Who says you can’t go home again?
The Milwaukee Brewers turned this month — one of the most eerily quiet offseason 30 day periods in recent memory — into Janbrewary: first acquiring rising star Christian Yelich at minimal cost due to the organization’s vaunted depth, then agreeing to terms with former Kansas City Royal — and one-time Brewers prospect — Lorenzo Cain. Terms were reported at five years and $80 million.
Cain, 31, was originally drafted by Milwaukee in 2004 as part of a number of stellar draft classes resulting from hideous on-field play as well as the rebuilding efforts of general manager Doug Melvin and scouting director Jack Zduriencik. After back-to-back American League pennants and a World Series title during his time with the Royals, Cain entered free agency along with fellow centerpieces Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Thursday’s moves put the Brewers back into the thick of contention for the National League Central, along with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. The Pittsburgh Pirates waved the white flag in dealing away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole and are reported to be shopping Josh Harrison. The Cincinnati Reds reportedly still exist. (Poor Joey Votto.)
Adding star outfielders to an already-crowded outfield, David Stearns is thought to still be actively shopping for a starting pitcher. Reports on Twitter indicated that Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips were available. Santana enjoyed a breakout 2017, while Phillips’ infectious laugh, room-to-grow lefty bat and 80 arm make for intriguing trade bait.
In short, David Stearns has struck, and struck hard.
Not only has he acquired one of the top free agents in the market and acquired one of the rising star outfielders in the National League in Yelich, all three outfielders — including Ryan Braun, for now at least —are under control until at least 2021. Having dealt from his position of strength (and perhaps dealing more in forthcoming days), Stearns can enjoy security in a dynamic outfield while also having the luxury of reloading over the next three years, sacrificing virtually nothing over the long-term. This, in stark contradistinction to his predecessor, who only began making savvy moves at the end of his tenure in a thinly-veiled attempt to salvage his legacy. (He did the same thing at the end of his time as GM for the Texas Rangers.)
Indeed, the Brewers are done rebuilding. They have clearly signaled they’re pushing for the postseason in 2018, and they’re doing it with players they sacrificed in trading for Zack Greinke in 2010: Cain and reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who re-signed to stay in Milwaukee at least for this season. The other two involved in obtaining two seasons for Greinke? Jake Odorizzi and Alcides Escobar. It was Escobar and Odorizzi, at that time a highly-touted pitching prospect, who were viewed by Royals GM Dayton Moore as the prizes in the trade. Jeffress threw gas and Cain had a high ceiling and plus glove, but Escobar was a dynamic shortstop and a clear improvement over Yuniesky Betancourt, who was thrown in as part of the return to Milwaukee. In fairness, you or I right now would have been an improvement over Betancourt.
Melvin traded away major league talent and garnered little if anything in return to protect Mark Attanasio’s investment. If one wishes to look at the underlying causes for the Brewers’ collapse in 2014 and the rebuild that ended mere hours ago, they can look at these years punctuated with bad trades and worse free agent signings.
Consider this: the Brewers could have went into pennant contention in their last window of opportunity (2008-2012) with a starting outfield of Braun, Cain and Nelson Cruz, who was Carlos Lee‘s natural replacement…and thrown in with Lee to the Rangers for Kevin Mench‘s giant head, Francisco Cordero and something called a Laynce Nix. That was 2006. Cain was on the doorstep; now, he’s coming back, presumably to finish the job he wasn’t allowed to start with the Brewers.
We have come full circle in a single night. It is, indeed, the end of an error.
Cain should continue to thrive in Milwaukee, where his 15 HR in 2017 with the Royals and their more expansive confines should look more like 20-25; 27 doubles probably profile to 32-35 in Miller Park, all while continuing to be rock solid in center. His .363 OBP is more than welcomed for a team that struggled to get on base last season, and Cain’s personality, experience and leadership should be a natural fit in a clubhouse made famous last season for being fun and supportive.
The future is now, and it looks remarkably like the past.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.