8 Potential Landing Spots for Lorenzo Cain
It's been a slowly developing market for MLB free agents thus far, with very few of the top players available having been snapped up. That includes the man who could be the best, and least-talked about, position player on the market.
In 645 plate appearances, Cain batted .300/.363/.440 with 15 homers, 26 stolen bases, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .347, a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 115, and a bWAR (Baseball Reference WAR) of 5.3.
In 2015, he was third in the AL MVP voting and has continued to be one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, with 5 defensive runs saved (DRS) which was tied for seventh-most among MLB center fielders last season.
Yes, he's 32, which is a bit older than most teams would like in a free agent, and it's fair to wonder if the speed upon which so much of Cain's game depends on will continue to be there over the next few years. But among all position players on the free agent market, Cain has the highest bWAR, better than J.D. Martinez (4.1), Eric Hosmer (4.0), Logan Morrison (3.6) and Todd Frazier (3.4).
For a team with a postseason contention window still open, Cain would seem to be an ideal add to a roster on a three or four-year deal.
So, which teams should be taking a hard look at Cain to take over for them in center?
San Francisco Giants
Last year, the San Francisco Giants had Denard Span and his -1.1 bWAR manning center field, and according to the current Giants' depth chart at MLB.com, Gorkys Hernandez is lined up to take over the center field duties.
Span's defensive metrics were not kind to him last season, and his wRC+ of 102 showed him to be barely above average offensively. In 310 plate appearances last season, Hernandez posted a slash line of .255/.327/.326 and a bWAR of -0.6. If San Francisco is serious about contending in 2018, they need an upgrade in center.
Keon Broxton hit 20 homers and stole 21 bases for the Milwaukee Brewers last season, making him one of baseball's few 20-20 men. But don't be too impressed by that. He was terrible offensively (.220/.299/.420) with a WAR of 0.4. And lest you think that Broxton is some young pup just getting his feet wet, the 2018 season will be his age-28 season.
Defensive metrics also see him as a less-than-stellar defender, with an overall Fangraphs Def score of -0.4. Milwaukee is an up-and-coming team, and a veteran like Cain can provide leadership, on-base ability, and above average defense for a team that desperately needs it.
Toronto Blue Jays
Make no mistake, Kevin Pillar is an outstanding defensive center fielder in his own right, worth 15 DRS last season. That's more than Cain had. However, Pillar was a far less effective offensive player, with a slash line of .256/.300/.404, 15 homers, 16 steals, and a bWAR of 2.8.
No doubt, he's a nice player, and perhaps he could stay in center with Cain moving to one of the corner outfield spots. Toronto's depth chart currently has Steve Pearce as the team's left fielder in 2018 and Teoscar Hernandez as the team's right fielder. The Jays are said to be interested in Cain on a four-year deal.
Like Toronto, the Arizona Diamondbacks wouldn't seem to have a need in center field with A.J. Pollock in that spot. But since having a breakout season in 2015, Pollock has struggled to stay healthy, and it appears as if that 5.9 bWAR season may be the high-water mark of his career. He missed virtually all of '16 with a fractured elbow, and he missed time last season as well with a groin injury and a quad injury.
While still an above average defensive center fielder, the injury-prone Pollock could benefit from a move from center field and into a corner spot, which would open up a place for Cain to call home.
Last year, Austin Jackson and Bradley Zimmer split center field duties, and both did fairly well, combining for a bWAR of 3.4. Certainly, Cleveland could live with that kind of production again in 2018.
But in order to make themselves even more dangerous as they gear up for another potential pennant run next season, adding Cain would certainly make them a better ball club and provide stability to an outfield situation that is a bit muddled at the moment.
In 376 at-bats last year, he slashed .269/.347/.367 with a wRC+ of 99 and a WAR of 2.2. He's a good defensive center fielder, so perhaps Texas could keep him there and bring in Cain to play left, which is currently scheduled to be manned by Willie Calhoun, a top prospect who hit 31 home runs and had a .927 OPS as a 21-year-old in AAA last season.
Rolling with Calhoun may ultimately be the way Texas goes, and one could hardly blame them, or they could turn DeShields into a super-utility guy and have Cain play center field full time.
Charlie Blackmon was an MVP candidate for the Rockies last season, so on the surface, it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to put Colorado on this list. Blackmon hit 37 bombs and was actually a half-decent defensive player last season, too. But Cain is a superior defender and, in order to keep up with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in the NL West, the Rockies could push Blackmon over to one of the corner spots and put either Gerardo Parra or the disappointing Ian Desmond on the bench.
Adding Cain's defense to the national park-sized outfield of Coors Field would greatly aid in run prevention, given his ability to track down potential extra-base hits in the alleys.
Los Angeles Dodgers
But adding Cain would give the team a stable presence in the center of the outfield and allow Taylor and Pederson to play in the corners, a spot where their skills would be put to better use. All three can handle center, but none can do it as well as Cain.
Yes, the Dodgers love being able to mix and match their lineups, but adding Cain would make them a better ball club as they search for their first World Series title since 1988.