One of the biggest questions facing the New York Mets this season is how they will figure out playing time in the outfield. They have no less than four players capable of being everyday players and only three outfield spots in which to put them. Manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson have said that playing time in the outfield will be dictated by offensive performance, but this is the wrong way to approach this; defense should be factored in as well.
Yes, the Mets do need to score runs in order to win games, but the strength of the team is pitching. What the Mets need to be doing is accentuating the strengths that they have, and that means supporting the pitching staff with quality defense. After all, preventing the opposing team from scoring a run is equally helpful to winning as scoring an extra run.
What this means for the Mets is that they have to put Juan Lagares into the lineup on a daily basis. Lagares may very well be the best defensive center fielder in the big leagues, and not having him patrol the outfield as often as possible is doing a disservice to a pitching staff that is already good and could become even better if the Mets have their best possible defensive alignment on the field.
Lagares does have some work to do as a hitter, which could keep him out of the lineup if the Mets value only offense, but his offensive production would have to be well below average to make it not worthwhile to have him in the game for defensive purposes. Even if Lagares were to enter games late for defensive purposes, it would be a waste of his talents, hinder his development as a hitter and prevent him from ever developing into the everyday player he’s capable of becoming.
Obviously, after having a rather anemic offense for the last several years, the Mets want to make sure their lineup is as potent as it can possibly be. That’s why they spent $60 million to sign Curtis Granderson this offseason, and it’s why Granderson will be in the lineup every day. But to ignore the defensive value of a player like Lagares is short-sighted and not the way the Mets should be deciding playing time in what’s a surprisingly crowded outfield.