether Cain actually will age gracefully remains to be seen. We all figured he’d be impactful in 2018, the questions were about how he’d play in 2021 and 2022.
There is a descending no-trade clause in Cain’s contract. He had a full no-trade clause in 2018, but in 2019, that is now down to a 15-team NTC. In 2020, it’s down to a seven-team no trade clause, and from 2021-2022 Cain can only block a trade to five teams.
So far, so good for this Lorenzo Cain contract. Him and Yelich at the top of the order made for quite the dynamic duo in 2018, and look to do so again in 2019.
For the Brewers, the Lorenzo Cain-Christian Yelich double acquisitions on the same day changed the direction of this franchise, and turned them toward a brighter future. It signaled the official end of the rebuild and the entrance of their championship window.