Lorenzo Cain is among several key Royals who are unsigned beyond this year, but the center fielder would rather continue in Kansas City than head elsewhere in 2018, he told Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com.
“You can’t help but think about that,” said Cain, referring to his uncertain future. “You try not to, but it’s there. You know, if it were up to me, I’d be here long-term.”
As of late February, the Royals were focusing on extending another soon-to-be free agent, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and hadn’t engaged in contract talks with Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas or shortstop Alcides Escobar. Unlike Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar, all of whom have seriously underwhelmed at times, Cain has consistently turned in quality production as a Royal.
Since debuting in earnest with Kansas City during a 61-game 2012 campaign, Cain has hit .286/.336/.417 across 2,226 plate appearances. While that’s more of a respectable slash line than a star-caliber one, Cain has added further value defensively and on the base paths to establish himself as one of the majors’ most well-rounded players. Only nine of Cain’s fellow big leaguers have bettered his 61 Defensive Runs Saved and just six have outdone his 51.4 Ultimate Zone Rating over the past half-decade, while he ranks among the top 50 in FanGraphs’ BsR metric and has accumulated 94 steals during the same time frame.
Thanks to his all-around prowess, Cain has totaled 18.0 fWAR since 2012, good for 35th among position players and somewhere between Ian Desmond (18.5 in 3,168 PAs) and Dexter Fowler (13.9 in 2,768 PAs). Notably, Desmond and Fowler landed five-year deals worth between $70MM and $82.5MM as free agents during the offseason. Like those two, Cain is entering his age-31 season. So was Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner in 2014, when he inked a four-year, $52MM extension and eschewed a chance to hit the open market in 2015. That came after Gardner combined for 17.1 fWAR in 2,087 trips to the plate from 2009-13.
Of those three players, Cain’s closest comparable is Gardner, who has also mixed roughly average offense with plus defense and baserunning throughout his career. Cain could certainly have a case to exceed Gardner’s deal, though, particularly if he stays healthy in 2017. Cain only appeared in 103 games and amassed 434 PAs last year, during which he posted his worst batting line since 2013 (.287/.339/.408), as he missed all but one contest in September on account of a wrist injury. Fortunately for Cain, that won’t hamper him going forward.
“No problems with the wrist,” he informed Flanagan. “I’ve been taking some heavy cuts and I haven’t made a lot of contact yet. But the wrist is really good.”
With his wrist issue in the past, Cain figures to further make his case for a rich contract during the upcoming campaign. A bounce-back performance from Cain could help the Royals return to the form they showed in 2015, when they won their first World Series since 1985 and he was among their top contributors. But if the team endures a second straight mediocre season, an extension-less Cain might find himself in a different uniform around the summer trade deadline.