The Brewers possess a wealth of young MLB-ready options in the outfield, but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (subscription required and recommended) that Milwaukee has nonetheless expressed interest in Lorenzo Cain, who has been a “frequent topic of conversation” for Brewers officials this winter.
Milwaukee has Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana currently aligned in the outfield, with 23-year-old Brett Phillips also factoring prominently into the mix and top prospect Lewis Brinson looming in Triple-A. One possible outcome, according to Rosenthal, is that the Brewers could deal from their current outfield depth to add a controllable rotation option and make room for Cain. He’s not the only one to report on such a possibility as of late, either; Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweeted yesterday that Milwaukee is open to dealing Broxton or, for a much more significant haul, Santana.
Of the incumbent group of outfielders, any of Broxton, Brinson, Santana or Phillips would figure to draw plenty of interest, though the Brewers showed no inclination to make Brinson available at the non-waiver trade deadline. Each of that group is controllable for either four (Santana), five (Broxton) or six (Brinson, Phillips) full seasons.
Broxton has a penchant for strikeouts and is OBP-challenged as a result, but he’s coming off a 20-homer, 20-steal season with the potential to be an asset on defense. While Defensive Runs Saved (-7) and Ultimate Zone Rating (-2.2) were down on his glove in 2017, Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric pegged him at +9, thus placing him among the game’s best outfielders, and his excellent speed gives him plenty of range in center.
Santana is fresh off a strong .278/.371/.505 slash and 30 homers, though he’s best suited for corner outfield duty (despite some experience in center). For a team seeking an offensive boost in right or left field, he’d be an extremely appealing target, but his controllable nature and strong 2017 play are undoubtedly the reasons that Schulman suggested Santana would require parting with “a ton” in any trade.
As for Brinson and Phillips, both are capable of manning center field and both have at various points been considered among baseball’s very best prospects. Brinson currently holds that distinction in the eyes of many after hitting .331/.400/.562 in Triple-A last year, though he struggled mightily in 55 MLB plate appearances. Phillips’ star has faded due to an alarming strikeout problem (29.8 percent in both Double-A and Triple-A, 34.7 percent in the Majors). He still managed to post strong numbers in Triple-A and in the Majors last year, though both of those batting lines were fueled by BABIPs north of .400.
A trade of Braun doesn’t seem especially likely given that he’s owed $72MM over the next four seasons (including a $4MM buyout on a 2022 option and $18MM in deferred salary) and can veto any trade thanks to his 10-and-5 rights.
Signing Cain, who rejected the Royals’ qualifying offer, would cost the Brewers their third-highest selection in the 2018 draft as well as the slot money that comes with that pick. (That would be their selectionin Competitive Balance Round B, which is currently No. 74 overall.) That’d obviously represent somewhat of a deterrent, though the Brewers may look at signing Cain and addressing their rotation via trade as a means of more financially palatable course of action than signing Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn (each of whom would also require the forfeiture of that pick after rejecting their own QOs).
Milwaukee has been tied to virtually every top starter on the market to varying degrees, ranging from Arrieta and Lynn earlier in the offseason to Cobb shortly before the New Year. If GM David Stearns and his staff have deemed asking prices for free agency’s most meaningful rotation upgrades too sizable, there’s logic to spending on Cain and then utilizing organizational depth to fortify the starting corps. That, of course, assumes Cain can be had at a more reasonable price point. Ultimately, the possibility of adding Cain and addressing the rotation via trade is likely just one of many avenues that the Brewers are exploring at present as they seek to remain competitive in a strong NL Central division.