Posted on February 3, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
All offseason, the New York Mets have been trying to trade an outfielder. For the most part, they’ve attempted to trade Jay Bruce, but after failing to do so, the Mets are now resigned to the fact that they’ll likely open the 2017 with Bruce as the team’s every day right fielder. However, there may be another way the Mets can create some space in an over-crowded outfield. Recent reports suggest that the Mets are receiving interest from at least one team, possibly more, in center fielder Juan Lagares, potentially opening the door for the Mets to trade him before the start of the season.
Lagares had a breakout season in 2014, hitting .281 with a .703 OPS while also winning a Gold Glove. The Mets signed him to an extension to keep him in Queens through the 2020 season prior to the start of the 2015 season. While he continued to be an elite defensive player, he did not continue to develop offensively as the Mets expected. Late in the 2015 season, Lagares saw his paying time diminish, as Yoenis Cespedes moved to center field and Michael Conforto taking over in left field.
In 2016, Lagares was relegated to a bench role before spraining his thumb in June while making a sliding catch in center field. He returned from the DL a few weeks later and attempted to play through the still problematic thumb injury, but ultimately required surgery that kept him out until the middle of September.
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He figures to play a complementary role again in 2017, as Curtis Granderson appears likely to be New York’s primary center fielder. Lagares will likely be a late-game defensive replacement and get starts against left-handed pitching. However, he’s not the every day center fielder the Mets were expecting when they signed him to the extension.
Trading him at this point would free the Mets from the $4.5 million he’s owed this season and the $25 million he’s owed over the next three years. That money could prove useful in signing a relief pitcher. The Mets had planned to use the money saved from trading Bruce on a reliever, but with Bruce still with the team, it’s unclear how much money the Mets have to spend on their bullpen before the season.
Trading Lagares could also open up more playing time for Conforto, who figures to be relegated to a bench role or possibly sent to triple-A with Bruce being the team’s every day right fielder. Conforto doesn’t have a lot of experience in center field, but he could theoretically share time at that position with the aging Granderson.
The Mets were approached by teams about Lagares earlier in the offseason and the team made it clear he would not be traded. Of course, whether that stance has changed in light of the team’s inability to trade Bruce is unclear, as Lagares may be the only outfielder on the roster they could trade at this point.
However, trading Lagares may not be a wise option. Other than Cespedes, he’s the only right-handed hitter in a left-hand heavy outfield, meaning the Mets may need him at times to help balance their lineup. He’s also the only true center fielder on the roster unless the Mets want to move Cespedes back to center field, which doesn’t appear to be an option they’re considering at the moment. This makes Lagares an important piece of the puzzle for the Mets in 2017, even if they can’t count on him offensively.
Exactly what team or teams are expressing an interest in Lagares at this point in the offseason is unclear, although any team that values defense would theoretically be interested in a player who is an elite defensive center fielder. At the same time, there’s no word on whether the Mets have come around on the possibility of trading Lagares, but with such a crowded outfield, it may be a move they have to consider.