By most measurements, Lorenzo Cain should be one of the top free agents on the market this offseason. Since 2014, he ranks 20th in the majors in Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement. In the same span, he ranks fifth among all outfielders. And in 2017, he batted .300 with a .363 on-base percentage and 15 homers while playing a career-high 155 games.
But then there is another rather important metric: Age.
Cain will turn 32 in April, just weeks after his ninth major-league season begins. That fact alone could curb interest in the former All-Star center fielder this winter.
One of nine Royals who became free agents this month, Cain joins a list that includes first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas. All three will be among the most coveted players on the market.
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Kansas City is expected to be active in retaining its homegrown players. Yet the process depends on a set of unknowns: Which teams will be interested in Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain? What will their markets look like? Will the price, as it did for Alex Gordon two years ago, fall back into the Royals’ neighborhood?
“You just never really know,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.
The market is expected to heat up next week when officials from all 30 teams convene in Orlando, Fla., for the annual general managers meetings. The Star is looking at which teams might be interested in Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain. Earlier this week, we looked at possible destinations for Hosmer and Moustakas. Now let’s look at which teams might be a fit for Cain.
While his age could limit the length of a long-term deal, his ability to play above-average defense in right field as he ages could alleviate teams’ concerns over an extended investment.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants have long been considered a likely landing spot for Cain, whose premium defense would be a strong fit in the spacious confines of AT&T Park. He would be an upgrade over an aging Denard Span in center field and join a core group that helped the Giants to three World Series before an unexpected 98-loss season last year.
New York Mets: The Mets could see Cain as an upgrade over their internal options in center field (Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo). Just like AT&T Park in San Francisco, his defense would translate well to Citi Field.
Seattle Mariners: Seattle has a long playoff drought, a closing window to compete with its current roster and a decent hole in center field. Jarrod Dyson occupied this spot for stretches last season before becoming a free agent. Could the Mariners be interested in his good friend?
The Royals: Kansas City was burned two years ago when it signed an outfielder in his early 30s (Alex Gordon) to a four-year deal. Club officials may be hesitant to repeat the mistakes of the past, especially if it appears the team will move into rebuild mode. Yet if Cain is unable to find a long-term deal, perhaps Kansas City would be interested in something more short term.
The Field: Center field is a premium defensive position. Cain is one of the best and could move to right field with ease. This is why some evaluators in the game believe this will ultimately mean a deeper pool of suitors for Cain. But in this case, his market could end up hinging on what happens with the players ranked ahead of him in the free-agent pecking order.