Blue Jays: The case for, and against signing Lorenzo Cain

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Lorenzo Cain /

With news that the Blue Jays have checked in with Lorenzo Cain’s agent, we take a look at the case for and against signing him this offseason.

You knew it was just a matter of time before the Blue Jays’ name starting popping up in free agent rumours. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday when ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported that the Blue Jays were among the early teams to check in with Lorenzo Cain‘s agent, a free agent outfielder formerly of the Kansas City Royals.

With free agency it’s always hard to say how quickly these things could go. It’s very common for teams to “check in” to ask about potential contract demands, or even to express early interest. However, as we saw with the Blue Jays last offseason, things can move quickly sometimes too.

According to Crasnick, the Blue Jays and Mets have reportedly asked about Cain so far, and he also mentions the Giants, Rangers, and Mariners as potential fits, if for no other reason than they have an opening in centre field. If Cain were to come to Toronto, it’s presumed that he would slide into an outfield corner, and likely into right field in the spot vacated by Jose Bautista‘s own free agency.

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There are pros and cons with signing a veteran like Cain, and that’s exactly what we’re going to look at here. Let’s start with the upside, and there’s plenty of it.

The Case For Signing Cain

For all intents and purposes, Cain represents almost all of the boxes the Blue Jays would be looking to check off this winter. He would make them more athletic, improve their outfield defence, bring an on-base ability that isn’t terrible common, and a championship pedigree with him to Toronto.

In 2017 he slashed .300/.363/.440 with 15 home runs, 49 RBI. and 26 stolen bases. He graded out as a +0.9 dWAR in centre field for the Royals last season, and one would think that mark would improve if he moved to right field. Overall he was worth a 5.3 bWAR, which is a pretty elite mark to be sure.

While he’s not an ideal fit in the role, he would have been a no-brainer solution at the top of the order last season, and could potentially handle the role for the 2018 Blue Jays if they were to acquire him. He’s better suited to hit a little further down the lineup, but a talent like his could slot into several positions in John Gibbons’ lineup and make a consistent contribution.

The Case Against Signing Cain

The two things that Cain has going against him are pretty crucial, and could be the difference between Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro being tire kickers, and real contenders for his services. As a “speed guy”, it’s a little concerning that Cain will be 32 at the beginning of next season. He should be fine for a few seasons before his skills start to erode, but guys that count on their legs, and that are on the wrong side of 30, rarely improve. The last few years of his contract could be very expensive, and for a player who isn’t bringing a whole lot to the table anymore, especially because he’s not much of a power guy.

The Blue Jays have long talked about a need to bring more left-handed batters to the lineup as well, and of course Cain hits right-handed. They’ve also talked about wanting to get younger, and again, he’ll be 32 when next season begins. They would also have to surrender a draft pick, as Cain was issued a qualifying offer by the Royals, which he’s already turned down.

Then of course there’s the whole issue of what he’ll want to get paid, and he’ll be looking for a solid payday this winter, as he should. While the Blue Jays should have enough payroll room to afford him, it’ll come down to a question of what’s left to fill the other roster holes, and how the front office wants to allocate the money they’re working with. There hasn’t been a hard number reported, but many writers believe they’ll have 25-30 million to work with this offseason, and Cain would take up a very large chunk of that amount.

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While I’m glad to hear the Blue Jays are at least asking about the players that make sense this offseason, this is one case where I personally don’t see a fit. Don’t get me wrong, Cain is a very nice player and I can see how pursuing him makes sense, I just don’t see it as the best use of resources, given all of the other factors at play here. Then again, I’m almost never right about this stuff.