Before you read more, understand that I understand that the Indians probably aren’t going to spend any more money this winter. They’re spending somewhere around $125 million this year, and that includes about $25 million on Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis. They need those players to bounce back hard. That’s a big albatross around a small market team, borderline Swisher/Bourn-esque. So there’s lots of hope of good luck involved in their planning. Not exactly a great idea for a team with title dreams.
But I still think the Indians should sign Lorenzo Cain.
There’s a ton of pseudo-stars still sitting in the free agency pool, and I want the Indians to sign them all. It’d be fun to see JD Martinez brutalize the Tigers for 19 games, and having Yu Darvish come in and make Trevor Bauer the Tribe’s fourth or fifth starter would be the greatest of good problems to have. But I like Lorenzo Cain. He’s fun to watch, he’s good, and he could help in ways the Indians could use it.
So the Indians already have Bradley Zimmer, who is a better defensive center fielder than Cain and, if he hits even a little bit, is probably more valuable than any version of Cain except the 2015 type. That was the year Cain hit .307/.361/.477, good for a 128 wRC+. But I still want Cain because he could play the other corner outfield positions that are already full of question marks and indecision. What if Brantley can’t play more than 100 games, and needs to DH besides? What if Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall and whoever else fall into a crevasse for stretches of the season again? Why just have some fill-in replacement level guy like Melvin Upton, Jr.? Just have the greatest super sub in baseball history.
There is, of course, the argument that Cain, built on speed, wouldn’t age well. It’s true, age degrades. But as Mike Petriello over at MLB.com pointed out, Cain should age gracefully. Barring injury of course. According to StatCast’s Sprint Speed metric, 30-year-old Cain is still as fast as Trea Turner. Even if you account for age fade, you wouldn’t think he’d lose that much range. Plus, if he’s playing the corners, he has less ground to cover, AND Progressive Field is much smaller in the outfield than Kauffman Stadium. My only real worry would be a Mike Cameron/Carlos Beltran incident, and perhaps Cain’s ability to play balls off the big wall in left. That was never a problem in Kansas City. It feels like a minor problem that he’d take good care of. He’s played dozens of games in that field already anyway.
There’s a problem that all Kansas City hitters these days seem to have, something driven by the nature of their park. They simply hit way too many ground balls. Even in this era of fly ball fetishizing, they continue to beat the ball into the ground. Cain is no different, hitting fly balls only 32.9 percent of the time this past year and a grounder 44.4 percent of the time. My theory is Royals, in general, do this because the park they call home is just too big to consistently homer. That’s why it took Mike Moustakas more than 30 years to break Steve Balboni’s team record of 36 home runs in a season. On those humid Midwestern summer days when the air is thicker than molasses, fly balls just die unless they’re utterly crushed.
Here’s my thought though. Cain leaves Kansas City and starts needing to lean on his bat a bit more as he ages. He already hits the ball as hard as Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso, owning an 89.2 mph average exit velocity in 2017. And his max exit velocity this year, 112 mph, is just as hard as anything Edwin hit. A forward-thinking club points these things out, points out he could add 10, 15 home runs to his yearly total, become a whole new type of player and have a late-career renaissance. He still plays smart defense in the corner, still has some of those old center field wiles, but hits like a corner outfielder. This is what I imagine for him on the Indians.
I also love whenever a star player joins a rival club. Those games against his old team are always appointment viewing. Cain might not be Hosmer when it comes to powering himself through spite, but he’s got those KC genes now. It’s part of who he is.
It’s almost definitely unaffordable for the Indians, but Cain could be slated for a Santana-esque contract. He deserves it and should get it. Cleveland won’t pay that. If the could, they’d have done it for Santana. But I still think it would be neat and fun. Who knows, maybe he’ll get a bit desperate as the winter rolls on, decides he wants another ring and Cleveland is the place to find it, and signs for a year or something.
Stranger things have probably happened.