Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain has opted out of the rest of the 2020 season, according to a team press release. President of baseball operations David Stearns commented on the situation in the release, saying “Lorenzo Cain has informed us that he will not participate for the remainder of the 2020 season. We fully support Lorenzo’s decision, and will miss his talents on the field and leadership in the clubhouse.”
Cain becomes the 18th player to opt out of playing in 2020, not counting Nick Markakis, who initially opted out but chose to resume playing for the Braves. Cain is certainly one of the biggest names on that list, a longtime veteran with a decorated resume that includes two All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove and a World Series ring as a member of the 2015 Royals.
There hasn’t been any word as to whether or not Cain was opting out due to any personal medical reason, and if Cain isn’t at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, his decision will mean that he is walking away from the prorated portion of his original $16M salary for the 2020 season. It’s no small amount of money, obviously, though less of a financial cost for a player who has already banked well over $50M in career earnings, and is slated to earn $33M over the 2021-22 seasons as per the terms of the five-year, $80M deal he signed with Milwaukee in January 2018.
Like all teams, the Brewers have had their share of COVID-19 cases, with Luis Urias and Angel Perdomo both testing positive before the start of summer camp. (Eric Lauer also missed time after exposure to someone who was COVID-positive, though Lauer himself didn’t have the virus.) It’s fair to wonder whether Cain’s decision was prompted not necessarily by his own team, but rather the wider scope of coronavirus cases around the National League in particular, with the Marlins and Cardinals. Milwaukee, in fact, was supposed to be the Cardinals’ opponent this weekend before an outbreak within the St. Louis clubhouse led to two postponed games and almost certainly will prevent the two clubs from playing on Sunday.
From a baseball perspective, losing Cain is certainly a blow to a Milwaukee team that had aspirations of another postseason appearance, at minimum. While Cain was coming off an injury-hampered 2019 season that saw post only a .697 OPS over 623 plate appearances, he still managed to generate 1.5 fWAR due to his typically excellent center field defense. Prior to 2019, Cain has been a solidly above-average offensive performer over his previous five seasons, hitting .301/.361/.433 over 2805 PA from 2014-18 with the Royals and Brewers.
Without Cain, Ben Gamel now looks to be the Brewers’ primary center fielder. Gamel has shown decent potential as both an everyday player with the Mariners and a part-timer with the Brewers, hitting a respectable .266/.336/.391 over 1,199 PA from 2017-19, though the jury is still out on his center field glove work. Gamel has a -5.0 UZR/150 and minus-1 Defensive Runs Saved over only 181 career innings in center, as the vast majority of his big league playing time has come as a corner outfielder. Avisail Garcia is the only other realistic center field candidate on Milwaukee’s active roster, so the Brew Crew could turn to one of the other options (Keon Broxton, Corey Ray, or Tyrone Taylor) within their 60-man player pool.