Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Born: April 13, 1986 (31)
Traditional Stats: .300/.363/.440, 27 2B, 5 3B, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 26 SB, 2 CS
Advanced Stats: 5.3 bWAR, 4.1 fWAR, 112 OPS+, 115 wRC+
Defensive Stats: 5 DRS, 1.6 UZR
In what was likely the last year before the Kansas City Royals were forced to break up the band, Lorenzo Cain put forth what was arguably the second best season of his career in his attempt to get the Royals in position for one last postseason run. While the run never materialized for the 80-82 Royals, it was certainly a timely season for Cain as it was a walk year for the 31-year-old All-Star center fielder.
Looking over the back of his baseball card, two of his last three seasons have been simply outstanding with 2016 being the outlier season. While some players can tend to be every other year type performers, it does not appear this was the case with Cain. In fact, Cain dealt with hamstring and wrist injuries limiting him to 103 games. Likely, he was limited in terms of his production at the plate and in the field.
While it is a dicey proposition, if we eliminate the 2016 season, we see superstar numbers from Cain over this stretch. When combining his 2015 and 2017 seasons, he was a .303/.366/.458 hitter who averaged 31 doubles, six triples, 16 homers, 61 RBI and 27 stolen bases. He also averaged a 6.3 bWAR and 5.3 fWAR. Those are incredibly impressive numbers.
However, as noted with his injury plagued 2016 season, it is not the full story. That goes double when you consider that aside from the 2015 and 2017 seasons, Cain has been a player that has had his share of injury issues. With the Mets not having fully figured out their medical and training situations, this should not be overlooked.
There are some other red flags with Cain. Over the past three seasons, we have seen his DRS and UZR drop in three consecutive seasons. In 2015, Cain was Gold Glove caliber in center posting an 18 DRS and 14.3 UZR. Those numbers dropped to a 5 DRS and a 1.6 UZR last year.
Now, those numbers are more than acceptable for a center fielder. In fact, among qualified players, his DRS ranked fifth and his UZR ranked ninth. Put another way, Cain can definitely play the position well. Even if he still regressed from this point, he would still be a capable center fielder. However, he would no longer be the game changing one he was in 2015 when he finished third in the MVP voting.
And there is reason to believe Cain can stick in center for the next few seasons. Mostly, you can believe it because the speed and quickness is still there. We see that in his continued ability to steal bases at a high and efficient clip.
Overall, if Cain is healthy, he should be a solid to All-Star caliber center fielder for the next few seasons. However, if he is not healthy, and the soon to be 32 year old player does not have a sterling record on that front, his contract may well become an albatross.
MLB Trade Rumors predicts Cain will sign a four year $70 million contract this offseason with Dexter Fowler‘s five year $82.5 million contract last offseason as their model. Considering the dearth of quality center field options on the free agent market, it’s likely Cain gets closer to that $16.5 million average annual value Fowler got last offseason.
Earlier this offseason, MMO‘s Chris Gaine gave a well reasoned argument why the Mets should prioritize signing Cain this offseason. While it was a persuasive argument, I personally disagree with him.
If the Mets make no moves this offseason, their defensive alignment would be: C Travis d’Arnaud, 1B Dominic Smith, 2B Wilmer Flores/T.J. Rivera, 3B Asdrubal Cabrera, SS Amed Rosario, LF Yoenis Cespedes, CF Juan Lagares, RF Michael Conforto.
It is a shock to no one this is a defensive alignment with a number of holes, and things get worse when you consider the Mets need to add to the bullpen and add an arm to the rotation. This gets extremely complicated when you consider the Mets are cutting payroll and a rumored to have around $30 million to spend this offseason.
Unfortunately, this means the Mets will have to go with a number of internal options to fill in the gaps. One of the positions where they are actually best suited is center field. Albeit in limited duty, Lagares was outstanding in center posting a 15 DRS and a 24.7 UZR/150. His DRS led the National League, and his UZR/150 led all Major Leaguers.
If Lagares could even hit a little bit, he could return to the 5+ win player he was in 2014. Mets fans have plenty of reason to be skeptical this will ever come true. If he doesn’t hit, the Mets could look for Brandon Nimmo to get increased time in center. While not the fielder Lagares is, he did show his impressive ability to get on base did translate well to the majors.
All of this is a long winded way of saying, in different times and different priorities, the Mets should 100 percent be in on Cain. However, with the budget being what it is and the roster holes being what they are, the Mets are likely going to have to roll the dice with Lagares and Nimmo and invest their money elsewhere.