Yesterday’s speculation has turned into today’s rumor as the Texas Rangers reportedly have upped their interest in free-agent center field Lorenzo Cain.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN sent out a tweet around 12:45 p.m. Thursday, though Rangers officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. (Oftentimes, that’s their tell that there is substance to a report.)
So, let’s assume it’s accurate. It makes sense, and it doesn’t.
Here’s how it does:
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▪ Cain is still out there, along with many other top free agents, and as a result it’s possible that Cain’s price has fallen. At this point, the Rangers were obligated to at least kick the Cain tires. It seems they liked what they kicked up.
The Rangers have said that if they were going to add a position player, it would be a defensive-minded center fielder who could help make the pitching staff better. Seeing as the Rangers aren’t inclined, as of yet, scale the top of the pitching market, they need all the defense they can get. Cain doesn’t have the Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess, but he’s considered a top center fielder.
▪ Cain is a right-handed hitter, and that would help the Rangers in a division that includes left-handed starters Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, James Paxton, Ariel Miranda and Sean Manaea, and right-handers coming off reverse-split seasons Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Mike Leake, Lance McCullers Jr., Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton.
▪ A potential signing of Cain would have a domino effect on the lineup. Delino DeShields would move from center field to left field, where his speed would play well. The Rangers continue to say that DeShields has the ability to play center field well, yet they continue to not give him the chance. With DeShields in left, Joey Gallo would be installed at first base. That’s a good thing. His defense there is Gold Glove-worthy, manager Jeff Banister said, though his arm in left field is an asset.
Cain has batted over .300 in three of the past four seasons and had posted an on-base percentages of .361 and .363 in two of the past three. He did so last season primarily as the Kansas City Royals’ No. 2 hitter, but has more career games batting third. Those spots are currently occupied, so Cain would either bat first or deeper in the order.
It’s hard to find too many negatives with Cain, though he has topped 500 at-bats only twice in his career. Injuries have been known to bite him — four times, in fact, though nothing too terrible.
Also, a three-year deal (or longer) would potentially make Cain a roadblock for top prospect Leody Taveras. He is only 18 and is coming off only his first full professional season at Low A Hickory, but Rangers official love the five-tool center fielder and believe he could storm through the minors to the major leagues.
Here’s how it doesn’t make sense:
▪ Cain is a nice player who would make the Rangers better. He would come at a price, and not just financial.
The Rangers need to be realistic, and maybe they have been all off-season when passing on the chance to land a big free-agent fish. One off-season isn’t going to allow them to catch the Houston Astros, and Cain isn’t so much of a difference-maker that he’s worth signing, paying and holding until the Rangers feel like they are ready to overtake the Astros.
He would block DeShields, who has a chance to continue to develop in center field if he’s allowed to play center field.
▪ If the Rangers are finding that prices on the free-agent market are declining, why not try to get a quality starter at below market value? If you’re Yu Darvish and your price is coming down to the point where the difference between the best offer and an offer from the Rangers to stay home is marginal, staying home start to make a lot of sense.
Or maybe the Rangers should start work on a new deal for shortstop Elvis Andrus to keep him from opting out of his current contract after each of the next two seasons.
▪ Don’t lose track of next off-season, when some of the game’s absolute best players could hit free agency. For instance, the Rangers could need a shortstop and/or a third baseman, and Manny Machado could fill in at either spot. He’d look pretty shiny in that shiny new stadium set to open in 2020. So would Darvish. Signing Cain would put a dent the Rangers’ ability to take a big dive into free agency this off-season or next.
The Rangers’ interest in Cain makes sense in some ways, but doesn’t in others.