This past week on SNY's Mets Insider, Keith Hernandez said if Juan Lagares can hit hit just a bit more, that because of his outstanding defense, he is still viable as an everyday center fielder.
"If he can hit .260, he can play for me any day," Hernandez added.
In 163 games played since the start of 2016, Lagares has started just 80 times.
He recently told the Daily News that he is not satisfied being a fourth outfielder, which is how he has spent the majority of the last two seasons with the Mets.
"I don't see myself as a backup outfielder," he explained. "I still feel like I can play every day. This is the time for me to show that."
Lagares has seen a significant increase in playing during August and September due to season-ending injuries to Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes, and Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce being traded earlier in the summer.
"It's been so frustrating," Lagares said about his journey since 2015, according to the Daily News. "But, all I can do now is try and use this time to do what I can do. I am trying to make them see that I can play every day. I don't think I am a backup."
Matthew Cerrone (Twitter | Instagram | About Me): There was a two-week stretch from mid-August to the start of September when Lagares was on fire, which was probably around the time the above Mets Insider was put together. Unfortunately, since then, he has just five hits in his last 42 plate appearances (.132), during which he has struck out roughly 25 percent of the time.
His numbers the last two weeks are slightly worse than what he had been doing the 100 or so at-bats he had prior to his two-week hot streak. So, the point is, I'm not sure we're learning as much about Lagares here as everyone hoped. If anything, he's only put his question mark in bold.
It's not just the Mets who are watching Lagares with an eye on being an everyday player, though, it's other teams. From what I've been told, the Mets expect teams to have interest in trading for Lagares this winter, if for no other reason than he's a bargain at $6.5 million.
Mets center fielder Juan Lagares (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)
I asked two people in rival player development departments about Lagares a few weeks ago and both said (despite his obvious flaws) they still believe he can be at least a 1.5-2.0 WAR player, which would be worth around $10-15 million a season -- the chance of this happening, in their view, only increases if he's traded to a smaller market where he's free to play every day.
Of course, the Mets need a center fielder, too. So, do the Mets keep Lagares, commit to playing him, but risk him continuing to be the slightly above-average injury risk they've had on field the last 24 months (short of two hot weeks in August)? Or, do they trade him while down in value knowing he almost certainly will thrive in another market? Or, do they sign OF Lorenzo Cain to be an everyday center fielder (or sign a corner outfielder, say J.D. Martinez, and put Conforto in center), while continuing to accept that Lagares will forever be an overpaid fill-in, defense replacement?