The Blue Jays and Mets have both reached out to the representatives for free-agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Crasnick also lists the Rangers, Mariners and Giants as more speculative fits for Cain’s services.
While both Toronto and New York already have standout defensive center fielders in Kevin Pillar and Juan Lagares, respectively, adding Cain to the outfield mix in either organization could create an elite defensive unit. The Blue Jays have a more pronounced need in the outfield, though young Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford could both work their way into regular roles next year. The Mets would appear to be more set with Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto both in the mix alongside Lagares, but Conforto’s status is something of a question mark following shoulder surgery. Speaking purely speculatively, acquiring Cain could also allow either club to trade from its stock of outfielders.
Cain, 32 next April, hit .300/.363/.440 with 15 homers and 26 steals in 645 plate appearances with the Royals in 2017. While he’s never turned in a below-average season in the outfield by virtually any defensive metric, this past season was his weakest in that regard. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at +5 runs in center field, while Ultimate Zone Rating had him at +1.6. Statcast’s new Outs Above Average metric still pegged Cain as one of baseball’s truly elite outfielders; he ranked fifth among all outfielders with a sterling mark of +15.
Cain will reportedly reject the Royals’ $17.4MM qualifying offer, meaning he’ll cost any club that signs him some resources in next year’s draft. Specifically, the Jays and the Mets would forfeit their second-highest pick and $500K worth of next year’s international signing pool in order to sign Cain, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently explained. The Rangers would face that same penalty, while the Mariners would only need to forfeit their third-highest selection. Of the teams listed by Crasnick, the Giants would pay the steepest penalty — forfeiting their second- and fifth-highest draft selections as well as $1MM worth of international spending money. San Francisco is “juggling a lot of balls” at present, per Crasnick.
The Royals, meanwhile, would land a compensatory draft pick after the first round so long as Cain signs a contract worth more than $50MM in total guarantees. That seems exceedingly likely to be the case, wherever he signs. In the off-chance that Cain somehow comes up shy of $50MM, Kansas City’s comp pick would come after Competitive Balance Round B in next year’s draft.