Reese Kaplan -- The Enigma of Juan Lagares


One sometimes forgotten man is the Gold Glove centerfielder of 2014, Juan Lagares.  He was so promising to the Mets that they uncharacteristically decided to lock him up for the future, buying out his arbitration years and granting him a $22.5 million contract for the years 2016 through 2019.  At an average annual value of less than $6 million it seemed like a good idea at the time.  After all, not only did he show off a cannon of an arm, but in his first semi-regular stint playing every day he delivered a .281 batting average with 4 HRs and 47 RBIs over just about 400 ABs.  It was reasonable to think this numbers would increase with more experience and the requisite 600 ABs.  A full year of say .280/10/60 with his kind of defense would have made him a fixture for years to come. 

Of course, then came the 2015 World Series year during which Lagares was obviously hurt, yet the Mets did not give him the same consideration that they gave others, instead having him try to tough it out.  Anyone who watched saw him go from the league’s deadliest arm to one that made Curtis Granderson look good by comparison.  He never did have surgery to correct what ailed him and the 2015 campaign ended with a .259/4/47 over 441 ABs.  Perhaps one of the more telling signs about his pain level was that he dipped from 13 SBs to 7.  It’s hard to play all out in any aspect of the game when you are facing severe pain anywhere. 

With the 2016 season underway he was pretty much forgotten.  Between thumb ligaments and other ailments he was limited to just 142 ABs with a .239/3/9 slashline.  This trend is obviously moving in the wrong direction, but again how much of it is the league adjusting to him as a hitter and how much is a composite limitation of the assorted nagging injuries?

This season is a make or break year for Lagares.  Many here (including Mack) advocate he and not Curtis Granderson should be the starting centerfielder in order to help improve the up-the-middle defense dramatically.  In the early showing in spring training his arm appears to be 100% again but the bat is unfortunately still a work in progress. After yesterday's game (in which he got a rare start) he was just 1-14, batting average of .071. On the plus side of the ledger he gunned down baserunner A.J. Reed trying to score.  (Then again, considering Reed weighs in at 275, even Curtis Granderson may have had a shot at him!)

The reason it’s so important to get a good showing from Lagares is that his contract was structured with big bumps in pay for each season.  This year he makes a still manageable $4.5 million but then in 2018 it jumps to $6.5 million and in 2019 a somewhat staggering $9 million.  To put that in perspective, that’s more money than Addison Reed, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera and many others around the league make.  Consequently it’s put up or shut up time for Lagares, lest he be at the top of the trade chip list in order to get out from under the relatively big dollars for what he delivers.

Therein, of course, lays the conundrum.  If he plays well enough to make the salary attractive, then why would they want to trade him?  If he doesn’t up his offensive game considerably, why would another club want to take on the remaining $15.5 million of salary for the next two full seasons?

It seems to be a given that against left handed pitchers you will see Curtis Granderson getting a day off and thus proving some opportunity for Lagares to play.  In this case the platoon-happy manager will pencil him into the lineup for the lefty/righty matchup regardless of how either he or Granderson is doing.  Frankly with 39% of the starting pitchers in baseball being left handed, that means 2+ games per week for Lagares to get his 4 ABs.  I doubt that’s going to allow him to get into a groove to demonstrate what he can do and thus we go back to the conundrum of his salary and his trade chip viability. 

The Mets need to make a decision that he’s going to be a regular player in centerfield every day and accept benching the final $15 million salary of Curtis Granderson, or they play a waiting game, trotting Granderson out there most days and wind up paying $15.5 million for the next two years of Lagares.  Playing him regularly will tell you (and the baseball world) what he’s capable of doing.  Benching him most of the time will not. 

No one ever said the job of a GM is easy.  The Mets could have tried trading Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares or Lucas Duda while letting Neil Walker walk.  Sandy Alderson did none of thse things, content instead to bring the same team back that didn’t win the World Series.  Granted, it takes two to tango, and there were a lot of factors at play regarding the health of some players, the uncertainty of the Yoenis Cespedes situation, and the general risk-averse nature of the GM.  However, in Lagares’ case it appears he’s painted himself into a $15.5 million corner. 


Thomas Brennan said...

If he is the old Lagares, let him play a lot more, and Grandy less. Just tell Lagares to tone down the high risk acrobatics a bit.

Mack Ade said...

Morning Reese -

I stand by my desire to have this glove/arm in my center field. I, like the Mets did when they played Bud Harrelson on short, am willing to live with his limited bat while he hits 8th in the lineup.

I would NOW play Cespedes full time in RF and Conforto full time in LF.

And then I'd let my Assistant GM figure out what to do with the rest of the outfield actors.

Mack Ade said...

Reese -

your pic went down so I replaced it

Anonymous said...

Lagares in CF? Music to my ears.

The biggest obstacle is the Mets aversion to admit mistakes and either bench or release a player that can no longer produce.

2017 will bring us the same questions as 2016. Can Lagares bounce back from a bad year and a half and reclaim his CF job? Who is the real Conforto? Nimmo? What exactly is the ceiling for Flores?

All those answers cannot be addressed when they are sitting on the bench.

But if this team wants to compete, they need a CF with enough range to compensate for whomever is in RF.

Speaking of RF, yes, Cespedes would be great there and should be there but didn't Cespedes himself said he wanted no part of RF?

The Mets are a flawed team right now. They need defense up the middle and have a shortstop with little range, a 2B with little range, a CF (Granderson) with little range and a catcher who keeps throwing the ball to the CF when someone steals. Something has to give.

I predict that even with all these problems the Mets will win the NL east because of their superior pitching.


Frank Anon said...

I love what lagares brings defensively. It's fun to watch when he's doing his thing. Unfortunately, the offense of this team sucks. They have good power but hit for low average and do not get on base. It's hard to hide lagares' bat in an already low BA lineup

Richard Jones said...

The Mets have the potential to put a really good defensive team out on the field. They would be sacrificing some power but also adding speed. They wouldn't be so one dimensional offensively. If our pitching were backed by Rivera behind the plate, Rosario at SS, and Lagares in CF 3 runs is all it would take to win most games.

Richard Jones said...

I agree with you about Cespedes in RF. Everything about him says RF. I think it's in his head that he is a leftfielder. That's where he is comfortable and my guess is the Mets don't want to mess with that no matter how much sense it makes.

Reese Kaplan said...

You could have Curtis Granderson striking out 150+ times per year and playing a barely acceptable centerfield who throws like Rusty Staub in the 1973 World Series, or you could have Juan Lagares providing acrobatic defense, his awesome arm and adding a dimension of speed but at the expense of power. It's not an ideal situation either way.

Mack's Mets © 2012