Yahoo!’s Chris Cwik posited a question that was found fascinating for obvious very recent reasons.
James: My instinctual, guttural response was Cain. Obviously I just saw him tear the Sox to shreds, but for some time now his range has just seemed an order of magnitude superior to everyone else, Eaton very much included. His routes are precise and he’s always already in top speed by the time the camera has shifted to him. Eaton is a superb athlete who gobbles up anything he gets near, but Cain covers an enormous territory and does it with ease.
I wish defensive metrics were reliable and immediate for the sake of Lo Cain. I think we would just quote daily Cain lines and gasp.
Then...as I moved away from the emotion...Eaton is 26. Cain turns 29 next week. An already superior bat for Eaton becomes an even bigger advantage considering last season was Cain’s first good, full, offensive campaign. Eaton has a much more stable approach, whereas Cain whiffs four times for every walk, puts the ball on the ground a ton and makes a lot happen with his legs. These guys have a whopping 24 home runs between them in 2300 plates appearances. As we saw, Cain has some pop but it’s just not his approach, and if that’s going to be his game, I’m a little wary of counting on him doing it very well after age 30.
Eaton is the safer investment, but Cain is the more fun one, which is saying something considering how dizzyingly fun Adam Eaton is.
Matt: You would think that the homer answer is Eaton, but really the homer answer is Cain. Lorenzo Cain is what the White Sox covet. The minor league system is full of “we hope he’s Lorenzo Cain” type players. Absolute athletes that you hope can play baseball. Kenny’s plan was to get 3 Lorenzo Cains. Instead he’s got Adam Eaton, who isn’t unathletic, but you’d look at him and his game and call him a baseball player before you said athlete.
That said, the age is enough of a separator for me. Because they’re both really valuable players.
James: Eaton is more skilled and refined than, I don’t know, overpowering? It’s weird where the definition of athlete falls. He can twist and contort himself like hardly any other, but he’s not a specimen. He’s super small, and is fast, but not game-changingly fast.
Cain--and this goes to your point about just hoping an athletic guy finds it--is big and strong enough that I think he could hit for more power (15 HR per year?) if his approach changed as he passed 30, but it might take a different organization and ballpark to bear that out. Also, that’s a maybe, not something you’d project.
Cain’s age shocked me. It took him forever to self-actualize and stay healthy, and he’s a success story. Meanwhile, FutureSox just talked about how Keenyn Walker will be fun to watch at Winston-Salem. High-A! Keenyn is very sad.
Nick: The age is the only real thing I can point to as a dividing line - although given Cain’s athleticism, I suspect he will still be effective throughout team control years. It’s also weird being able to say that Eaton may have a better track record of health than another position player, but there are a lot of guys on the Royals that I think will wear down / get hurt as the year goes on, and it makes it that much more unfortunate that the White Sox had to open the season against them while they’re essentially at full strength.
I would need to watch more Cain in CF to capture what James is expressing - I know James has described him as a “dragon” in the past or something like that in CF. He can definitely cover more ground than Eaton - I mean, his legs and arms are longer, and as sublime as Eaton’s catch was, one wonders how much easier it might have been if he were 6’2’’ instead of 5’8’’.
But given that they each have so much to recommend them, my instinct is to err on the side of youth and OBP rather than marginally better defense and more power potential and say Eaton.
Matt: Not only has Cain taken a liking to showing up the White Sox, which probably polarizes how Sox fans feel about him, but he’s also kind of just a reminder of all of the failed Keenyn Walkers. So he should make everybody sad. But when you're sad, there's always Pedro to perk things up.