MILWAUKEE -- As the Brewers’ home-opening series remained on hold, Milwaukee center fielder Lorenzo Cain has elected not to play the remainder of the 2020 season.
Cain, a father of three young boys, became the first Brewers player to exercise his right to sit out when he announced the decision through the club on Saturday. The news came before the postponement of Saturday’s Cardinals-Brewers game due to additional positive tests for COVID-19 within the St. Louis traveling party.
“After careful consideration and discussion with my family, I have decided to opt out of the remainder of the 2020 season,” Cain said in a written statement. “With all of the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding our game at this time, I feel that this is the best decision for me, my wife and our three kids.
“The Brewers organization was very understanding and supportive of my decision, and I thank them for that. I wish all of my great teammates the best of luck this season and look forward to getting back on the field in 2021. Please stay safe.”
Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said he and the club “fully support” Cain in the decision, which was relayed on Friday night.
“He talked to [manager] Craig [Counsell] first. I spoke later with him and his agent,” Stearns said. “He felt this was something that he needed to do. We completely respect the decision, support the decision. This is something that Lorenzo had been thinking about and discussing with his family for some time. This is the first he had brought it to our attention, but as we understood the decision and understood the decision-making process and some of what’s been on his mind, ultimately he believes this is the right thing for him to do. And we understand that.”
Asked whether the back-to-back postponements at Miller Park may have influenced Cain’s call, Stearns said, “He didn’t specifically mention [it], but I think it’s fair that the events of the past week, I’m sure, played a part. He did not specifically mention the Cardinals or the Marlins [another club which has had a number of positive tests for the coronavirus], for that matter. I think it had been something he was considering.”
Have any other players expressed similar leanings?
“I haven’t necessarily had more conversations among our group with players on that topic over the past week,” Stearns said.
A National League Central rival also offered words of support after hearing of Cain's decision.
"Obviously, Lorenzo Cain is a big part of the MLB fraternity, a great player, a face for a franchise. So him opting out is a huge blow for not only the Milwaukee Brewers, but fans of Lorenzo Cain," said Cubs left-hander Jon Lester. "But we all have to sit back and allow guys to make decisions that best suit them and best suit their families. I will never question a guy like Lorenzo. I'll never question his thought process to that. And that's a decision that him and his family probably sat down and thought long and hard about.
"I'm sure he talked to his teammates about it. I support anything that any of these guys do, whether they show up and play or they opt to be at home. It's a crazy time that we're in, and you can't second-guess anybody that wants to make a decision like that."
The 34-year-old Cain, coming off his first Gold Glove Award and in the third season of a five-year contract, was among the Brewers’ most productive players on the team’s opening road trip. He was off to a 6-for-18 start at the plate with a .429 on-base percentage while playing his usual sensational defense in center field.
The Brewers' center-field options would start with Ben Gamel, a left-handed hitter who owns a .250/.308/.667 slash line through his first 13 plate appearances this season. Avisaíl García also was expected to see occasional time in center field this season, and Christian Yelich has manned center field from time to time in the past.
In their 60-man player pool, the Brewers have a number of center fielders, including Tyrone Taylor and Corey Ray, who are on the 40-man roster, and Keon Broxton, who is not on the 40-man roster.
“[Cain] is playing at a really high level right now,” Stearns said. “We were going to have a really good season out of him, so we will miss that. We will miss the energy. We’re also looking forward to getting him back for a full and complete season in 2021. …
“This provides a really nice opportunity for Ben Gamel, a guy who has swung the bat well. He came back from the hiatus in a really good spot with his swing and he’s going to get a longer look and a bigger opportunity now.”
A player who elects not to play is placed on the restricted list, freeing a 40-man roster spot and does not receive salary or service time. That is technically different from a player who “opts out,” which refers to a player who is deemed high risk for COVID-19 and does receive prorated salary and service time.
Cain was originally a 17th-round Draft pick of the Brewers in 2004 who was traded to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal in December '10, and he played in two World Series for the Royals, winning one in '15. He returned to Milwaukee in January 2018 on the richest free-agent contract in franchise history, a five-year, $80 million deal.
That contract will have two seasons remaining as of the start of 2021.