Free Agent Fit: Does Lorenzo Cain make sense for the Blue Jays?

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain. (Jim Mone/AP)

During the off-season we’ll be taking a closer look at some potential free agent targets for the Toronto Blue Jays. Today it’s Lorenzo Cain.

Player: Lorenzo Cain | Age: 32
Position: CF
Bats: Right | Throws: Right
2017 stats: 155 GP| .300/.363/.440 | 15 HR | 4.1 WAR | BB/K: 54/100

MLB Trade Rumors Signing Prediction: San Francisco Giants. Four years, $70 million.

Why he’s a potential fit for the Blue Jays:
Did you watch any Blue Jays baseball in 2017? If so, did you notice a distinct deficiency in some very key areas of the game? Notably: team speed, outfield defence, and the ability to generate offence without the home run? Lorenzo Cain solves all those problems.

In fact, considering his plus speed, above average defence, and 115 wRC+ in 2017, Cain would be an excellent fit for any team, and may be the most well-rounded position player available in this free agent class. He’s been worth four wins above replacement or more in three of the last four seasons and boasts a very strong .300/.352/.437 batting line since the beginning of 2014 with fine numbers against both right- and left-handed pitching. He doesn’t draw an exceptional amount of walks, but the decline in his strikeout rate from 21.5 per cent in 2014 to 15.5 per cent in 2017 is certainly encouraging.

He’s also an adept base runner, converting on 84 per cent of his stolen base attempts (96-for-114) over the last four seasons and ranking as one of MLB’s 20 fastest players this year by Statcast’s sprint speed metric. And he’s proven his defensive ability time and again while patrolling the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium, posting excellent UZR (53.8) and DRS (73) numbers over his career. Per StatCast’s outs above average metric, Cain was one of the five best defensive outfielders in the game in 2017.

Simply put: Cain would represent a considerable improvement on every outfielder the Blue Jays ran out in 2017 and every outfielder they currently have on their roster. If the Blue Jays want to make a big splash in free agency, Cain is the natural choice.

Why he might not be a fit for the Blue Jays:
Warning signs abound with Cain, a player on the wrong side of 30 who relies on his legs for a significant chunk of his value. The 31-year-old (32 in April) has reached 26 stolen bases in three of the past four seasons, something that can only become more difficult to replicate as he ages. His defence was above average if not borderline elite in 2017, but it was down from the levels he displayed in seasons past. And if the hamstring troubles he battled in 2016 turn out to have been foreshadowing future lower half injuries, much of Cain’s value could be eroded.

There’s also the price tag. There should be plenty of competition for Cain’s services this winter, which means the Blue Jays will have to pay top dollar to lure him north of the border. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cain eventually end up with somewhere around the five-year, $82.5-million deal Dexter Fowler received last off-season. It’s unlikely the Blue Jays would want to commit so much of their available budget to one player, and then stare down the barrel of yet another aging roster piece making close to $20 million for the next half decade. Cain was also extended a qualifying offer by the Kansas City Royals, which means the Blue Jays would jettison their second-highest draft pick in 2018 and $500,000 of international bonus money if they signed him, further upping the overall expenditure.

The latest buzz:
Earlier this month, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported that the Blue Jays and New York Mets had reached out to Cain’s representatives, and Fanrag Sports’ Jon Heyman added that the San Francisco Giants have “looked at” Cain. But otherwise, it’s been all quiet on Cain’s free agent front. His market may remain that way until the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes conclude, with teams that miss out on the Marlins slugger potentially looking at Cain as a plan B.

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