With the signing of free agents Chris Young and Curtis Granderson this offseason, the New York Mets have solidified their outfield for the 2014 season as those two join Eric Young Jr. and Juan Lagares to form an outfield that has come together well. However, comments made by Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins during the MLB Winter Meetings indicate that of the four, Lagares could end being the odd man out which is equally shocking and puzzling to hear.
Even with the addition of two new outfielders that have the ability to play center field, it seemed likely that the Mets would keep Lagares at that position next season after he displayed Gold Glove caliber defense there in 2013. It also seemed plausible to have Granderson and Young flank him, while the more versatile Young Jr. either played the role of the fourth outfielder or moved to second base with Daniel Murphy being a trade candidate. However, the Mets’ brass has subtly indicated that they are not thinking that way.
The Mets do need to find a way to get Young Jr. in the lineup. He is their best option in the leadoff spot and obviously they need to get at bats for the newly acquired Young and Granderson, but is that really going to come at the expense of Lagares and his exceptional defense?
With the signing of Bartolo Colon, the Mets now have four quality starters in their rotation, and the best way to support them is to put a good defense behind them. And in center field, they don’t get much better than Lagares, whose defense drew comparisons to the great Andruw Jones last season.
Lagares does need to make improvements at the plate as his plate discipline is not what the Mets would like it to be. If they wanted to, the Mets could justify sending him to triple-A for two or three months to begin 2014 to give him an opportunity to work on some things. But he could just as easily work on those things in the majors while playing exceptional defense for the Mets in center field, and it would be crazy for the Mets to deprive themselves of such brilliant defensive play at such a key position.
Lagares is an elite defensive player, and while he’s not the most accomplished hitter he’s shown flashes of being a productive offensive player in the big leagues. Barring a prolonged and significant slump, the Mets should think twice before taking him out of the lineup. Despite the additions they’ve made in free agency, he could be one of their most valuable outfielders next season.