The Brewers announced this afternoon that the outfielder Lorenzo Cain authorized release waivers and achieved free agency. It was just a formality after the team slated him for assignment this weekend.
Cain is now free to explore other opportunities, but whether he plans to continue his career remains to be seen. Shortly after his DFA, Cain met with reporters and reflected on his career (Twitter link with video of MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy). The 36-year-old expressed his pride at having recently eclipsed ten years of MLB service, and he noted that he was “has put (his) body to the test over the years” and is “ready to rest for sure.” He struck a similar tone in a conversation with former Beat Royals reporter Jeffrey Flanagan yesterday, saying he “I have to admit it’s very nice to be home” (Twitter link).
If this is the end of Cain’s playing days, he will retire as one of the best outfielders of his generation. A former 17th-round pick, Cain overcame his low draft status to reach the majors with the Brewers in 2010. Milwaukee sent him back to the Royals the following offseason, packing him with Jake Odorizzi, alcide escobar and Jeremy Jeffress to land Zack Greinke.
The blockbuster played a huge role in the course of MLB history during the 2010s. Cain and Escobar became key members of back-to-back pennant winners in 2014-15, while Odorizzi was eventually returned to the Rays in the James Shields/Wade Davis swap. Cain played in Kansas City from 2011 to 2017, settling in as the club’s primary center fielder in 2012. He hit .289/.342/.421 while playing excellent defense and sweeping 120 bases over the course of this period. He earned his first career All-Star selection in 2015 and finished third 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 signed a five-year, $80 million guarantee to return to the Brewers in January 2018. This came days after Milwaukee was acquired. Christian Yelich, and the pair of marquee pickups helped kick off a streak of at least four straight playoff appearances. Yelich ended up being the most impactful addition, winning an MVP award in his first season at Wisconsin, but Cain was a top 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 voting. He posted just a .260/.325/.372 line in the second season of that deal, but he won a long-awaited Gold Glove award for his work at center. After being absent for most of the 2020 campaign due to COVID concerns, Cain returned in a more limited role last year. He’s played around mid league level for 78 games, but he’s struggled this season. Milwaukee’s DFA came after Cain posted a .179/.231/.234 line through 156 plate appearances.
Cain’s contract remains on Milwaukee’s books for this year. The club will owe him what remains of his $18 million salary for the final season of his contract. If he signed elsewhere, another club would only pay the prorated portion of the league’s $700,000 minimum for any major league time.
While Cain has hinted at retirement several times over the past few weeks, he hasn’t made any official announcement about his future. If he decides he is interested in continuing his career, his defense and respected presence at the club will certainly give him minor league opportunities at least. If Cain is done playing, he’ll give up a career .283/.343/.407 hitter through 13 major league seasons. FanGraphs rated his career around 30 wins above replacement, while Baseball Reference has it around 38 wins. By the end of this season, Cain will have banked just over $100 million in income between his umpiring salaries and his contract with Milwaukee.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.