It's early in the Major League Baseball off-season, which means that there's a blank slate in front of every fan. Every hole can be filled. Any free agent can be had. A blockbuster trade could be just around the corner. It's this ability to reset that makes this time of year so beautiful.
For the Kansas City Royals, the work of building a team into a contender has already begun. They've taken a stable, productive outfield and shaken things up a bit in their hopes to build a starting rotation by trading Melky Cabrera to the San Francisco Giants for Jonathan Sanchez, who immediately takes a spot toward the front of the rotation, and Ryan Verdugo, who is likely a half-season away from becoming a solid situational arm out of the pen.
The loss of Cabrera is center opens the way for Lorenzo Cain to become an everyday centerfielder for the Royals. That's a great move since Cain is an instant defensive upgrade over Cabrera. Cain spent much of the season last year in Omaha, the Royals AAA affiliate and he responded very well, batting .312 over 128 games with an .877 OPS. He flashed good contact, solid gap power and good speed although the strikeouts are going to plague him at the major league level.
That said, Cain is no guarantee. The only back-up in case of emergency is Jarrod Dyson, and that in itself causes a problem. If Cain's bat cannot make the transition -- and the Royals should admit that's a possibility -- the they should have a plan B. And Dyson hasn't proven he should be it either.
Consider the full situation. In very limited duty last season (only 6 games), Cain had a .623 OPS although he had a considerably better .763 OPS the year before in Milwaukee in limited duty as well (43 games). The idea, however, is that even though it's a horrible sample size, Cain's not a sure bet. That much should be obvious. But Dyson has been even worse. In 44 games over the last two seasons, Dyson has hit a combined .208 with a .622 OPS. That's horrible. in other words, Dyson is a defensive replacement and pinch runner and nothing more.
The issue is that Dyson never really hit for much of anything in the minors either. He's a quadruple-A type of player that bounces between the minors and majors and every team has at least one or two of these guys around just in case. That's not an issue when your outfield is Alex Gordon in left, Melky in center and Jeff Francoeur in right. But when there's a possibility of a major hole, then Dyson is suddenly a liability on the bench.
That said, there's an option out there who should be available for rather cheap since it's rumored that he could even get released: Angel Pagan. The New York Mets centerfielder has played plenty the last two years, but doesn't hit enough to warrant any more of a look. Check out what Keith Law of ESPN writes:
Pagan is a defensive specialist who could be non-tendered or (more likely) traded this offseason as increased playing time has exposed his weakness as a hitter. But defensive metrics all rate him comfortably above-average in center during his career, and it's a position of need for many clubs; if he's non-tendered, he's an ideal fourth outfielder who could handle center for a few weeks in case of an injury.
That's the ideal fit for what the Royals need at this point. Pagan is a centerfielder who can step in for day to day duty if the Cain experiment doesn't work out for some reason. Yet he's flexible enough to spell hitters in other places and he's solid defensively, giving Ned Yost some options with his line-up. Over the last two years, he's hit .277 with a .733 OPS -- very acceptable totals from a fourth outfielder. Pagan is also only 30 years old.
If the Mets are on the edge of even releasing him, then the possibility of a trade should only cost the Royals a very low-level prospect -- maybe a Class A arm the Mets might want to take a chance on. In that case, the Royals could cement their outfield situation for a very low cost and provide Lorenzo Cain with the starting spot knowing that even if the worst case scenario plays out, they are set and not trying to fill one problem with another.
If anything, Pagan fills the buy-low philosophy that the team has already used once this off-season in getting Jon Sanchez when his stock was low. It's a method that should work well for KC's present and future.