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What's market value for center-field star Cain?

Free agent turns 32 in April, linked to multiple teams this offseason
MLB.com @feinsand

When the Giants signed Austin Jackson to a two-year contract on Monday, it appeared to squash any chance of Lorenzo Cain signing with San Francisco. Or did it?

There is still a belief within the industry that Cain could wind up with the Giants, who currently have Jackson, Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen penciled in as their starting outfield.

When the Giants signed Austin Jackson to a two-year contract on Monday, it appeared to squash any chance of Lorenzo Cain signing with San Francisco. Or did it?

There is still a belief within the industry that Cain could wind up with the Giants, who currently have Jackson, Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen penciled in as their starting outfield.

"San Francisco still feels like a strong fit," one general manager said. "Jackson could serve as a very valuable fourth outfielder with two veteran corner outfielders."

Cain has been attached to several teams besides the Giants this winter. The Rangers and Brewers have been viewed as potential suitors, while other teams, including the Mets and Blue Jays, have also been linked to the center fielder.

Cain has been an above-average defender and a solid, steady presence in the Royals' lineup, averaging 11 home runs, 58 RBIs, 74 runs scored, 24 stolen bases and a .300/.352/.437 slash line in his four seasons as a full-time starter, playing an average of 133 games per season.

He hit 15 home runs with 49 RBIs, 86 runs scored, 26 steals and a .300/.363/.440 slash line in 155 games last season, posting an OPS above .800 for the second time in three years.

But with his 32nd birthday approaching in April, industry insiders believe he's looking at no more than a three-year contract with the possibility of an option year tacked on.

"The way we interpret the aging curve now, his position, his swing mechanics, they all factor into the eventual length of a contractual commitment," an industry source said.

Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo currently make up the Texas outfield, though Choo could shift to designated hitter if Cain were to join the Rangers. The primary question appears to be whether Texas could fit Cain into its payroll budget, though the longer he stays on the market, the chances of him taking less money get better and better.

"I wonder if Texas waits it out and gets him," another industry source said.

Could the Cubs -- who have Albert Almora Jr. atop the depth chart in center field -- jump into the fray?

"He would be a great fit for the Cubs," a third industry source said. "But I don't see Chicago giving up two picks for him, especially since they've dealt a lot of prospects away the last couple of seasons."

Cain, by virtue of receiving a qualifying offer from the Royals, will cost any team that signs him (other than Kansas City) up to two Draft picks. The Cubs, by virtue of exceeding the luxury tax threshold in 2017, would be among the clubs that would surrender two picks if they sign Cain.

Qualifying offer rules explained

As noted, Milwaukee has been connected to Cain, though a rumor emerged Tuesday that the Brewers are pursuing Miami's Christian Yelich via a trade, and an acquisition like that would likely take them out of the Cain sweepstakes.

Then there's the prospect of Cain taking a one-year deal with an eye on testing the market again next offseason without Draft-pick compensation attached to him, as he can't be extended a qualifying offer next year regardless of where he plays.

"My guess is he winds up back with Kansas City," the third source said. "I could see [Mike] Moustakas doing the same thing, putting up another big season and hitting the market again next year. By next season, more teams will reset their tax situations, so they can manipulate things even more."

Should Cain opt for a deal that allows him to test the market next winter (either a one-year pact or a longer contract with an opt-out clause), he wouldn't be subject to a qualifying offer as players can only receive it once in their careers. However, he would be competing with fellow center fielders Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock and McCutchen, all of whom are slated to become free agents at the end of the 2018 campaign.

The best news for Cain? He's hands-down the best center-field option on the market, so any team looking to fill that spot should have some level of interest. Other available center fielders include Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Rajai Davis and Cameron Maybin.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

Lorenzo Cain