KC Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain expressed his desire to sign a long term extension. But, general manager Dayton Moore should resist the temptation to offer a big money deal to the injury-prone outfielder.
On Friday, soon to be 31-year-old Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain told MLB.com writer Jeffrey Flanagan he wants to remain in KC rather than departing in free-agency next winter:
"“You can’t help but think about that,” Cain said. “You try not to, but it’s there. You know, if it were up to me, I’d be here long-term.”"
Don’t get me wrong. I love what Lorenzo Cain brings to the Royals. At his peak, Cain reminds me of recently-retired five-time All-Star Torii Hunter. Hunter produced 24.0 bWAR from his age 32 season through his age 38 season. That’s significant value.
However, Hunter averaged 142.7 games per season from 2008 through 2014 to produce that bWAR total.
There’s one major difference between Cain and Hunter: durability. Lorenzo Cain has struggled to stay on the field his entire career. Cain’s career high for games played came in 2015 when he appeared 140 times for Kansas City. That season was also his career year, in which he slashed .307/.361/.477 and produced 7.2 bWAR (Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement). Cain has only averaged 112.75 games per season in his last four years.
Putting big money into an aging player who has lacked durability throughout his career would be a big gamble.
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Of the big three that will hit free agency, Eric Hosmer still has the most untapped upside and is the youngest (Hosmer is 27). Mike Moustakas, however, seems poised for a big season after putting up an OPS over .900 in his last three months of play (last two months of 2015 and one month of 2016). Cain, to me, carries the most questions.
On the other hand, Lorenzo Cain does seem to be the “straw that stirs the drink” when it comes to the KC offense. His 7.2 bWAR season coincided with the KC Royals World Series win. In 2016, Kansas City went 59-42 with Cain and 21-39 without him. The team also surged back into contention when Cain returned from a hamstring injury in August, only to crash in September when a broken hand limited him to one game during the final month of the season.
A HEALTHY, productive season in which Cain plays for more than 150 games for the first time would go a long way toward changing the above thinking. It would show that the running techniques Cain learned from a sprinter has helped him manage his body through the season. We could then believe that Cain could at least echo the tail end of Hunter’s career.
Today, however, Lorenzo Cain remains too fragile to invest big dollars for his age 32 season and beyond.