Posted by Ernest Dove at 10:00 AM
Juan Lagares will be playing out the 2016 season as a 27 year old Center Fielder for the New York Mets. After having a very underwhelming rookie season in 2013, Lagares a breakout type season in 2014, putting up respectable stat lines including a .281 BA and .703 OPS, which combined with winning a Gold Glove amounts to a solid productive season for anybody. However, he then appeared to mirror more of his rookie stats in 2015, showing a drop in pretty much every offensive category, leading to the Mets making the big deadline move to acquire Yoenis Cespedes to take his place entirely in the lineup. And with Michael Cuddyer faultering and becoming injured, the Mets chose to make the drastic move to promote prospect Michael Conforto all the way from AA ball rather then keep Lagares in the lineup and have him play alongside Yoenis regularly. So what does all of this mean for Juan in 2016?
Lagares, while still coming at a pretty reasonable salary, is now in a 4 year span in which his salary to continue to jump every year by at least $2mil/per season and will top out $9 million as a 30 year old in 2019. Obviously, we've seen a few occasions in which Mets have acquired players at the same or even more money in a year, only to watch them underperform, but I'm curious about the entire situation regarding Lagares. We've all been trying to piece together exactly what was going on with the man throughout the 2015 season. There was talk about Lagares having a 'bum elbow'. There were rumors that maybe he would require Tommy John Surgery, and maybe he's not getting it because he's a position player, and there appears to be history of at least a few players who report to have similar ailing elbow issues as a position player who were able to go without surgery and find ways to build enough strength to continue playing at a productive level. Either way, on came the winter ball season, and there is Mr. Lagares, the guy who everyone explained could improve with rest and rehab, manning center field for a winter ball team, obviously with permission from the Mets.
More than the random box scores to report the main apparent telling stat includes games in which Lagares is said to have thrown out numerous base runners with that arm/elbow trying to take an extra base, including going home, during this winter. So again, what does any of this mean for him? The Mets went out and achieved a goal they set out for themselves, fans wish or not, by acquiring an additional 'role player' to pair with Lagares in the outfield. Barring injury, there's really no other place in the outfield for De Aza to play other than CF because the guys flanking him out there in the corners are both lefty hitters themselves. So he would conceivably just be here to play center field and hit against opposing righty pitchers. Of course, there's just one problem (if you're Lagares), which is that most of the league has righty starters (well, unless you're the Dodgers). So does that mean that the 2014 Gold Glove winner is now, still at only age 27, backup outfielder, even with an escalating contract topping out just under $10mil?
Im a fan of Juan Lagares. I mean, what's not to love about what we saw in 2014? We've seen that he does have power at the plate, to all sides of the field, even though the numbers don't reflect that ability to be a consistent 10-15+ homer potential that the organization had discussed in the past. He's also a guy who in 2014 could literally cover the entire Citi Field like superman, leading to the phrase ".....where baseballs go to die" when a ball was hit out there. So the question remains, what can we expect from a man who still, if healthy, would appear to be the BEST defensive player on the projected 25 man roster? Depending on who you trust in analysis, it appears that many are projecting the Mets new middle infield to be "ok", and have guys who can play the positions, turn double plays, and.......(sorry guys)......pull a Murph on a consistent basis. But those same projects also include reports that neither Cabrera nor Walker have the range to get to certain balls hit their way, which now leads to more balls finding their way possibly into center field, where speed and reaction time will continue to be extremely important for a team still not appearing to blessed with any additional legit pure middle of the order power threats in their own lineup to light up the scoreboard as much as we may hope. Prior to the start of the 2015 season people like myself dreamed of Lagares becoming what possibly was set to amount to a solid leadoff hitter, who could steal 30ish bases, hit over .270 and work with the coaching staff utilizing his now full years of experience in the league to start avoiding more of the balls off the plate to improve his OBP. But none of that appeared to materialize. Unless you then jump into the small sample size of how Lagares ended the 2015 season.
While maintaining his status as a 'role player' in the playoffs, Juan was an extremely solid 8 for 23 at the plate, with a walk and ONLY 3 strikeouts throughout the playoffs. He even stole two bases during the 13 games of playoff fever that we enjoyed(ok, and also didnt enjoy). So what does this mean? Was he getting healthy already? Was he better as a role player, as some were starting to suggest of Ruben Tejada was whenever when he reverted to a part time role player? Because Lagares has 800+ at bats as a .250ish hitting and under .300 OBP guy compared to a fabulous 400ish at bat 2014 campaign of hitting .281 with an OBP over .320, it could be hard for me to predict that he can have that .275 potential again as an everyday player. But I still hold out hope for a guy who, when healthy, can and should continue to be the best glove out there on a nightly basis.
I know many of us, along with a ton of people on 'the internets' are coming up with new ideas that may involve Lagares getting back to form, and not caring about what Mets do with De Aza, but I'm not sure its realistic to expect Lagares at this time to exceed expectations once again and force the Mets and Sandy Alderson to ignore the almost 6 mil being given to a free agent and immediately go back to inserting Lagares in the lineup every day. But of course time will tell. Go ask Jacob deGrom about being told you're a role player. Or, well, go ask Juan Lagares what it's like to be platoon player with....gulp.....Rick Ankiel......................................... So what do you guys think? 2014 Juan? 2013 and 2015 Juan? Busted elbow Juan? Or 4th year of experience and in his prime Juan who will now have his best season of his career as a major leaguer?