Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lornezo Cain Begging For Promotion

No, not literally, though he could be forgiven if he was.

Twenty five year old Lornezo Cain, who was acquired in the Zach Grinke trade this winter has been crushing AAA pitching to the tune of a .301/.373/.513 triple slash. Following this winter's trade however I fully expected that Cain would be handed the starting center fielder job given his solid .306/.348/.415 line in 158 plate appearances with the Brewers last season, even though it was heavily BABIP fueled. On top of the solid offense, Cain also played strong defense, posting a +5.7 UZR/150.

The team however followed up that trade by bringing in Melky Cabrera from the Braves, and it became apparent early in spring training that the center field job was his to lose. So far, he hasn't really done anything to lose it, per se, he's hitting .275/.315/.435, good for a .750 OPS that's above the MLB average of .750. He's been worth a total of 1.7 WAR so far in 2011, a solid mark that would put him on pace for around 3.0.

This convergence of a solid Cabrera and a blistering Cain has made for a situation in which the Royals look like they're blocking a prospect, but at the same time, it's not like Cabrera has been terrible. While that may or may not be true, it's important to recognize that Cain hot hitting has been fueled, at least in part, by a wildly unsustainable .361 BABIP.

Unfortunately for Cain to reach the Majors in 2011, one of the following three things would likely need to happen:

1) An injury to one of the starting outfielders.
2) A drop off in production from Cabrera.
3) A trade.

Of the three options, all present reasonable opportunities for Cain as Alex Gordon is hardly known for his health, Cabrera is hardly known for his production, and both Cabrera and Jeff Francouer are certainly available in the right trade.

So it would seem that eventually, Cain will get an opportunity to play in 2011. The only question, is when? To that end, there seems to be a growing consensus that the correct answer to that question is, "yesterday."

I will dissent however. As noted above, Cabrera has produced sufficiently well, particularly for a center fielder and hasn't really done anything to suggest that he's a liability to the team. Bringing up Cain now would likely cause a number of bad things to happen. For one, it sets a bad precedent for players currently on the team that even if you are producing, you're still liable to be benched. Second of all, it serves to diminish some of the trade value Cabrera has built up by putting the team in the position of needing to move an outfielder, which is bad. Versus being in a position where they could move an outfielder, which is good.

Perhaps most importantly however, there is little guarantee that Cain will succeed. While he's done a phenomenal job in AAA, and has a small sample of success in his time with the Brewers, all of that success has been heavily dependent upon BABIP numbers that simply cannot be counted on to hold out over the long term. That's especially true for a player like Cain, who has consistently posted K rates in the 20-25% range.

Instead of concerning themselves with how to get Cain onto a last place team as soon as possible, the organization should be doing it's best to ensure that they see at least a modest return on assets like Cabrera and Francouer. I may have criticized the signings this winter, but they've both played well and now the franchise has an opportunity to capitalize on some of that performance by turning them into a couple more prospects who can help with the long-term rebuilding process that the organization is working toward.

There will come a time when Lorenzo Cain will come up and get his chance to earn an everyday job in the Major leagues. But it shouldn't be just yet.

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