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Taking a look at Milwaukee’s best free agent signings

In 50-plus years of history, a few key signings stand out among the rest

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This is a totally subjective list, so please feel free to argue in the comments

Milwaukee has never been known to dole out huge contracts on the open market, and in the rare situations where they have, it hasn’t always worked out. Looking at you, Jeff Suppan and Matt Garza. Despite these disappointments, there are always a few signings that seem to work out for the best. Let’s take a look at some of the top free agent signings in Brewers’ history.

#3: Mike Cameron (Two years, $16.5 million in 2008)

Nearing the end of his career, the Brewers took a flier on Mike Cameron in early 2008 as they looked to return to the postseason for the first time since 1982.

An above-average hitter and fielder throughout his entire career, Cameron turned in two respectable seasons with Milwaukee, slashing .247/.337/.464 with 57 doubles, 49 home runs, 149 RBIs, an OPS+ of 111, and a 6.1 WAR. He ranked as the fifth-best player on the 2008 team and the fourth-best on the 2009 team by WAR.

Most importantly, Cameron helped the Crew achieve their goal of returning to the playoffs in 2008.

#2: Sal Bando (Five years, $1.5 million in 1976)

After four All-Star appearances and three top-10 MVP finishes with Oakland from 1969 to 1976, the Brewers took a chance on Bando with a five-year, $1.5 million deal, a huge contract at the time.

Across his five seasons in Milwaukee, Bando continued to be a solid hitter through his age-37 season, slashing .250/.335/.382 with 50 home runs and 9.4 WAR with the Brewers. His best year came in 1978, when he slashed .285/.371/.439 with 17 homers for an OPS+ of 128. His 5.7 WAR that season also ranked second on the team behind starter Mike Caldwell, who turned in a career year himself.

While he had a steep decline in the final years of his contract, his strong performance at the beginning of the contract makes this a good deal for the Brewers in the early days of the franchise.

#1: Lorenzo Cain (Five years, $80 million in 2018)

If you include his partial 2010 season with Milwaukee prior to being traded to the Royals in the offseason, Lorenzo Cain was as solid a player as the Brewers have ever had.

He slashed .273/.344/.383 over 458 games with Milwaukee, including a career year in 2018 when he slashed .308/.395/.417 to help the Brewers get within one game of the World Series.

Like Bando, Cain fell off a cliff toward the end of his contract, but the value he added in the early years of the contract — and the value he added in drawing fans to the stadium — make this contract worth it.

Even with his -0.2 WAR in 2022, Cain finished with a 13.8 WAR with Milwaukee. Even though he didn’t bring much to the table in terms of power (30 home runs across 415 games during the duration of this contract), his ability to get on base and play strong defense made him one of the most valuable Brewers during his return to Milwaukee.

He finished seventh in NL MVP voting in 2018 and he won his first — and inexplicably only — Gold Glove in 2019. He also finished second in defensive WAR (2.4) and sixth in overall WAR (6.9) in 2018.

Honorable Mentions: Yasmani Grandal (One year, $18.25 million in 2019); Aramis Ramirez (Three years, $36 million in 2011); Dave Parker (Three years, $3 million in 1989); Larry Hisle (Six years, $6 million in 1977)