Lorenzo Cain stands out as the best defensive outfielder in a weak class, but will his age keep his value down?
When the Kansas City Royals traded ace Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers in December of 2010, Lorenzo Cain was included to complete the trade. At the time, Cain was finishing his age-24 season and had played only 43 MLB games. He was drafted by the Brewers in 2004 out of community college and was incredibly raw — extremely athletic, but raw. Cain barely played baseball in high school, and he had a steep learning curve when he entered the professional ranks.
It took Cain another two full seasons to entrench himself as a regular with the Royals. He played only six games at the MLB level in his age-25 season and 61 in his age-26 year. The center fielder finally saw regular action in 2013 at the age of 27, where he played 115 games, hitting only .251/.310/.348 with 14 stolen bases.
By this point, it might have been fair to assume Cain would never be more than a fourth outfielder, but he finally broke through in 2014 and helped lead the Royals to the World Series. Since that season, he has hit .300/.352/.437 with 45 home runs, 230 RBI and 96 stolen bases.He was the MVP of the 2014 ALCS after hitting .533 five runs and two doubles. That was Cain’s coming out party, and he has been a star ever since, finishing third in the AL MVP vote in 2015.
The late start to Cain’s career is a gift and a curse. On the plus side, he is 31 with only 756 MLB games on his legs. Unfortunately, he’s also getting his first taste of free agency entering his age-32 season. It’s next to impossible to predict how Cain will age because he has played only five full MLB seasons. The speed-defense types don’t always age well into their mid-30s when the legs start to go, but Cain comes with far less wear on his body than the average 32-year-old.
Cain should be seeking a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $85-90 million. Dexter Fowler’s five year, $82.5-million deal last winter should help set the market for Cain, who is a year older than Fowler was when he hit free agency, but a superior overall player. In three of the past four years, Cain has been a five-plus WAR player. Fowler only has one season with more than four WAR.
In a class of one-dimensional, slugging outfielders, Cain stands out as the best five-tool option on the market. He’s worth at least five years, and one of the following five teams should step up and make him a big offer.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Until he shows otherwise, Lorenzo Cain is a center fielder. No need to force him into a corner spot just yet. However, Cain may be able to make himself even more money by showing a willingness to slide over to left field, especially if the team signing him already has an elite defender in center field. The Toronto Blue Jays are one team desperately in need of a left fielder or right fielder, and they figure to have cash to burn this winter.
The Jays need more production out of left field than what Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Pearce are able to give them. Toronto is a team in transition, with Jose Bautista’s option being declined for 2018. The Joey Bats era is now over, but Josh Donaldson is only under contract for one more year. The Jays have an aging roster and their best player can leave in a year. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are only 18 and 19 and likely two years away. Cain fits into the win-now mentality the Jays should carry into 2018, and won’t be out of his prime by the time the top prospects are ready for the big leagues. Convincing him to take a back seat to Kevin Pillar, however, may prove difficult.