Recently there has been a swell of support among some of the beat writers for the Mets to give Juan Lagares the everyday job in center field next season. As one might expect, the argument in support of this is essentially that Lagares is a whiz with the glove and provides value to the team even if he doesn’t hit.
However, there are also many reasons Lagares should not be the everyday center fielder for next year’s Mets team. They are explained below:
1. Lagares cannot hit
Over the course of five seasons, Lagares has posted a .667 career OPS. He has shown no power (19 career HR) and doesn’t steal bases (35 career SB). He also doesn’t hit for average (.259 career mark) or walk (.299 career OBP). There is literally not a single thing you can point to in Lagares’ offensive game that adds anything to the Mets lineup.
Even in a platoon role, Lagares is not much of a boost to the lineup. He has a .727 career OPS against lefties. This season he sports a .670 OPS against them. That’s not enough to justify playing around half the games.
2. You cannot hide his bat
The comparison has been made between Lagares and Rey Ordonez, and in many ways they are similar. They are so good defensively that you try to figure out a way to get them into the lineup. Here’s the big difference, though: When Ordonez was at his peak, the Mets had deep lineups. You could get away with batting Ordonez eighth because everyone else could hit.
That’s not the case for this version of the Mets. Barring some offseason magic, the lineup may be thin again (Travis d’Arnaud, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc.). It’s just not a situation where the team can sacrifice offense for defense. There are already too many easy outs in the lineup. A true contender like the Dodgers or Astros might be able to play Lagares everyday and get away with it. A fringe playoff team like the Mets? Not so much.
3. You cannot rely on him
Due to various injuries, Lagares has played only about half the season in both 2016 and 2017. His career-high in games played over his career is 143. The Mets have been burned too many times banking on injured players, and they cannot make the same mistake with Lagares or the team will soon be playing Brandon Nimmo everyday in center.
4. His absence is not the reason the pitchers have struggled
Led by their pitching staff, the Mets made the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. In both of those seasons, Lagares was not the full-time center fielder. The Mets’ pitching struggles in 2017 are not because Lagares has been out of the lineup. Sure, Lagares helps, but health is priority No. 1. If the pitching staff is healthy and at their best, it won’t matter who is playing center field. That’s why the organization has been content with offense-first players in center.
5. Center fielders who hit and field well do exist
Part of the support for Lagares’ in center field has to be partially because the Mets have played the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Conforto in the center over the last three seasons. Watching these offense-first players play out of position has been ugly at times, which has only heightened the call for defense in center.
However, there’s no need to go to the opposite end of the spectrum either and go defense-first with no bat like Lagares. There are center fielders that do both across the league. A guy like Lorenzo Cain is a free agent. Others might be available in trade. There are options out there.
Lagares is a really good defensive center fielder, and brings something to the table for the Mets. But he is such a negative offensively that the Mets cannot afford to play him every day. Maybe if Brandon Nimmo continues to get on base at such a high clip, there could be a platoon option. Maybe. But the best course of action is for the organization to go out and get a real center fielder for once and keep Lagares as a fourth outfielder. There are just too many other holes on this team to play an incomplete player like Lagares.