The Philadelphia Phillies are less than a month from the scheduled start of spring training and still they are without a Major League-caliber center fielder. Since 2020, the Phillies have used an assortment of minor league level players to fill center field with poor results.
Now the problem is too glaring to overlook. With Odúbel Herrera gone and Dave Dombrowski at the helm, many anticipate the Phillies adding a center fielder via trade this offseason. Matt Gelb of The Athletic predicts the Phillies might look to add the Milwaukee Brewers Lorenzo Cain once the lockout ends.
Cain will be 36-years-old in 2022, but has still shown himself to be a productive player when healthy. He plays elite defense in center field and has an above-average bat, slashing .257/.329/.401 during 2021 in 286 plate appearances.
However, Cain hasn’t played a full season since 2019. In 2020 he opted out of MLB’s COVID-19 shortened season and in 2021 he missed half the season with a quad strain and a hamstring injury.
Luckily for the Phillies, the price for Cain should be quite low. In the final season of a five-year deal, he is owed $18 million in 2022, a price tag which the Brewers would love to escape from.
If the Phillies are willing to pay Cain’s remaining salary, he could be had for little more than a PBTNL. Of course, Cain's salary might hamstring Dombrowski’s maneuverability under the luxury tax, a threshold which Phillies majority owner John Middleton has shown he is hesitant to cross.
The luxury tax could change given current negotiations between the MLBPA and MLB owners, but that is a variable far too unstable to assign any meaningful value at the moment.
If the Phillies do want the Brewers to retain some salary they could send a mid-level level prospect to Milwaukee, someone like Rafael Marchan, Hans Crouse or Luke Willliams. In this situation the Phillies would essentially be signing Cain as a free agent on a high paying one-year deal, a circumstance Dombrowski has stayed away from to make room for other positions of need like left field and shortstop.
If the Phillies wanted the Brewers to retain even more salary they could swap veterans, using Didi Gregorius as a trade chip since he is owed $15.25 million in 2022. The Brewers might not be entirely likely to accept that offer as Cain is still productive and Gregorius is blocked in Milwaukee by Luis Urias and Willy Adames.
To get a move done for low salary the Phillies must then include Gregorius as well as a prospect, something Dombrowski might not be willing to do given Cain has only one year remaining on his contract.
Should the Phillies and Brewers work out a deal, it would fill two gaps for the Phillies; they’d need a center fielder and a leadoff man for 2022. Cain has proven to be a highly capable leadoff hitter for the past 12 years. Even at 35-years-old Cain was able to swipe 13 bases in 15 attempts in just 78 games during 2021. His combination of speed and on-base ability make him a prime candidate to lead off for the Phillies in 2022.
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