Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have gotten most of the attention out of the Royals free agents, but Lorenzo Cain may be a fit for more teams as he can play all three outfield positions and has actually been a much more valuable player over the last three seasons, according to Fangraphs. Who will be the suitors for Lorenzo Cain?
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have made centerfield one of their biggest priorities this off-season. They were one of the worst defensive teams at that position last year, according to Fangraphs, mostly due to the aging Denard Span. The Giants have never been afraid to make a big splash in free agency, signing Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samadzija, and Mark Melancon as big dollar signings in recent years.
But those big signings have caught up to the Giants, and they now find themselves up against the $197 million luxury tax threshold. This has caused them to seek trades to shore up centerfield, and they have been linked to Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Billy Hamilton. However they have a thin system right now, and they may have to bite the bullet and go over the threshold to keep up with the free-spending rivals, the Dodgers. If they decide to blow past the threshold, expect Cain to be high on their list.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The National League champions came so close to winning it all, you can be sure they will be strongly motivated this winter to put the team over the top. A right-handed hitting outfielder is high on their priority list this off-season, as the team seeks to upgrade over Enrique Hernandez. The Dodgers are a strong analytical team, so they seem likely to value a player like Cain. And they are not likely to shy away from his injury risk, as they have the resources to build depth as a hedge against injuries.
Still, the club may look to go with cheaper options to mix and match in the outfield and instead turn their resources to the pitching staff, which may lose Yu Darvish in the rotation and Brandon Morrow in the pen. It is also possible, albeit unlikely, that the Dodgers keep Adrian Gonzalez at first base and ask Cody Bellinger to move back to left, which would eliminate the need to add another outfielder.
According to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers have long liked Cain and have tried to trade for him numerous times. Cain would fit in well near the top of their lineup, and would solidify what was a subpar defensive outfield last year. The Rangers have about $111 million committed to next year’s payroll, according to Cot’s Contracts, which should give them a lot of flexibility if they want to keep their payroll around $160-170 million as it was last year. The Dallas metroplex would also be a close trip home for the Oklahoma resident.
However, starting pitching remains a much bigger priority for the Rangers, as Cole Hamels and Martin Perez are the only returning starters who made at least 20 starts this year. Delino DeShields could take over centerfield, and the outfield already had a pretty full crowd with Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara, and prospect Willie Calhoun expected to be ready for next year. It might make more sense for the Rangers to seek a one-year platoon partner to add in the mix rather than lock themselves up in a long-term deal with Cain.
The Mariners had the worst production in baseball from their centerfielders last year, who collectively hit .224/.299/.313. Jarrod Dyson is a free agent, and if the Mariners seek more offense without sacrificing anything on defense, Lorenzo Cain could be their target.
However, beat writer Greg Johns would be “surprised if that happens”, speculating that the club will instead turn to internal options like Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger for centerfield. Starting pitching will likely be a much bigger priority, and the team also has an opening at first base with Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso both eligible for free agency.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays actually have a solid defender in center with Kevin Pillar already, but will have openings in both outfield positions flanking Pillar. The Jays could go young and gamble on Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford, but it would make more sense to add a veteran at one of the positions. The team doesn’t have a ton of financial flexibility this year, but have few obligations beyond 2018, and could backload a deal to win now, while they still have Josh Donaldson under contract.
Rogers Centre is noted for having a playing surface that can be rough on players, a hazard for an injury-prone player like Cain. Pitching and the infield may also be higher priorities for General Manager Ross Atkins. The Jays lineup is also very right-handed heavy, and could use a lefty to balance it out. Still, Cain would fit in well at the top of the lineup if the Jays want to make one more push next year.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals “have all but given up hope” of bringing Cain back, according to Jon Heyman, even though Cain has seemed open to staying in Kansas City. The Royals can probably fit Cain’s salary into their payroll, but are likely wary of committing the four or five years it would take to sign him considering his age (he will be 32 next April) and injury history.
Still, there is no heir apparent to Cain in Kansas City with Bubba Starling’s development having stalled and Donnie Dewees at least another year away. Paulo Orlando and Billy Burns are likely just role players, and it seems unlikely the Royals would gamble by moving Raúl Mondesí to center. If the Royals decide not to tear it all down and Cain’s market falls, there could be a reunion, but the odds aren’t great.
The Orioles already have Adam Jones entrenched in centerfield, with fantastic rookie Trey Mancini in left, but they struggled filling right field last year, and Seth Smith is now a free agent. However the Orioles prefer a left-handed bat, and will likely focus on pitching this off-season. Their payroll will likely not allow them to make a competitive offer for Cain unless the market falls to them.
New York Mets
The Mets have been linked to Lorenzo before, and Ryan Davis at FanRag sees Cain as a good fit for their lineup. But the Mets are facing budgetary issues this winter and will likely turn to internal options like Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo. If his price comes down, perhaps they can make the finances work, but they would like to add a “1B/OF type” and may need to address third base as well, so whatever scant resources they have will have to be spread thin.