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In a perfect world, Lorenzo Cain is a fit for the Mets

Cain fills a need for the Mets, but his price tag could be more than they can afford.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With the uncertainty of Michael Conforto’s availability for Opening Day in 2018, the Mets find themselves in need of some outfield help. Juan Lagares is the only true center fielder on the team, and while his skills in the field are undeniable, his proclivity for injury combined with less than stellar offensive production have led many to question his ability to be an everyday player.

Besides perhaps J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain is the best outfield free agent available, and certainly the best center fielder available. The Royals acquired Cain in 2010 as part of the prospect package that netted the Brewers Zack Greinke. Keith Law wrote about the trade at the time:

What Kansas City got back is bulk, and fit, but not impact. There's no single anchor prospect in this deal, a player who'd be a top-15 pick in a draft or who'd be a top-5 prospect in the Royals' stacked system.

This was not an incorrect assessment in 2010. However, while Cain got off to a slow start in the major leagues, he has become a very solid and valuable player over the past four years. A contact hitter that hits for average, most of Cain’s value comes from his strong defense; he has a total of 73 DRS in center field for his career. Mets fans certainly don’t need reminding that Cain’s marquee season came in 2015 with the World Champion Royals, when he posted a 128 wRC+ and 6.5 fWAR. And in fact, from 2015 through 2017, Lorenzo Cain has been the 4th-most valuable outfielder in baseball, behind only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Bryce Harper.

Unfortunately for the Mets, talent like that does not come cheap, especially when the talent pool is relatively shallow in the outfield. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Cain will get a four-year contract worth $70 million and many are citing the five-year, $82.5 million contract Dexter Fowler received as a realistic comparison for what Cain could get. Given recent reports that the Mets are perhaps looking to trade either Juan Lagares or AJ Ramos to free up salary to afford Jay Bruce, the likelihood of the Wilpons opening up their wallet for Cain seems low. In mid-November, it was reported that the Mets had reached out to Cain’s representatives. However, it seems their interest was nothing more than a formality and there has been radio silence on the matter ever since.

While the idea of adding a player like Cain on a multi-year deal in a year where the Mets are trying to trim payroll seems far-fetched, it’s something that the team should seriously consider. Not only would he be an instant improvement for the 2018 Mets, who are lacking when it comes to defense and speed—Cain stole 26 bases last season—but he represents an investment worth making in the future for a team that has next to no outfield talent coming up through its minor league system. While there is perhaps some trepidation in giving a 32-year-old player heavily reliant on speed and defense a multi-year deal, Cain was a late bloomer to begin with, which may mean a delayed aging curve. In a year where his 2015 Royals teammates, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, are more talked about in free agent discussions, Cain may be the hottest commodity of all three.