The Brewers announced this afternoon that outfielder Lorenzo Cain has cleared release waivers and reached free agency. That was a mere formality after the team designated him for assignment over the weekend.
Cain now has the right to explore other opportunities, but it remains to be seen whether he plans to continue his career. Shortly after his DFA, Cain met with reporters and reflected on his career (Twitter link with video from Adam McCalvy of MLB.com). The 36-year-old expressed pride about recently eclipsing ten years of MLB service time, and he noted he’s “put (his) body through a lot over the years” and is “ready to rest for sure.” He struck a similar tone in a chat with former Royals beat reporter Jeffrey Flanagan yesterday, saying he “must admit it is very nice being home” (Twitter link).
If this is the end of Cain’s playing days, he’ll step away as one of the better outfielders of his generation. A former 17th-round pick, Cain overcame his low draft status to reach the majors with the Brewers by 2010. Milwaukee flipped him to the Royals the following offseason, packaging him with Jake Odorizzi, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Jeffress to land Zack Greinke.
The blockbuster played a huge role in the course of MLB history during the 2010’s. Cain and Escobar became key members of back-to-back pennant winners in 2014-15, while Odorizzi was eventually flipped to the Rays in the James Shields/Wade Davis swap. Cain played in Kansas City from 2011-17, settling in as the club’s primary center fielder by 2012. He hit .289/.342/.421 while playing excellent defense and swiping 120 bases over that stretch. He earned his first career All-Star selection in 2015 and finished in third place in AL MVP voting after posting a .307/.361/.477 line that year.
After that run in Royal blue, Cain hit free agency for the first time. He inked a five-year, $80MM guarantee to return to the Brewers in January 2018. That came within days of Milwaukee’s acquisition of Christian Yelich, and the pair of marquee pickups helped kick off a stretch of at least four straight playoff appearances. Yelich wound up being the more impactful add, claiming an MVP award during his first season in Wisconsin, but Cain was a high-end player in his own right in 2018.
That year, Cain hit .308/.395/.417 and stole 30 bases. He earned his second All-Star nod and finished seventh in NL MVP balloting. He only posted a .260/.325/.372 line during the second season of that deal, but he picked up a long-awaited Gold Glove award for his work in center. After sitting out most of the 2020 campaign due to COVID concerns, Cain returned in a more limited role last year. He played at a roughly league average level through 78 games, but he scuffled this season. Milwaukee’s DFA came after Cain posted a .179/.231/.234 line through 156 plate appearances.
Cain’s contract stays on Milwaukee’s books for this year. The club will owe him what remains of his $18MM salary for the final season of his deal. Were he to sign anywhere else, another club would only pay the prorated portion of the $700K league minimum for any time he spends in the major leagues.
While Cain has hinted at retirement on multiple occasions in recent weeks, he’s not made any formal announcement about his future. If he decides he’s interested in continuing his career, his defense and respected clubhouse presence would certainly at least get him minor league opportunities. If Cain is finished playing, he’ll step away a career .283/.343/.407 hitter through parts of 13 big league seasons. FanGraphs has valued his career around 30 wins above replacement, while Baseball Reference has him at about 38 wins. By the end of this season, Cain will have banked a little more than $100MM in earnings between his arbitration salaries and contract with Milwaukee.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.