You probably can’t win too many bar bets on: “When was the last time the Royals had a good…?”
The answer in some cases—such as shortstop—is “never,” and the answer in others is debatable. Is “Joe Randa” an acceptable answer to anything, including: “What University of Tennessee player was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 11th round of the 1991 amateur draft?” (Yes, the answer is Randa.)
If you're asked who the last good Royals center fielder was, you could answer “David DeJesus,” but he was in and out of center field during his time in Kansas City. The better answer is “Carlos Beltran, midseason 2004.” That was when the current Cardinal was sent to the Astros in a three-way deal that netted the Royals Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, John Buck and cash.
Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Since Beltran, DeJesus has been joined by Joey Gathright, Mitch Maier, and Melky Cabrera in the middle pasture. Tris Speaker—or, for that matter, Willie Wilson—has not been seen.
The Royals now have another chance to find a quality center fielder with Lorenzo Cain. Acquired in the Zack Greinke deal, Cain is of an old vintage for a prospect; he will turn 26 in the middle of next month. He would have started at some point last season had Cabrera not turned in the best season of his career, but now Melky is gone, and Cain is more than fully baked.
Now is the time.
There was some thought earlier this spring that Cain would have to share his job with Maier.
Maier is a left-handed hitter, while Cain is right-handed, so there is the outline of a platoon there, but the former is a 30-year-old defensive specialist. There is no upside to giving him more than spot starts. Cain is the player with a better chance of still serving the Royals even two years from now.
So Cain is able, but what do the Royals have?
Cain is a career .295/.368/.430 hitter in the minors. In 156 games at Triple-A, he has hit .305/.377/.476 with 33 doubles, 10 triples, 16 home runs and 21 steals in 28 attempts.
He’s not going to be an impact hitter, particularly since he’s impatient, but in a good year, he might hit .280/.320/.410. The average major league center fielder hit .261/.326/.410 last year, so this would give the Royals a leg up on the rest of the division—the AL Central doesn’t boast much in the way of offense-oriented center fielders.
(You can hold out for an Alex Rios comeback if you want, or Grady Sizemore for that matter, but I’m not going out on that limb with you.)
That’s a step back from Cabrera’s breakthrough .305/.338/.470 season, but the Melk-Man seems unlikely to repeat those numbers (though he remains young enough that the season might have been real).
Given his impatience and defensive deficiencies, Cabrera has to hit for a high average to contribute. Career Melky (.275/.331/.398) isn’t too far off from what we might expect of Cain.
Still, there is one slight hope that things could be better: Cain has been killing the ball this spring, hitting .434 with nine doubles and five home runs. It’s unlikely he found another gear—most spring training hot streaks are just that, spring training hot streaks.
If you’re a Royals fan, though, or just the Royals, you have to take what you can get and hope that you can throw Cain on the pile of promises provided by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and the rest.
And hope that the team can manufacture some pitching.
And that Alex Gordon doesn’t regress.
And Jonathan Broxton. ...Just “Jonathan Broxton.”