The Mets are reportedly open to trading outfielder Juan Lagares as part of an effort to seek payroll flexibility, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post.
The Mets are expected to remain patient as they look to secure another reliever and a second baseman, according to FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman, and Puma reported that there is skepticism about the possibility of Lagares being traded this winter.
Lagares was limited to 94 games last season due to a torn thumb ligament.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson said earlier in the offseason he felt Lagares "definitely" fit into the team's plans in 2018, and Lagares is considered the Mets' starting center fielder in an outfield that also features Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto, who may not be ready for Opening Day after undergoing shoulder surgery toward the end of last season.
Lagares has reportedly worked with hitting instructor Craig Wallenbrock, who helped adjust J.D. Martinez's swing, in an effort to develop more power at the plate.
New York has reportedly been trying to cut payroll $20 million from last season, which would give them approximately $10 million to spend for the rest of the offseason. Lagares, 28, will earn $6.5 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019.
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If the Mets are dealing Juan Lagares, or anyone for that matter, it should be for baseball reasons -- not payroll flexibility. Those kind of moves make sense for the Yankees and Dodgers, who are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold. The Mets are not.
In the case of Lagares, while he hit just .250/.296/.365 last season, his defense in center field -- which was a positive in 2015 and 2016 -- returned to a truly elite level last season, as he was worth 15 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 566 2/3 innings. Extrapolated over a full season, it's roughly equivalent to his peak defensive seasons of 2013 and 2014.
Lagares was arguably the best defensive center fielder in baseball in 2017. That has immense value. And a team that has close to no outfield depth shouldn't be pondering trading someone like that in order to create payroll flexibility.
If the Mets dealt Lagares, they would have a grand total of one outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes) who profiles as a starter and is expected to be available on Opening Day. Michael Conforto (shoulder surgery) is not expected to be ready, according to GM Sandy Alderson. And after suggesting earlier this offseason that they would acquire a 1B/OF type, the only player the Mets have been linked to recently is 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who cannot play the outfield.
Without Lagares, the Mets -- as presently constituted -- would likely have to turn to Brandon Nimmo, who is best suited in a corner outfield spot. Beyond Nimmo, there are literally no other outfield options on the 40-man roster.
If the Mets were dealing Lagares in order to address another area of need, and in turn bringing in someone to replace him, this would make sense. But that's not what is being reported. Much like the idea of trading Matt Harvey for a reliever instead of signing one (which was killed quickly) or the idea of trading AJ Ramos for payroll flexibility, dealing Lagares in an effort to create payroll flexibility should remain just an idea. Because it makes no sense.