Lorenzo Cain has always been known for his excellent defense in center field and a smile that can light up a room. Lately, the Brewers centerfielder hasn’t been smiling all that much.
In the final year of a 5 year, $80MM contract, the 36 year old Cain is seeing age catch up with him, and it’s not pretty. Through 37 games played and 126 ABs, Cain is hitting a miserable .175/.234/.230 with a .464 OPS and a 32 OPS+. That is 68 percent below league average. He has yet to register a barreled ball all season.
Meanwhile, Tyrone Taylor has seized his opportunity to play everyday and is swinging a hot bat. With Taylor set to play everyday and Hunter Renfroe soon to return to the active roster, how much longer will Cain stick around.
With the Brewers close to coming back to full health in the outfield, should they consider moving on from Lorenzo Cain?
Cain, a veteran of 13 seasons in the big leagues, admits that he doesn’t know what he’s doing at the plate right now.
"“Mentally, honestly, I don’t know what to do up there right now,” Cain said on Friday. “My swing is kind of all over the place. I haven’t been able to figure things out. They already told me before [right fielder Hunter] Renfroe got hurt that my playing time was probably going to be a lot less. But Renfroe got hurt, so I’ve had to get in there probably more than they want me to right now."
This is a tough quote to read. Cain has been a successful hitter for a number of years, and even in a down year last year he posted a .729 OPS and 95 OPS+. He admits he’s lost at the plate and the numbers back it up.
If he were a younger player that didn’t have a fully guaranteed contract paying him $18MM this season, he likely would’ve been sent down or released already. But he’s not.
As Brewers president of baseball ops David Stearns noted in both articles, Cain still holds tremendous value on the defensive side of the ball. His bat may be terrible right now, but he can still play a mean center field. The Brewers can tolerate a weak bat with great defense, but for how much longer?
It’s clear the immediate future in centerfield is with Tyrone Taylor. When Renfroe returns from the IL, Taylor will get the bulk of the playing time out there. On the bench, Cain’s value on the field will be limited to being a late inning defensive replacement. He also holds value as a veteran leader in the clubhouse. His experience and his voice carries a lot of weight.
Sammon raised the question that Cain could possibly even be designated for assignment and released. If that happens, the Brewers would still be on the hook for his entire salary, so they wouldn’t get any financial relief there. Still, it may end up being the best option on the table for the team.
Also, as of this writing, Lorenzo Cain is two weeks away from reaching 10 years of MLB service time, something that means a lot to players. Reaching 10 years of service guarantees the maximum level pension plan for a player after retirement and is a distinguished honor and carries a level of respect that few attain.
It would be especially meaningful for Cain, a 17th round draft pick who didn’t start playing baseball until his sophomore year of high school, and only after getting cut from the basketball team.
It’s been a long and winding road for Cain in his baseball career. Will his tenure in Milwaukee come to an abrupt end? Or will he be able to ride off into the sunset after his contract comes up? Either way, the end of the road is ahead and it looks bumpy.
At this point, it’s getting difficult to justify putting Cain in the lineup, and with him only riding the bench and not much of a pinch hit option, it also would be difficult to justify keeping him on the roster. Great defense can carry a player through some tough times, but for only so long.
The time to part ways may come sooner than anyone anticipated. A drop in production was somewhat to be expected, but his numbers haven’t just dropped, they’ve taken a cliff dive.
The Brewers know his defensive value, and they know his leadership, and now they have to determine if those positives outweigh the negative production on offense.