By GENARO C. ARMAS, AP Sports Writer
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Lorenzo Cain felt comfortable back at Miller Park even if his new Milwaukee Brewers uniform seemed to fit a bit snugly over his dress shirt and tie.
The former Kansas City Royals outfielder has returned to the organization that drafted him, his future secure after a quieter-than-expected start to free agency.
Cain and the Brewers finalized an $80 million, five-year contract Friday, one day after Milwaukee general manager David Stearns acquired center fielder Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins for four prospects.
“You definitely don’t want to be out there too long. It’s definitely chilly out there,” Cain said. “But Milwaukee was in on me from the get-go — other teams as well – and once I got a phone call from David, this was the spot I wanted to be in.”
A 31-year-old former Brewers farmhand, Cain spent the past seven seasons in Kansas City and was part of the core group that won the World Series in 2015. He hit .300 with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 26 steals last season.
He rejoins the Brewers, who dramatically remade their outfield as they seek to dethrone the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
Cain’s deal is the highest for a free agent this offseason and the second-highest overall behind outfielder Justin Upton’s $106 million, five-year agreement to remain with the Los Angeles Angels.
“He’s one of the rare, true five-tool players in baseball right now,” Stearns said.
Cain gets $14 million this year, $15 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, $17 million in 2021 and $18 million in 2022, with $1 million annually deferred and payable in equal installments from 2023-27. He has a full no-trade provision this year and a limited no-trade for the rest of the deal allowing him to list teams he cannot be traded to without his consent: 15 in 2019, seven from 2020-21 and five in 2022.
Drafted by Milwaukee in the 17th round in 2004, Cain was traded to Kansas City as part of a deal that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee before the 2011 season.
The career .290 hitter is also known for his defense, as is Yelich, who was acquired from Miami for four minor leaguers on Thursday. The timing of the big back-to-back acquisitions was coincidental, Stearns said.
Yelich and Cain report to a team that came one game short of making the playoffs last year. Milwaukee went 86-76 in the second full year of a rebuild, and the timeline for a return to pennant contention has accelerated.
“There’s not a place I don’t think it doesn’t make us better offensively and defensively,” said manager Craig Counsell, who was teammates in Milwaukee with Cain in 2010.
“Lineup, in the clubhouse, experience — so there (are) a lot of places that we feel like we got better yesterday.”
Yelich, who turned 26 last month, will make $7 million this season in the third year of a $49.57 million, seven-year deal. Left fielder Ryan Braun has three years remaining on a $105 million, five-year deal.
Under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, the Brewers will lose their third-highest pick in June’s amateur draft and the Royals will gain an additional pick after the first round as compensation.
While Yelich and Cain each played center last season, Counsell said Cain will be the regular center fielder. Yelich won a Gold Glove in left with Miami in 2014, though his exact role has yet to be determined.
The Brewers have also approached Braun about the possibility of playing sometimes at first base, which was manned capably last season by Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar. Primarily a left fielder in the big leagues, Braun was limited to 104 games last year because of calf and wrist injuries.
“Ryan’s interests are to help this team however he can,” Stearns said. “Ryan wants to put the Brewers in the best position to succeed.”
More moves by Milwaukee may be coming to address a now-crowded outfield.
Last year’s right fielder, Domingo Santana, could be an attractive trade possibility after the 25-year-old hit .278 with 30 homers. Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips, two other outfielders known for defense, could also be trading commodities.
The Brewers, who signed free agent pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo last month, still might be in the market for a starter. Right-hander Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss the start of the season because of a shoulder injury.
Stearns said that while he was comfortable with the current pitching staff, he would stay open-minded to free-agent or trade possibilities. Even if they don’t add another pitcher, the Brewers feel they’ve given themselves a big defensive boost by adding Cain and Yelich.
Cain played 43 games in his only previous season with the Brewers as a rookie in 2010. He fondly recalls his hit-robbing catches with Milwaukee, though.
“Oh, there will be more,” Cain said with a smile.
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