Mets GM Sandy Alderson suggested that Juan Lagares may see significant playing time in center field next season, Newsday's Marc Carig tweeted Monday afternoon.
"I think Lagares is definitely figuring into our plans," added Alderson, who talked with reporters after Monday's GM Meetings in Orlando.
According to FanGraphs.com, Lagares was the best defensive center fielder this past season during the 85 games he played at that position. He won the Gold Glove for center field in 2014, but did not play enough innings at the position to qualify in 2017.
Mar 8, 2016; Lagares (12) runs to third at Champion Stadium. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Lagares returned to being his team's everyday player this past June after multiple outfielders on the roster either were traded or ended their season due to injury. In the final 56 games that he played, Lagares hit .261 with a .296 OBP, 17 extra base hits, 13 RBI and seven stolen bases.
Towards the end of this past season, Keith Hernandez told SNY's Mets Insider that, with his fielding, Juan Lagares only needs to hit .260 to be a viable, everyday center fielder.
His season totals in 2017 project to roughly 2.5 WAR, which is down from his top production in 2014, but it is along the lines of what he delivered in 2013. This past season's level production puts him in line with what the Red Sox got from Jackie Bradley, Jr. and the Phillies got from Odubel Herrera.
Lagares clearly feels the disconnect between what he believes to be his potential and how he is been most used by the Mets during the last few years. He recently told the Daily News that he is not satisfied being a fourth outfielder, yet he hasn't been consistently healthy enough for the Mets to operate like he can be anything more than a part-time player.
"It's been so frustrating," Lagares told reporter Kristie Ackert. "I don't think I am a backup."
He's right, he isn't. But, he also sort of is. It's frustrating and complicated and mostly depends on if he can keep himself healthy and taking the field 140 times every season. If he can, he obviously has the necessary talent to be an everyday center fielder, evident by everything written before this sentence. However, is he physically able meet the demands of a full season?
I don't know that he is, especially given how aggressive he plays the position. The fact is, he's been unable to keep himself from being injured and missing significant time during the last three seasons. This doesn't mean he has to continue being on and off the DL. Things change. But, at 28 years old and based on his last few years, it's hard to imagine he doesn't continue the trend of rotating between the starting lineup, disabled list, and bench.
The Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, and Rangers all seem willing to give a three- or four-year deal to free-agent OF Lorenzo Cain, who will be paid between $15-20 million per season. Lagares is not as good of a hitter as Cain, but he is a better fielder. Also, Lagares will cost $6.5 million in 2018.
I assume Alderson's suggestion that Lagares will see significant playing time is based in the assumption that -- by signing a power hitter to play some first base, some right field -- he can rotate Lagares and Michael Conforto through center. Similarly, with Lagares in center field, the Mets can also rotate the yet-to-be-acquired power hitter and Conforto in right field (depending on that day's pitcher and what is happening at first base).
In this scenario, I think the Mets will have more options and get better fielding and overall run production by paying $15-20 million to Lagares, Conforto, and a power hitting 1B-OF than paying the same money to Conforto, Dominic Smith, and Cain.
Speaking of center fielders...
The Pirates will again listen to trade offers for outfielder Andrew McCutchen, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney.
McCutchen, 31, will earn $14.5 million in 2018, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent.
The Pirates reportedly tried and failed to deal McCutchen following a disappointing 2016. He responded by hitting .279 with a .363 OBP, 28 home runs, 30 doubles, and 3.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs.com.
"I'm sure the price would be high, but it could be a good opportunity for the Pirates to help transition that roster fairly quickly assuming they get a good return," a National League talent evaluator recently told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.