Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have received much of the attention out of the Royals free agents, but it is Lorenzo Cain who was named LCS MVP and finished third in MVP voting, not Hosmer or Moustakas. Accordingly, some feel Cain may be one of the best free agents available. Earlier, I took a look at what Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas can expect to get in free agency. Today, we look at Lorenzo Cain.
Expectations weren’t super high when Lorenzo Cain was acquired in a six-player trade from Milwaukee for Zack Greinke. But he was a late bloomer, who put together his best seasons past the age of 28. Since 2014, only four outfielders in baseball have been more valuable, according to fWAR - Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Lorenzo Cain brings a fantastic glove that can help any outfield. While his defense did slip a bit in 2017, he remains a very good defender. His defense overshadows his offense, but people sometimes forget just how good he is offensively. While he isn’t flashy in any one category, he can hit for average, draw some walks, hit 10-15 home runs per year with good gap power, and provide terrific speed on the basepaths. Over the last four seasons, he has stolen 96 bases with an 84% success rate.
Many have assumed Cain to look for a contract similar to the recent Dexter Fowler deal with St. Louis. Last off-season, Fowler signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Cardinals, although it was after he had signed one-year deal with the Cubs the previous deal after he found a weak market for his services after the 2015 season. Here is a comparison of each player in the three seasons leading up to their potential deal.
Dexter Fowler vs. Lorenzo Cain
Both players can play all over the outfield, although Fowler is stretched a bit more in center. Both players have solid power, but home runs are not their calling card. Cain is a more valuable player largely due to his defense, but Cain will turn 32 next April, while Fowler had just turned 31 when he played his first game with the Cardinals. That age difference may not seem like much, but it could be the difference between getting a five-year contract, as Fowler did, or a four-year deal. Teams are also wising up that players 32 and older are a bad bet.
Another big factor is injuries. Cain appeared in 155 games last year, a career high, and the first time he had appeared in more than 140 games in a season. Cain has missed 18% of Royals games over the last four seasons. He has missed games for all sorts of injuries:
April 2012 - Groin, missed three months
August 2013 - Strained left oblique, missed one month
June 2016 - Hamstring strain, missed one month
August 2016 - Wrist, missed one month
He has been able to stay on the field more in recent years, as he has learned how to stay injury-free. The Royals would occasionally have him play right field in an effort to rest his legs, so ideally his team next year will have a centerfielder that can spell him on occasion.
Keith Law thinks Cain could be one of the better values on the market, writing, “the team signing him should expect an average defensive center fielder who hits for average with modest power and OBP, probably a solid-average every-day player who might deliver 12 WAR over a four-year deal.”
There is a poor market for outfielders, which works greatly in Cain’s favor. J.D. Martinez is the cream of the crop, but if a team can’t get him or Cain, they will have to turn to Jay Bruce, Carlos Gomez, Michael Brantley, or Jon Jay. It helps that Cain is capable of playing all three outfield spots, which can make him a solution for a wide variety of teams.
I can see many analytically-minded teams being very interested in Cain, particularly those looking to make a splash and win in a short-time frame. Cain may be an injury-risk, but if he is healthy, he is likely to be a very good player for at least the next year or two.
With such a limited market of outfielders, and so many teams needing an upgrade, I think Cain can get a four-year deal similar to the deal Alex Gordon received. I will say Cain will get $72 million over four years, although perhaps there will be some creative structuring to hedge against injury.
Here are the predictions on how much Cain will get in free agency from Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and the crowd-sourced predictions from Fangraphs, Jon Heyman at FanRag and his “expert”, MLB Trade Rumors, Ken Davidoff at the New York Post, and John Harper of the New York Daily News.
Lorenzo Cain contract estimates
|MLB Trade Rumors||4/$70M|
How much do you think Lorenzo Cain will get on the open market?