The Rangers have “ramped up” their pursuit of free-agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). The report from Crasnick comes not long after a morning report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that tied Cain to the Brewers — the team that initially drafted him.
[Related: Free Agent Profile — Lorenzo Cain]
Cain, 31, rejected a qualifying offer from the Royals following a characteristically excellent season, so he’d require the Rangers to part with their second-highest draft selection as well as $500K of next year’s international signing pool. However, Cain would also provide the Rangers with a noted boost in an outfield that saw Carlos Gomez hit free agency at season’s end.
Over the past four seasons, Cain has been at least an average bat and often rated considerably higher. In that time, he’s slashed .300/.352/.437 — numbers that would look considerably better on the surface had Cain not spent his home games playing in one of the league’s more pitcher-friendly settings. His OPS+ in that time, which adjusts for league and park, was a strong 113 (or 13 percent better than a league-average hitter).
Cain also brings sterling defense and baserunning value to the table. Both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating feel his glovework has deteriorated in recent years, but he was still at +5 DRS and +1.6 UZR last season. And, only four outfielders in all of baseball ranked higher than Cain in Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric in 2017. As for his baserunning, Cain has averaged 24 steals in 28 attempts per year over the past four seasons, and Fangraphs ranks him 17th of 289 position players in total baserunning value in that time.
For Texas, the question isn’t necessarily one of whether Cain would fit the roster or better the team, but rather one of whether they can afford him from a financial standpoint. Texas has already signed Mike Minor, Doug Fister, Chris Martin and Tony Barnette this offseason while also acquiring Matt Moore from the Giants. The Rangers currently project to open the year with a payroll just north of $144MM, and reports earlier this offseason indicated that the Rangers hoped to keep their 2018 payroll in the $155MM range. Backloading a multi-year deal for Cain could certainly make that possible, though it’d likely mean that the signing of Cain was the last of the significant moves for Texas GM Jon Daniels and his staff this offseason.
At present, the Rangers figure to have an outfield consisting of Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo, though Choo could move to designated hitter (and the Rangers have reportedly been trying to shed his contract).