Juan Lagares’ name has been thrown around as a trade piece this offseason as much as any other player not named Giancarlo, but the Mets should resist every temptation to deal him.
Lagares' name resurfaced in the rumor mill when semi-retired blowhard Mike Francesa claimed that the Mets are in talks with the San Francisco Giants to swap Lagares for second baseman Joe Panik. And while I have my doubts about this rumor, the way it was received definitely shows that some Mets fans view Lagares as a spare part.
But he’s far from it.
Over the course of his five Major League seasons, Lagares has rightfully earned the reputation as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Despite offensive struggles (he’s a career .257/.297/.365 hitter) and injury issues, Lagares was still worth almost 1.8 Wins Above Replacement, most of which was from his defensive prowess.
If Lagares can improve his offense at all, it would be a tremendous boon for the Mets, and he's working on that. In order to put the ball in the air more often, Juan has made adjustments to his swing during the offseason. In 2017, Lagares' hard-hit rate was 29.6 percent, but had a career-worst 28.8 percent fly ball rate. So if he can hit the ball hard, but start to lift more, there's a lot of reason to be bullish on what Lagares can do with his revamped swing.
Some might argue that once Michael Conforto returns from his shoulder injury, Lagares will almost certainly be the odd man out. But over the course of a 162-game season (and with any luck, some postseason play), there’s going to be a point where he’ll provide value to the team. Need proof? Look no further than the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers.
Early last season, the Dodgers had five young outfielders who could reasonably be considered full-time starters: Yasiel Puig, Kike Hernandez, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, and Cody Bellinger (who was called up in April). Instead of trading one of these players to upgrade another position, LA stood pat, and over the course of the season, Pederson played his way out of the lineup, while Bellinger took over full-time first base duties once Adrian Gonzalez hit the DL. It essentially solved their outfield log-jam without having to trade one of their young, talented players.
So teams need flexibility, and should an outfielder or two go on the DL (which, of course, isn't exactly out of the realm of possibility with this team), the Mets would have to rely on a replacement-level-or-worse player if they ship Lagares out of town. Brandon Nimmo is a promising young player, but he's still working on learning to hit lefties. Next on the depth chart is probably Matt den Dekker, who hasn't done much to prove he's a viable Major Leaguer.
So I wouldn't trade him at all, but especially not for Panik. The Mets already have two utility infielders who struggle defensively in Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores. Sending Asdrubal Cabrera to the bench would create an unnecessary redundancy. And Panik's career .288/.347/.421 slash line is essentially the production the Mets have gotten out of Cabrera in his two years with the club (.280/.343/.455).
From my perspective, Lagares is more valuable to the Mets than any player he could reasonably be traded for. With the way this team is built, the ability to navigate the ups-and-downs of an incredibly long season is of utmost importance, and the defensive-minded Lagares offers the team some wiggle room in the outfield, something they’ll almost certainly need. And if he can hit a few more doubles, that’s gravy.
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