Juan Lagares is in a precarious position with the New York Mets. His spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster seems to be safe for now, but how long will a golden glove save his hollow bat?
A favorite of former manager Terry Collins, the 29-year-old Dominican native is known primarily for his fielding skills. The 2014 NL Gold Glove-winner has a career slash line of .257/.297/.366, with his best offensive season coming in the same year as his fielding award.
Since then, his career has been marred by injuries and unproductivity. Last season, in just 252 at-bats, aside from a 4-for-5 game against Texas in June and a 3-for-3 game in September, there weren’t many other bright spots.
To his credit, his outfield play has never wavered and to the same effect, his repeated bouts with injuries have surely slowed his development down to a crawl over the last few seasons.
Lagares has only registered 394 at-bats since the beginning of the 2016 season. If he would have been healthy and able to play consistently, maybe he would have earned himself a regular role on this team.
Unfortunately, even after working on his swing in the offseason, Juan Lagares hasn’t even begun to look better at the plate. As of right now, Lagares is hitting .175 with a .433 OPS in 40 at-bats.
Once Michael Conforto returns, which is looking to be much sooner than originally anticipated, there’s a good chance that Juan Lagares will be relegated to the fifth outfielder’s position, which could become a very slippery slope for a player like him.
His defense will always warrant him the benefit of the doubt over another, younger, inexperienced player. But once those young players start out-hitting him, at what point does his defensive mastery lose out to the offensive capabilities of another, less defensively-gifted outfielder?
Even a guy like Brandon Nimmo, who plays the outfield well, hits, and gets on base at a better clip than Lagares, would figure to be Mickey Callaway‘s first option once his outfield of Conforto, Jay Bruce, and Yoenis Cespedes is whole once again.
If Lagares is left as a late-inning defensive-replacement and/or pinch-hitter, so be it. But if his bat doesn’t eventually come around, someone will surely come along to challenge him for that spot too, sooner or later.