Juan Lagares is working this winter with Craig Wallenbrock, who is the hitting instructor credited with changing J.D. Martinez's swing, according to NY Times reporter James Wagner,
Prior to working with Wallenbrock, Martinez hit .251 with a .300 OBP and just 24 home runs in nearly 900 at-bats, during which he bounced between the Astros and their upper-level affiliates.
The season after working with Wallenback, at which time Martinez was 26 years old, he hit .315 with 23 home runs and 76 RBI, while striking out less and getting on base more than earlier in his career.
In his subsequent three seasons, Martinez has hit 105 home runs and enters this winter a top free agent corner outfielder reportedly seeking a $200 million contract.
Towards the end of this past season, Keith Hernandez told SNY's Mets Insider that, with his fielding, Lagares only needs to hit .260 to be a viable, everyday center fielder.
Earlier this week, Mets GM Sandy Alderson suggested that 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.
Obviously, Lagares has the necessary talent to be an everyday center fielder, evident by everything written before this sentence. We know because we've seen him do it for 18 months. However, is he physically able to meet the demands of a full season?
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. The Mets reportedly reached out to Cain's agent earlier this week.
The way I see it, while Lagares is an injury risk and not as good of a hitter as Cain, Lagares is much a better fielder. Also, Lagares will cost at least $10 million less than Cain in 2018.
This is why I think the Mets know they will have more options on the roster and will get better fielding and overall run production by paying $15-20 million to Lagares, Michael Conforto, and a power hitting 1B-OF, like Logan Morrison, than paying the same money to Conforto, Dominic Smith, and Cain.
In either case, Wallenback doesn't need to turn Lagares in to Martinez, though that would be amazing. Instead, Lagares simply needs to return to being the player he was in 2014, when he won a Gold Glove, hit .281, had 34 extra base hits and 3.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs.
If he can get Lagares back to that guy, at a time when Conforto is in right and, say, Morrison is at first, the Mets will be in good shape.