New York Mets Player Evaluations: Outfielder Juan Lagares

The final New York Mets position player evaluation comes with veteran Juan Lagares. After spending his first seven big league seasons with the Mets, he moved on to the San Diego Padres before the 2020 season. Lagares was released during summer camp and returned to where things started eight days later.

Lagares returned to the Mets when Jake Marisnick was dealing with nagging hamstring issues. He was thought to be another good defensive replacement late in games. When the Mets traded for Billy Hamilton, there was not a need for Lagares on the roster. The only games Lagares appeared in came on August 25/26, and it resulted in four innings in center field, without an at-bat.

Surprising Release

There was no space for Lagares on the roster, and the Mets released him four days later. Lagares’ career has always been limited by his inability to hit consistently or stay healthy. His defense speaks for itself, as he has one Gold Glove to his name. The rest of his career will likely consist of minor league deals if he remains in affiliated ball.

2020 Grades On 20-80 Scale (2021 Projection)

Hitting: N/A (25)

Power: N/A (20)

Run: 60 (55)

Arm: 55 (50)

Field: 55 (55)

Overall: N/A (30)

New York Mets bring back old friend on minor league deal

The New York Mets made a couple of minor league signings on Wednesday, as they secured the services of infielder Brian Dozier and brought back their old friend Juan Lagares. MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reported both transactions.

Lagares joined the San Diego Padres at the start of the offseason, but he requested his release in the middle of July and was granted it. The Mets are the only franchise with which Lagares has played at the major league level.

By now, every Mets fan is familiarized with Lagares’ skill set. He is almost a zero in the power department, but he can play a very good center field even if he is already on the wrong side of 30, at 31 years old. He has a career line of .254/.297/.361.

Having Lagares around to back up center field doesn’t hurt anybody. In fact, he still has that difference-making glove.

The Mets bring Dozier into the fold

On the other hand, the New York Mets also announced an infield reinforcement in Brian Dozier. The experienced second baseman, currently 33 years old, has 192 career home runs and even hit 42 in 2016 with the Minnesota Twins.

Over the duration of his career, Dozier has demonstrated a fine glove at the keystone while providing pop and even a little bit of speed to the teams he has played in. He played last season with the Washington Nationals and helped them get a World Series ring.

He joined the Padres but wasn’t included in the summer camp’s player pool and was let go on July 11. He could be a backup option for the Mets because they have a crowded infield, and several players can defend the second bag, most notably Robinson Cano and Jeff McNeil.

Last season, he hit .238/.340/.430 with 20 home runs and 50 RBI in 135 games last season with the Nats. He could be a sneaky good addition by the Mets in the wake of Jed Lowrie’s placement on the injured list.

New York Mets: Juan Lagares and Brian Dozier Added to Player Pool

The New York Mets continue to add veterans to their player pool as injuries are slowly taking over the roster. Former Met Juan Lagares and 2019 World Champion Brian Dozier sign minor league deals with the Mets to add more depth to their roster. They release Gordon Beckham and Melky Cabrera to make room in the player pool.

Though neither player is going to make the opening day roster, the quality depth is needed. Lagares opted out of his San Diego Padres deal and is an insurance policy for Jake Marisnick, who is dealing with hamstring tightness. The only difference between them is Marisnick brings a little more in the power department. Both players are defensive wizards in the outfield, and Lagares has plenty of experience filling in for injured Mets.

Lowrie Replacement

When Jed Lowrie went on the Injured List, once again, the Mets lack any backup infielders with power. Dozier has at least 20 home runs in six straight seasons and hit a career-high 42 in 2016. He struggled in Spring Training with the Padres and opted out of his deal, like Lagares. The Mets will likely start the season with Luis Guillorme as the back up middle infielder, but if they need more with the bat, Dozier should get the call first.

Both players are productive depth pieces, and now their only concerns are with their pitching. They still need more quality depth there, especially with Marcus Stroman questionable for the opening series.

Favorite Under the Radar New York Mets: Juan Lagares

Due to Coronavirus destroying the sports landscape, all we have left is our sports memories. During the time where there is not much New York Mets news, here is the start of looking at some of the more underappreciated Mets players.

Juan Lagares instantly became a fan favorite due to his magical defense in the outfield. It seemed no ball could beat him, and he earned a 2014 Gold Glove award due to his spectacular defense. He also played center field with a swagger and confidence that had been missing since Carlos Beltran vacated the position. Lagares trademark was making an excellent catch, then firing the batch of sunflower seeds he had in his mount.

Defensive Specialist

Only over the last four seasons has Statcast kept track of defensive metrics. Although these years are not his best, he still had 16 outs above average, and the metrics showed he was very balanced in his ability to get balls in any direction. Despite not being a strong hitter, his glove consistently kept him on the roster.

Lagares is no star by any means, but he was a Met you were happy to watch succeed. He was one of the original holdovers from the rebuilding Mets to the NL championship Mets and had a final renaissance during the second half when he received playing time due to the Mets’ need for outfield defense. Outside of his hitting, injuries had always been Lagares’ Achilles heel. It hurt him the most in 2018, where he started the season hitting .339, then lost his season to a toe injury.

Lagares is now with the San Diego Padres and hopes to land a spot on a young Padres roster.

New York Mets: Juan Lagares Signed by the Padres

The longest-tenured New York Met has finally found a new home. Juan Lagares has signed with the San Diego Padres on a one-year, $1.4 million deal, should he make the big league team out of Spring Training.

In 2014, Lagares won the Gold Glove and is the last Met to win the award. His 2014 season resulted in the Mets signing him to a five-year extension. Initially, the Mets hoped to have him cheap as he blossomed to become the everyday centerfielder. Lagares never panned out as a hitter and only hit .248/.294/.357 with 17 home runs during the duration of his deal.

When the Mets traded for Jake Marisnick, it effectively ended his Mets career. Marisnick is a cheaper and younger player who slightly better. Lagares received ample playing time during the second half of 2019. His performance started strong, but he regressed to the numbers he typically put up.

New Life in San Diego

Lagares will have an excellent opportunity to earn himself a roster spot with the Padres. The only definite is left fielder Tommy Pham. The rest of the outfield cast is Wil Myers, along with unproven young players. Lagares would offer a strong defensive player with veteran experience to an up and coming team. Currently, Drew Pomeranz and 2015 World Series opponent Eric Hosmer, as the only players on the 40-man roster to play in the fall classic.

Mets decline OF Juan Lagares’ $9.5M contract option

The New York Mets have declined outfielder Juan Lagares’ $9.5 million contract option. A wise move if there ever was one. The 2014 Gold Glove winner hit just .213 in 285 plate appearances in 2019 with 5 HRs and 27 RBIs over 133 games.

He is now a free agent joining several other 2019 Mets on the market this offseason:  Zack Wheeler, Joe Panik, Todd Frazier Luis Avilan, Brad Brach, Rene Rivera and Rajai Davis.

Lagares has been in the Mets’ organization since 2006 when he was signed as a 17 year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic. He was converted to the outfield shortly afterward in the Mets’ farm system.

From Anthony DiComo of Mets.com:

When he debuted in 2013 as a standout defender with some offensive potential, the Mets considered him a key to their future. When he won a Gold Glove the next season while also batting .281 with a .703 OPS, they responded by awarding him with a five-year, $23.5 million contract. That deal included a $9.5 million option for 2020, which the Mets declined on Friday. They instead paid Lagares a $500,000 buyout.

 

In addition to the Gold Glove and his .348 average in the 2015 postseason, Lagares’ Mets tenure was defined by injuries. Quad, hamstring, elbow, toe and thumb woes limited Lagares to an average of 68 games per season from 2016-18. He rebounded this year to appear in 133 games, mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter. But he hit just .213 with a .605 OPS.

“I thank God for the opportunity to be here from 2006 to now,” Lagares said late in the season as if he knew his days in Flushing were numbered. “It’s sad. I understand that this is a business. I have to accept everything that happened and enjoy the time with my family, and be ready for anything.”

The Mets moving on from Lagares in 2020 leaves the Mets with two healthy outfielders on their roster – Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. Yoenis Cespedes is still on the 60-day IL and J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith and Sam Haggerty are all listed as infielders. Jeff McNeil is listed as an outfielder, but is currently on the 60-day IL.

New York Mets: Juan Lagares Year in Review

Juan Lagares is one of the longest tenured New York Mets and was called in to play in big games during the second half of the season. During his time as a Met, his bat never found consistency and could be playing elsewhere in 2020.

Lagares actually earned the opening day nod in Center Field, but lost some playing time due to his inability to hit. His gold glove defense was his redeeming quality over his career, but even that seemed lost. Lagares only hit .179 over the first three months and feel way down on the depth chart.

Thrown into the Fire

It seemed Lagares and the Mets were undoubtedly going in their separate ways in the offseason. Due to injures and swapping players all over the field, Lagares received the opportunity to play everyday. He took full advantage of it, hitting .322 in July and August. The gold glove defense also returned as all he needed was the opportunity to play everyday.

He showed flashes of why the Mets gave him a five year deal after the 2014 season. Though his power never developed over his career he showed his ability to hit to all fields. In September he hit .273 with three home runs, his most in any month.

Where Will Lagares be in 2020?

Lagares finished the year with a .213 average in 258 at-bats with a .326 slugging. His second half at least puts him in consideration for the Mets 2020 plans. Lagares was the only natural center fielder on the roster and it would be no surprise for him to return. He is not an everyday player anymore, but he would fill the defensive replacement/spot starter role perfectly.

Grades:

Hitting for Average: D, The Mets have always looked for more from Lagares, but he never met expectations

Hitting for Power: F, Only 18 extra base hits as his power never developed

Defense: B, He was average in the first half, but in the second half he looked like a gold glove winner

Speed/Baserunning: B, good speed and an above average baserunner. Could always be counted on to pinch run

Intangibles: A, worked hard everyday, went out to do his job and always helped the team in any way he could

New York Mets: Mets to Activate Brandon Nimmo Prior to Sunday’s Game

The first player of the Mets group of reinforcements makes his return Sunday in Philadelphia. Brandon Nimmo has been on the Injured List since late May and will return as another option in the outfield. The Mets have missed his smile, hustle and versatility while he was on the shelf.

Nimmo has not played since May 20 because of a bulging disc in his neck and suffered a couple of setbacks during his rehab. After a breakout season in 2018, he was disappointing to start the season. When he landed on the IL, he was only hitting .200 with a .323 slugging percentage and struck out 48 times in 130 at-bats. The injury played a big role in his slump, but he looks ready to step back into an everyday role upon his return.

Who Gets the Boot?

No one will need to be sent down thanks to the September roster expansion. The Mets also have 39 men on the 40-man roster which means the Mets can activate Nimmo without having to remove someone. If the Mets activate Jed Lowrie before the season ends, they will be forced to make a move. J.D. Davis, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil have all played well in the outfield but only Conforto is a natural outfielder. This leaves Juan Lagares as the odd man out.

Lagares has brought back his gold glove defense and has hit better, but cooled off of late. He is 5-for-32 over his last 10 games and will likely lose the most playing time with Nimmo’s return. The Mets will not run Nimmo out there everyday over the last month of the season until they see he is fully healthy. Lagares will likely be relegated to spot starts, much like Rajai Davis.

When to Expect Him in the Starting Lineup

Nimmo should play in either of the next two games, but it is unlikely he plays in both. After Sunday night’s game, the Mets have a quick turn around and play a day game on Monday against the Nationals. Mickey Callaway does not like to over use his players, especially ones returning from injuries. Nimmo will get a large amount of playing time through this home stretch and the Mets need his energy to make a comeback.

What Do The New York Mets Do When Michael Conforto Returns?

Michael Conforto is set to return to the New York Mets before his original May 1 date. The Mets have to figure out how to make room for Conforto in their crowded outfield.

There will be no changes when it comes to Yoenis Cespedes or Jay Bruce in the outfield. The decision to demote either Brandon Nimmo, Juan Lagares is a difficult one for the organization to make. The Mets could also demote Phillip Evans, if they choose to have five outfielders.

Brandon Nimmo vs. Juan Lagares

Nimmo has shown his prowess for working deep counts and ability to be the Mets leadoff hitter. He can also play all three outfield positions and is a solid bat to have off the bench. Nimmo has shown he is a quality outfielder and has solidified his spot on the Mets roster. The Mets have been high on Nimmo since they drafted him and they likely will not want to remove the hustle and patience he brings to the Mets.

Lagares is a gold glove center fielder but has always struggled with being a consistent hitter. It is unlikely the Mets move Lagares because he is undoubtedly the best defensive outfielder they have. His glove has been a game changer in the years past which keeps him on the Mets roster year after year. If the Mets were to choose between Nimmo and Lagares, they would likely go with Nimmo. Nimmo is younger, a better hitter and can play all three outfield positions.

How the Mets Will Handle Conforto When He Returns

Conforto’s will likely be worked into everyday action slowly and with caution. Manager Mickey Callaway has said he does not want to overwork guys in the regular season and make sure his bench players do not spend too many consecutive games on the bench. The days of 150-plus games being played is most likely over.

Conforto will likely reclaim his spot as the Mets leadoff hitter and center fielder when he returns. In order to give Adrian Gonzalez some rest, Bruce could play first base which would move Conforto to right and Nimmo/Lagares to center. The Mets can do a lot many different things with their lineup and they do not have a player Callaway is afraid to play.

Getting Conforto back healthy makes the Mets lineup even more dangerous. It gives the Mets and outfield that is one of the very best in baseball and can all be All-Stars. Conforto was one the few bright spots of a dark 2017 and will be one of the key pieces the Mets need to make another World Series run in 2018.