When the Milwaukee Brewers announced last Thursday they had signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal, two things immediately stood out:
1. In a strange free-agent market moving at glacial speed, someone finally received a contract beyond three years.
2. Cain will turn 32 on April 13.
As much as Cain is expected to boost the Brewers' playoff chances in the next few years, it's reasonable to ask if he will be able to remain productive throughout the life of the contract. It is common for players in their mid-30s to fade, both offensively and defensively, while often battling health issues as well.
The Brewers need look no further than their own Ryan Braun, who turned 34 after a 2017 season in which he was limited to 104 games by a series of maladies, most prominently a strained calf. Braun compiled a solid .823 OPS, but it was far below the .905 norm for his career, and the Brewers plan to see if he can play some first base to ease the outfield logjam created by the signing of Cain and the trade for Christian Yelich.
Upon acquiring the 26-year-old Yelich from Miami, general manager David Stearns made a point of saying how important it was to add a player in the prime of his career. Though Cain is more than five years older, the Brewers think they can make an argument that he, too, is in his prime.
"We spent a lot of time looking at the type of player Lorenzo is, how those skill sets translate as the player ages," Steans said. "We became comfortable that this is a player who is going to be able to perform well into his 30s.
"What is encouraging for us about Lorenzo is he is actually getting better. In his early 30s, he is becoming a better player than he was in his late 20s."
The numbers support that argument. In 2015, at age 29, Cain put together his best season, batting .307 with 16 home runs, 72 runs batted in, an .838 OPS and 28 stolen bases, making the American League all-star team for Kansas City.
Cain's production dropped (.747 OPS) in 2016 but a major factor was an ailing wrist that finally forced him to shut it down in September, limiting him to 103 games. But he bounced back in a big way last season, playing a career-high 155 games and batting .300 with a .363 OBP, 15 home runs, 49 RBIs and 26 steals.