It’s only been a year, so it might seem a little hyperbolic to some, but happy anniversary of one of the most important dates in Milwaukee Brewers franchise history.
One year ago today, the Brewers landed Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain within hours of eachother, effectively ending their rebuild and changing the landscape of the National League.
In typical David Stearns fashion, both moves virtually came out of nowhere.
While the Cain rumor was around for a few weeks before he ultimately signed, first surfacing on January 4th, the initial reports were still met with skepticism. The Brewers reportedly talked about Cain interally a lot last winter, but the reports never really surfaced until January simply because it, well, didn’t make sense. Those initial rumors were paired with the caveat of “if they trade Domingo Santana and/or Keon Broxton first,” but when neither player was traded, it felt like the rumors died down as the weeks went on.
The Yelich deal came together with even less warning, with the first report of the Brewers making an offer coming just two days before the trade was actually completed. When it happened, the price seemed steep on the surface -- at least compared to what the Marlins had settled for in their other firesale trades, and considering Stearns had spent a year refusing to trade Lewis Brinson -- but the trade came down to this: the Brewers dealt away a few bats that could become Christian Yelich in 3 to 5 years for the Actual Christian Yelich, who they would have for 5 years on an extremely team-friendly contract.
A couple hours later, Cain officially signed and the perception of the Brewers completely changed in less than a day.
While there were still plenty of doubts about their viability as a contender -- they clearly needed to add Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb if they had any hope of making the playoffs -- it was still pretty clear at the time that it was one of the biggest single days the franchise had seen, up there with the trade for Zack Greinke in terms of kicking open the door to the playoff race and cashing in on its prospect capital.
What moved it into “Best Day Ever” territory was how it played out -- Yelich made the leap from Very Good to Superstar in a single year (a single half, really), and Cain was a borderline MVP candidate himself on the strength of his defense and a late-career evolution in his plate discipline that made him a perfect complement to Yelich in the lineup. And unlike that trade heading into the 2011 season, the moves made on January 25th, 2018 weren’t for a one-time shot. It was just the first of many chances to return to the Fall Classic.
There were other momentous days during the rebuilding process -- the Carlos Gomez trade with the New York Mets falling through is likely the second-biggest, followed by the actual trade with Houston that brought back Josh Hader, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Adrian Houser and the Jonathan Lucroy deal that brough back Brinson -- but ultimately January 25th, 2018 made one of the best teams in Brewers history possible and brought the team within one game of its first World Series in 36 years (and, as announced this week, a promotion for Stearns).
There’s still plenty of time to add to the lore of that day, with Yelich just reaching his prime while being signed for four more seasons and Cain possibly having another quality season or two left in him over the next four for which he’s signed. But even if the Brewers don’t get that close to a World Series berth again during either player’s remaining tenure, the value and memories provided in 2018 make both deals worth it. If they do, we’ll have no doubt as to what the best day Stearns ever had on the job was.