Fresh off yet another strong season, longtime Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain ranks as one of the best free agents available in this year’s class.
Since making his major league debut with the Brewers in 2010, Cain has often mixed average or better production at the plate with top-notch defense and quality baserunning, making him one of the game’s most valuable players at his position. Cain held his own in those three facets in 2017 and surpassed the 4.0 fWAR mark for the third time in the past four seasons. Dating back to 2014, his breakout offensive campaign, only 19 position players have logged a higher fWAR than Cain’s 17.9, which puts him in company with the likes of Freddie Freeman (18.1), Ian Kinsler (17.4) and Andrew McCutchen (16.8).
Defense is perhaps Cain’s greatest strength, evidenced by his lifetime DRS (73) and UZR (53.8) in center. According to those metrics, Cain wasn’t elite in 2017, though he still ranked in the top nine in the league among center fielders in both categories. He placed an even more impressive fifth among all outfielders in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric.
On the offensive side, the righty-swinging Cain has been useful against pitchers of either handedness throughout his career. While his .303/.360/.474 line against southpaws easily trumps his .285/.335/.400 output versus righties, the latter has still been good enough for league-average production, per FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric. All told, he has slashed a respectable .290/.342/.421 in 3,051 trips, including a .300/.363/.440 line across a personal-best 645 PAs in 2017. Cain managed to cut his K rate from 19.4 percent in 2016 to a meager 15.5 percent this past season, and has gone down on strikes just 18.6 percent of the time in his career.
Cain’s speed has certainly contributed to his solid offensive numbers, helping him run a lifetime .344 batting average on balls in play (including a .340 mark in 2017) and an infield hit rate of 9.9 percent (league average has hovered in the 6.5 percent range since his MLB debut). Unsurprisingly, the fleet-of-foot Cain finished toward the top of MLB last season in Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric (16th out of 451 qualifiers). Thanks primarily to his wheels, Cain stole 26 of 28 bases in 2017, ranking fifth in the majors in SB percentage (92.9) along the way. Successful base stealing has been the norm for Cain, who has swiped 127 of 152 bags (83.6 percent) during his career.
If you’re looking for red flags here, age and injury questions jump to the fore immediately. Cain will turn 32 next April, which will make a long-term deal for him all the more risky, and although he played 155 games last year, he hasn’t been that durable. Cain spent time on the disabled list in 2012, ’13, ’14 and ’16, and last season was the only one to date in which he appeared in more than 140 games.
With Cain’s legs being so integral to his game, it’s certainly fair to wonder just how well he’ll age both offensively and defensively. Speed peaks early, after all, and that’s all the more concerning for a 30-something hitter who brings minimal power and middling patience to the table. Cain did hit 15 home runs in 2017, but his .140 ISO (.131 lifetime) fell well below the .171 league average.
Cain, a Valdosta, Ga., native, became a professional when the Brewers chose him in the 17th round of the 2004 draft. He ultimately racked up just 158 PAs with Milwaukee before the team traded him, Jake Odorizzi, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Jeffress to the Royals for Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt in a December 2010 blockbuster. During his time in the majors, Cain, a client of All Bases Covered Sports Management, has earned approximately $21.76MM, per Baseball-Reference.com.
Off the field, Cain has been involved with the Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City. He and his wife, Jenny, have two sons.
Unfortunately for Cain, most of the teams that received bottom-of-the-barrel production from their center fielders in 2017 don’t look like fits for a player who’s on the wrong side of 30. Nevertheless, it appears Cain will price himself out of KC, which will net a compensatory pick after the first round of next year’s draft if he signs with another club for a guaranteed $50MM-plus or a selection after Comp Round B if he gets less. The Giants, Mets and Blue Jays are reportedly eyeing him, while the Mariners and Rangers have also come up as potential matches. Of those teams, the Giants and Mariners need a center fielder the most. The Mets, Blue Jays and Rangers have experienced CFers on hand in Juan Lagares, Kevin Pillar and Delino DeShields, respectively, though Cain is a better all-around player than each of those three.
MLBTR forecasts a four-year, $70MM payday for Cain, who could push for a pact that rivals the half-decade-long, $82.5MM deal fellow center fielder Dexter Fowler signed with the Cardinals last winter. The fact that Cain’s a year older than Fowler will make a fifth year difficult to obtain, though.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
4/70 would probably be a fair value for him.
Anyone jumping to 5 would probably regret it. But the first 2-3 years should net decent value. I wonder if a team like the Giants could land him and front load that deal.
18 – 20
19 – 18
20 – 16
21 – 16
Keeps it from being an albatross while they finish off Pence and retool with Posey, Bumgarner, Cueto, and Belt to build around.
Though, luxury tax threshold….
Belt is absolutely not worth building around. His contract was another mistake, yet not nearly as damaging as some of their other contracts on the books.
Belt may not be someone to “build around” but, when he doesn’t take a pitch off the noggin, he’s one of the most underrated players in baseball.
He’s objectively better than many 1B who are paid much higher than him (and objectively better, by all regards, than Hosmer who’ll make $4-6MM AAV than him).
Also, as I am sure you know, Giants are totally against front-loading contracts. I don’t know why. But they most definitely are.
I think the Giants would be better off with a short term commitment like Gardner and Headley.
Cubs please trade Schwarber for some meatballs and maybe a draft pick and sign him for center or left.
Cant trade draft picks in baseball
Meant like low minor leaguer, my bad
Was trying to be sarcastic and I blew it
You actually can. The competitive balance picks can be traded.
Which the Cubs don’t receive, so no, the Cubs cannot trade draft picks.
There’s always the Rule 5 draft.
On December 8, 2009, Yanks traded RP Brian Bruney, who went 5-0, 3.92 ERA in 44 games for them, to the Nats for the #1 overall pick in the Rule 5 draft (Nats drafted whoever the Yankees wanted then shipped him off to the Yankees, as terms of the trade )
(Ended up being Jamie Hoffmann)
Back then, I remember thinking to myself: “Pretty cool!” and still think so today (Baseball draft picks rarely traded because of strict limitations on the trading of draft picks)
The Cubs would have just resigned Fowler last year, no reason to sign Cain. They need pitching help and still believe enough in Schwarber who has little to no trade value right now.
But they didn’t and they clearly struggled from the leadoff position for the season. The Cubs clearly missed Fowler up top last year. Cain usually bats 2nd or 3rd but he seems the prototypical leadoff hitter for Maddon. Signing Cain gives the Cubs probably the best defensive OF in the majors. Schwarber can then fill what should be his role on any NL team….4th OF, pinch hitter, DH in interleague.
Madden has a man-crush on Schwarber, who will be the lead off hitter and patrol LF for the Cubs.
No he won’t. That ship sailed
I would argue that the Mariners aren’t really in desperate need for a CF with Haniger around. Dyson is also an affordable backup plan for CF should the Mariners continue to go with elite defense and speed. But Haniger in the fold doesn’t mean we’re dying in CF.
The Mariners also have a better center field defender in Guillermo Heredia, whom Steamer projects with a modest 2018 WAR of 1.2.
But you can’t trust Heredia on an every day basis, considering his massive platoon splits.
The Mariners should sign a CF/corner OF for one season, maximum 2 yrs- personally I’d love a Jarrod Dyson reunion. We have Kyle Lewis, Braden Bishop and Filia to name a few OF prospects in the pipeline.
I agree, but Fowler has a way of leading a team seeing as he was the leadoff hitter.
Yeah it was more about the leadoff bat to “compliment Carpenter” which actually worked when he was out of leadoff because of the bigger numbers Fowler put up. He’d be good in a full season in left field, not batting leadoff.
Yeah, and i can see fowler aging better as i see the bat as more sustainable.
Fowler needs to be the 1, carpenter the 2 imo.
I read that the Cards are planning that scenario — corner outfield and down in the order for Dexter.
Go get Gardner as a short term commitment and cheap
Cain is just another guy on the wrong side of thirty who is asking for a contract that will condemn a team to pay premium rates for someone who is certain to become a sub-replacement level player in two or three years.
Those facts lead me to believe either the Mariners or Rangers will sign him.
This is what the Giants do.
See Aaron Rowand, Angel Pagan, Denard Span…. sigh.
The KC free agents have a bit of a post-beatles vibe. As in…teams will overpay them hoping to get “Hey Jude”…and they’ll get Ringo Star singing a cover version.
A player who relies on speed, injury prone and turning 32 – 4/70 is a risk for any team willing to pay that for him. Good player, but those three points play big into the risk.
4 and 60 is the most i would go for Cain.
-the team is contending
-the team really needs a CF upgrade
Not sure how many fit the bill. He’s not going to have many suitors.
That’s the Cubs
The Mets have a platoon of Lagares and Nimmo that is basically a wash. They need at least 2BP arms, an innings eater #3 (fat chance), and at least 1 more impact bat. Cain’s value is in his defense, one thing the Mets have in Lagares.
Jays could use Cain! They need a top of the order bar, with more speed than they have, even at his age! I know jays want to get younger, but it’s a gamble that could pay off. His defence is a major upgrade, even if he declines. The window to go al’most’ in is now!!
The Cubs should be the team to learn from the mistake of not signing Fowler and sign up Cain
Most of the Cubs young players under performed last year.
I agree. And put happ and almora in left. With almora in that’s a lethal outfield
Even if the Cubs had Cain why would Almora play Left? When Almora is in the lineup he is in CF because he is that good a CF’er
How was not signing Fowler a mistake
Realistically, a good deal for Cain would be 3-years in the 50 million dollar range. I’d do that if I were a club. However, seems like it’s definitely going to take a fourth year.
While Cain’s better than Fowler in terms of base-stealing, defense, and avg., (at least two of those are going to see a notable decline in the coming years) Fowler has a skillset that will age much better. He possesses a bit more pop and far exceeds Cain’s on-base skills. Given that, I don’t think you can comp the two when gauging Cain’s value.