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The Giants could still sign Lorenzo Cain, and here’s why they would consider it

The Giants wouldn’t give up draft picks to sign a market-price free agent. But a free agent whose value is being hurt by the system?

Kansas City Royals v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Giants could really, really use a strong defensive center fielder. They could also use more offense out of their outfielders. And, heck, if they could get a dedicated leadoff hitter, someone with speed who can get on base, that would be just ducky.

Lorenzo Cain is perfect for the 2018 Giants.

Except, like I wrote in November, he’s an imperfect fit for a couple of reasons. The first is his age and the long-term commitment that it would take to sign him. The second is that he received the qualifying offer, which means he would cost the Giants draft picks and $1 million in international money. The already-thin farm system shouldn’t have to deal with more obstacles.

That take aged poorly, though, because since then the Giants have added another long-term deal in Evan Longoria, and they traded away prospects to do it. There’s no sense pretending that this isn’t a bank heist and that the Giants aren’t a bunch of aging bank robbers trying for one last score. They know they’re going to be lousy in a couple years. There’s no sense pretending otherwise. And as long as they’re paying $130 million in 2020 to a collection of over-30 players who might not be valuable baseball players, why not pay $150 million to more over-30 players? Down the hatch, glug glug glug.

But Cain’s situation is both similar and different to Longoria’s, and it’s time to explore why.

I’ve read some national writers openly wonder why the Giants would trade prospects for Longoria but not use money and draft picks to sign Mike Moustakas, for example. The answer isn’t complicated: By trading Denard Span’s salary for Longoria, they were able to keep the 2018 payroll the same for luxury-tax purposes, which is why they can still add more players this offseason.

Simpler: Signing Moustakas would have been the end of the offseason if the Giants wanted to stay under the tax threshold. Longoria allowed them to keep going. With, say, a free agent like Cain.

The Giants also went that route because the money the Rays sent and absorbed allowed them to pay Longoria less than he would have received on the open market. He’ll be paid $86 million over the next five years, but the Giants have added only $56.5 million to their future obligations. If he were only the open market, Longoria would have received a much larger contract than five years, $56.5 million, which means not only did the Giants part with Christian Arroyo and others to maintain their flexibility this offseason, but because it allowed them to receive a $20 million or $25 million (or more) discount on an established player.

So for a Cain signing to be analogous to the Longoria trade, it wouldn’t be enough for the Giants to give up prospects (or draft picks) for a veteran to help next season. They would need to give up the prospects and get a relative bargain.

This could still happen. The more the offseason drags on, the more likely it is that Cain’s asking price won’t be four years and $70 million, but maybe it’s three years and $50 million. Or maybe it’s whatever contract allows the Giants to avoid the luxury-tax threshold, which wouldn’t have been possible if they had signed Cain early in the offseason.

Please note that I absolutely hate how the CBA affects players like Cain, and how all of this stupid bureaucracy does nothing but suppress player salaries, which benefits nobody but the millionaires and billionaires who own the 30 MLB teams. It’s not like ticket prices are going to go down because draft-pick compensation hosed Cain. This is so stupid, and like everything else in this world, it’s designed to help the richest people involved. Cain losing money indirectly helps Derek Jeter. Don’t you feel dirty hoping for his salary to drop now?

However! As long as we’re in our bubble of roster cosplaying, the point is that the Giants would consider giving up draft picks and international money for Cain. They would just have to feel like they’re getting a Longoria-type bargain. And that wouldn’t just be because they want the moral victory, but because they’ll still need a corner outfielder. If the price drops enough, the loss of draft picks becomes more palatable and sensible.

With all that written, I’m still not sure if Cain makes sense. There’s almost no way for the Giants to sign him and stay under the luxury-tax threshold, which wouldn’t just take prospects away from the next draft, but also next international-signing period and possibly the next one, depending on their penalties for going over the threshold. It would affect their ability to sign free agents next year, as well as the penalties for signing those free agents. It would be really, really hard for the Giants to sign Cain without screwing up several other things.

At the same time, Cain really is the perfect fit for the Giants. A center fielder who can catch the ball and hit? Yes, please. He’s such a fun player and Helluva Guy™, too. I would love him on the 2018 Giants, even if I would know that it might have made the 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 Giants appreciably worse. So I’m torn.

But if the Giants are still talking to Cain’s agent — and it would appear that they are — this is why. If they can get the same kind of relative bargain that they got with Longoria, they would be fools not to consider it, even if it costs them prospects. It wouldn’t make sense for them to invest nearly $200 million in next year’s roster just to get to 86 wins and wonder what might have been. There’s no glory in mostly-kind-of-all-but-not-really all in.

And while I was writing that last paragraph, this came in:

It could still happen. The only reason why it hasn’t yet is because it hasn’t been similar enough to the Longoria trade to make sense for the Giants.

But it still could be. Keep refreshing that MLB Trade Rumors page, friends. All it costs is bandwidth. And your soul.