Rumors have emerged over the past couple of days, saying that the Chicago Cubs offered free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain a three-year contract. Cain, who stole 26 bases with a .300 batting average and .803 OPS last season, is one of the top talents on the open market, as he pairs his impressive offensive skills with solid defense.
The acquisition of Cain would be a surprise for Cubs fans. Between Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, and Ben Zobrist, Chicago already has a surplus of outfielders. Someone would have to be traded out of this group, even though Theo Epstein has been reluctant in the past to move any key players.
Nevertheless, Cain would represent a significant upgrade in center field and at the top of Chicago’s lineup. He boasts an impressive resume. An All-Star in 2015, the 31-year-old has shown incredible consistency throughout his peak, hitting .300 over his past four seasons. His lowest batting average among those years was his.287 mark in 2016.
The primary caveat with Cain is his injury history. He strained his left groin, tore his left hip flexor, and strained his right hamstring in 2012. He then strained his left oblique in 2013, suffered a hamstring injury and right knee contusion in 2015, and strained his left hamstring in 2016. These numerous injuries have left Cain off the field far too often. He played in 155 games last year, but his next highest season total is 140 (in 2015). He played in only 61 games in 2012, 115 in 2013, and 103 in 2016. Cain’s contract will be sizable, and since the outfielder is already 31 years old, he will most likely miss a substantial amount of games over the next few years, as he heads into his mid-thirties and his injury risk heightens.
The Cubs are not the only team that seems willing to take on that risk. The Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers have also been tied to Cain. The Cubs should be comfortably in the lead for Cain, however. The Blue Jays are heading into a down period for the franchise, with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox firmly at the top of their division. The Texas Rangers struggled last season, stumbling to a record of 78-84. The Cubs, meanwhile, have remained a playoff team and contenders for the championship next season.
Chicago should be considered the top candidate for Cain’s services, but signing Cain is not even close to a done deal. With so few moves completed by teams in the offseason so far, a lot can change in a quick amount of time as organizations finally begin to sign important free agents.
Still, the Cubs must keep their focus on the team’s clear pitching weaknesses. They were solid at outfield in 2017—Cain would give Chicago a boost, to be sure, but he will not make an overwhelming impact on the club’s playoff destiny. It is worrying that there has been no recent news about starters Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, and that the club’s frenzied offseason moves for relief pitching have slowed.