By all rights, things seemed pretty turmoil free in Milwaukee since the team really started being competitive in 2017. The team was winning and, starting the next season, they also began making the playoffs on a consistent basis, and the fans were enjoying watching them do it.
It sure seemed as though the clubhouse had a healthier vibe than most across the league as well. Players like Manny Pina, Hernan Perez, Jesus Aguilar, Orlando Arcia, Brent Suter, Daniel Vogelbach, Josh Hader (the list goes on and on) helped make things that way, not to mention having a players’ manager like Craig Counsell.
But what happens when you remove the player part from the equation at the expense of winning?
And what happens when you don’t place value on what veterans of the game bring to your team?
Well, you end up with a team that has been in the type of funk that hasn’t existed in the last six seasons and a former player criticizing a good portion of the team’s management. And by the sounds of it, he was right to do so.
Former Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain was right to call out the team’s management.
After the Brewers started looking like a team on the verge of competing for the playoffs in 2017, they started making the kind of moves that made them look serious about extending that run going forward. In 2018, that meant bringing in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, moves, among others, that got them one game away from the franchise’s second ever World Series appearance.
The next season followed with similar moves – bringing back 2018 contributor Mike Moustakas and signing free agent Yasmani Grandal. The season ended with a heartbreaking loss in the Wild Card, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
That’s when things started to get weird. Whether it was because of the team’s financial situation or not, the Brewers went in the direction of signing players like Jedd Gyorko, Eric Sogard, Justin Smoak, and others to move cost-effective, short-term deals. It was a strategy that president of baseball operations David Stearns admitted did not pan out like he had hoped.
But even since then, many of the moves the team has made have been farther from the big splash moves and closer to the analytically and financially sound acquisitions. It’s worth noting that it’s possible some of that may have been more about wanting to just bring in support for an emerging young core of talented players the team already had.
This is also where you saw the Brewers start to move on from some of the aforementioned players that brought so much chemistry to the clubhouse. Yes, some of that was due to poor performance and a team has every right to move on from those types of players. But at what point do you place a little more weight on the chemistry of the team when making those decisions?
The straw that seemed to break the proverbial camel’s back was the trade of Josh Hader at this year’s MLB trade deadline. The Brewers didn’t need to make that trade. Sure, he was struggling at the time. But he had helped the team win so many times over the years and could have continued to do so even if he ended up walking in free agency.
Whether the team liked to admit it, it was a move that was about the money and killed the team’s chemistry.
With all the moves Milwaukee has made over the years, Counsell has always been able to keep the team together. But now, it feels like management messed with the team chemistry so bad that not even he has been able to right the ship. That’s exactly when veteran players should be coming in to help support and guide the team.
And that’s where Cain’s comments come in, particularly this one.
"“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.”"
Some fans have felt like Cain speaking out was a case of sour grapes after being designated for assignment earlier this year, but he admitted in that interview that his play on the field wasn’t up to par. It was more about the way his situation was handled that got to him and apparently things had been boiling for a few years.
Of course, that is just one player’s perspective. But starting pitcher Eric Lauer spoke out to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com after the Hader trade about the team’s frustrations with letting talented players walk over the years as well. And when you look at some of the moves that have been made, it’s starting to seem like they have a point.
A baseball team is allowed to make whatever decisions they want in order to run their business and be successful. But like any business, there’s a people aspect to keep in mind when those decisions are made. If you forget that, you can end up with a situation like the Brewers have right now.
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Lorenzo Cain sent a message to management with his comments this week and he was completely right to do so. The question is whether or not management will listen to him.