The Milwaukee Brewers are seemingly collapsing down the stretch of the 2022 season. Ever since the trade deadline, it’s been all downhill. Why? According to former Brewer Lorenzo Cain, the management of the team has messed with the chemistry.
In this week’s Brewers Beat newsletter on MLB.com, Adam McCalvy interviews Lorenzo Cain, who’s joining the team in Denver for the clubhouse’s fantasy football draft as the reigning champion of the league. Cain offered some interesting quotes that don’t paint a rosy picture of what’s going on at 1 Brewers Way.
Former Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain criticizes how management has messed with the chemistry of the team and the clubhouse culture.
For at least the past month, fans and outside observers alike have noticed that something seems amiss when it comes to this Brewers team. They aren’t looking like themselves and look nothing like the team we saw in April and May. They don’t look much like any of the teams from the previous seasons either.
When asked if he missed playing baseball, this is what Cain had to say.
"“I have my days now and then, but for the most part, not really,” he said. “I’ve been keeping up with the team from afar and I see they’re struggling a little bit. I wouldn’t say I saw that coming, but I feel like when you mess around with the chemistry of the team, things like this can happen."
Cain wasn’t directly asked about the team chemistry or how they’ve been playing lately, and offered this up on his own. He made a point of addressing the fact that the organization has messed with the team chemistry in the clubhouse and that collapses like the one we’re seeing now tend to happen when the chemistry gets messed up mid-season.
"“Analytics doesn’t judge or measure the heart of a person or the chemistry of a team. Certain guys need a certain comfort level, and playing together, they complement each other. You go into the locker room saying, ‘I’m comfortable today. I can talk to my buddies about anything, hang out and relax.’ When you move guys around, especially when you started with a certain group, you slowly start to lose that. It can definitely affect the win and loss column, for sure.”"
Is he referring directly to the Hader trade? Or his own departure? Both moves seemed to disrupt the clubhouse culture as both were respected members of the team who were loved by all in that room.
Things definitely hit the skids after the Hader trade, but Cain’s departure came earlier and may have primed this group for further collapse once Hader was sent packing.
This next quote is pretty damning and unexpected.
"“I mean, it is what it is,” Cain said. “That’s one of the reasons we kind of parted ways; I honestly feel like I never got that respect as a veteran, as a leader on this team, from certain coaches and certain upper management. That’s mostly why we parted ways when we did.”"
From the outside, Cain always seemed like the most respected member of that clubhouse. He has a World Series ring, he’s been around a long time, and the players seemed to lean on him a lot. But according to Cain, it wasn’t like that from some of the coaches or upper management.
Is he referring to Craig Counsell? David Stearns? Matt Arnold? Mark Attanasio? Who are the coaches and upper management that weren’t respecting him as a veteran leader? He didn’t name names, and it’s unlikely he ever will, but this is surprising considering how other players who have been on this team and come from around the league to rave about the clubhouse culture in Milwaukee.
"“It wasn’t [about] playing every day, because I know I was struggling a little bit,” said Cain, who was hitting .179 with a .465 OPS through 156 plate appearances at the time he was cut. “This goes back to not only this year, but years and years. It’s been three years where I’ve felt this way. I think when you mess around with that, when you’re supposed to be the leader of the team, the veteran in the clubhouse, and you don’t get that respect that you feel you should get as a leader and a veteran, I think that makes it harder for me to lead and for certain guys to also lead. Ultimately, it shows up in a big way when you go out there and play on the field"
According to Cain, this didn’t just start in 2022. Going back three years he’s felt this organization has been messing with the clubhouse culture. Including this year, that takes it back to 2020 where things started to go wrong. Unless he’s also referring to 2019 as well, which is possible, but what changes were made?
"“I definitely think the boys can turn it around, but yeah, when you go through rough times, you need certain guys to keep guys going. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s been a struggle to get guys out of the funk. When you get rid of certain guys, when you start messing with the chemistry of the clubhouse, it affects everybody. It’s happening right now. Hopefully they can turn it around, because you can see it’s been weird. Something’s off, for sure.”"
I’m curious as to what certain guys he’s referring to. For this year, it could be the loss of him and Josh Hader, that could be causing this implosion. The Hader trade certainly feels that way, but this has also been going back years.
Was it letting Mike Moustakas walk? He was a respected veteran leader in the clubhouse. Was it losing Yasmani Grandal? Wade Miley? Was it trading away Jesus Aguilar during a playoff run? Daniel Vogelbach? Corey Knebel? Jeremy Jeffress? Orlando Arcia? Manny Pina?
Was it the combination of all the above?
All of those players were important pieces in the clubhouse, either with the energy and fun they brought, or the veteran leadership. They fit the culture well and were beloved by their teammates and fans alike. All left the organization not exactly by their own choice.
The Brewers didn’t want to pay to keep Moustakas or Grandal. They didn’t want to bring back Wade Miley despite his low cost. They traded Jesus Aguilar for very little in return just because he was in a slump. Vogelbach was non-tendered despite being a productive player and a beloved player. Knebel was traded because the Brewers didn’t want to pay him $5MM despite being a good closer when healthy. Jeffress was unceremoniously departed with despite everything he did for the organization. Orlando Arcia was traded in the first week of the season last year after having been a key clubhouse member for a long time. Manny Pina was a longtime clubhouse leader that they let walk this past offseason.
There’s no shortage of key veteran and key clubhouse leaders that have come and gone in recent years, which has seemingly shredded the clubhouse culture, according to Cain. Management has felt they can simply replace those players in terms of on-field production for cheaper, but the loss of their presence in the clubhouse can’t be replaced.
His quote at the end “Something’s off, for sure.” re-iterates what many already knew. There is something off with this team and clubhouse. We’re not just imagining it, it’s true. Whether you believe the rest of what Cain is saying or not, that last part is absolutely true. Something is off.
Lorenzo Cain isn’t usually a vocal guy, and he didn’t make the decision to criticize this organization lightly. It’s serious enough that Cain felt the need to comment and offer his side.
Could it be sour grapes from a player who was released right after he reached 10 years of service time? Potentially. But Cain doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would say things like this because of sour grapes. Apparently, this goes back years, it’s not just this year with his departure.
From the outside, it seemed the Brewers were always cognizant of team chemistry and worked to get good clubhouse guys. But apparently, that may not be the case.