What is the value of a glove-first centerfielder in baseball?
There are some people who felt the Nationals only made it over the top once they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. Not to take anything away from the big righthander with flashy stuff, but Span has been just what the Nats needed at the top of the order and patrolling between offensive bookends Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. Span has delivered, too…in his two years for Washington he has average 5/46/.291 with 28 SBs per year.
The 6’9” Meyer was pretty highly regarded and has not disappointed in his ascension through the ranks, posting a 21-16 record, a 3.15 ERA and 392 strikeouts in 337 IP. Those are numbers that would make most pitching coaches salivate and while Span has done nicely in the nation’s capital, the Twins may indeed feel it was a fair and balanced trade.
A close parallel (performing at an even higher level) is the Phillies’ Ben Revere. He was obtained for fringey pitcher Vance Worley now toiling in the minors and a lesser prospect by the name of Trevor May who at age 24 ascended as high as AAA, turning in a fine season for Rochester in the Twins organization. Revere just completed his best-ever season in the big leagues for the Phils, posting a 2/28/.306 with 49 SBs. That performance followed his first year in the city of brotherly love where he also hit over .300. The Phillies can’t complain about what they’ve gotten, particularly when Worley has fallen on his face for the Twins (though rebounded nicely this year for the Pirates) and May hasn’t even yet made it to the majors.
What got me thinking in this direction was trying to figure out what the Mets really have with Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker. Both are stellar fielders, though the edge on the arm and the acrobatics goes to the 25 year old Dominican. Lagares has been no slouch with the bat either, having posted a 162 game average of 5/55/.262 with 13 SBs. As we observed this year, the SB number should be increasing as should the batting average. For a guy who plays CF the way he does, he deserves to be in the same conversation with Span and Revere as stellar examples of the glove-first anchor for a team’s outfield.
Matt den Dekker does not have the same track record and is most definitely more of a gamble, but if there was no Juan Lagares in orange and blue, stories would instead be written about the 27 year old’s amazing athleticism and natural grace in CF. He’s historically taken an extra year to adjust to each new level of pitching and his August/September interval of steady play showed that it was holding true once again with a .290 average and a significant decrease in the number of strikeouts.
While most people feel the Mets need to do better than what den Dekker can reasonably deliver with the bat, is it possible that offensively den Dekker could produce more than Juan Lagares? Let’s take a look at the minor league numbers. For his minor league career he’s averaged 16/84/.289 with 22 SBs per less than 600 ABs. That’s not too shabby. Juan Lagares has averaged 8/65/.281 with 25 SBs. That’s not bad either, though it suggests den Dekker may be more of a middle-of-the-order type of bat than would Lagares.
Let’s assume for the moment that Lagares wins his well-deserved Gold Glove award in 2014 which would make him even more conspicuous to the rest of the league. What then could the Mets reasonably expect to receive in return should they dangle him in trade, inserting den Dekker in the CF position? The defense is better than what you get from Span or Revere. The speed is not quite there, but he’s probably a little more productive with the bat (and seemingly on the upswing). While the Mets aren’t necessarily looking for more pitching prospects, could a defensively challenged team look to Lagares plus others as a way of landing that coveted slugging corner outfielder?
It seems to me that the offensive potential den Dekker brings to the table plus the defensive acumen he already exhibits makes this possibility something to consider, particularly with the difficulty Lagares has had staying on the field. Lagares’ value is high right now and with a Gold Glove even higher. Isn’t that when you’re supposed to make trades rather than trying to peddle someone off a down year?
It’s a tough pill to swallow when a home grown player has done well and you fear his success in another uniform will come back to haunt you for many years, yet there is precedent for such moves in the past like the trade sending Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans for a difference maker named Gary Carter.
Would the Mets with Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker on the bench (assuming a corner outfielder is obtained somehow) be a better team, or would the Mets with den Dekker in CF, whatever the return is for Juan Lagares plus that same corner outfielder be a better team? It seems to me if you have Kirk Nieuwenhuis already filling that 4th outfielder need then scenario B is likely the better one.