The 2014 New York Mets will be without their best player for at least the next two weeks.
The team will place center fielder Juan Lagares on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring, an injury he suffered hustling down the first-base line to beat out a double play. This is a huge loss for the Mets, because Lagares has been the Mets’ best all-around player during the first two weeks of the season.
It’s certainly true that David Wright will bust out of his early season slump. Daniel Murphy has already come around with the bat, as has Eric Young Jr., and Travis d’Arnaud has also been looking better at the plate. Lucas Duda has hit .367/.406/.667 with three home runs and seven RBIs since being handed the first base job, but Lagares has been a force in every aspect of the game thus far.
In center field, he’s covered more real estate than Century 21. He’s already saved three defensive runs. Oh, and he doesn’t have any outfield assists. Why is that a good thing? No one is willing run on him anymore. There was little doubt about his fielding and throwing prowess, however, as it’s on offense, where he’s made a huge leap forward.
Lagares has worked hard on his plate discipline and pitch selection. He rarely chases the kinds of off-the-plate breaking pitches that taunted him last year. When he does get a pitch to hit, he usually makes the most of it. Lagares has come out of the gate with a .314/.345/.471 slash line, and he’s tied for the team lead in RBIs with seven.
The real kick in the gut about this injury is that his progress is being interrupted. He could come back quickly; his hamstring could heal and never recur. Or, the time he misses — whether it’s two weeks or two months — could throw off his rhythm and timing, and he could go back to being a mostly defense player. Worse yet, his hamstring injury could linger, as they tend to do.
Lagares has shown an ability to learn and be a student of the game. That much is encouraging, for even if he is out for an extended period of time, he’ll pick up mentally where he left off. His progress may be slowed, but it should continue.
The Mets will muddle along without him, as they’ve recalled Kirk Nieuwenhuis from Triple-A Las Vegas. He’s not the fielder Lagares is, but he’s at least average in center field. He strikes out a lot at the plate, but has shown that he can get on a hot streak for a couple of weeks. However, he’ll probably only get a couple of days. Chris Young is set to be activated from the DL on Friday, and he will most likely take over as the Mets’ every day center fielder at that time. He’s looked healthy and locked-in during his rehab assignment in Vegas.
By the time Lagares comes back, the Mets should have that pleasant problem of an overload of talent in the outfield. Until then, New York will have to hope they get as much production out of Young, Nieuwenhuis and anyone else who graces their outfield.