Why Juan Lagares needs to stick as the Mets' center fielder

Mike Stobe

Juan Lagares has earned a chance to prove himself as the Mets' center fielder, but will Terry Collins give it to him?

Steven Goldman, over at SBNation.com, gave his thoughts on the Mets' using Juan Lagares as their everyday center fielder. The idea certainly isn't novel to Mets fans, mainly because he is the starting center fielder, after all. The Mets, however, are in a precarious position. Come April 18, Chris Young will be eligible to return from the disabled list, meaning that there are essentially four players to potentially fill three spots. Goldman offered his take on the situation, which is one that many Mets fans can get behind:

One of the main questions Terry Collins, Sandy Alderson, and the rest of the Mets gang had to address was how to sort out their collection of outfielders. Curtis Granderson may have ceased hitting as of August 1, 2012 (from then until now he has hit .211/.295/.430 in 116 games, not including his postseason 3-for-30 in '12), but having hit 43 home runs as recently as that year he was a lock. Chris Young, the former Diamondbacks and A's outfielder, was another sure thing for reasons that remain nebulous -- a career disappointment, Young is a good glove with a bit of a power ‘n' patience push to his low batting averages, but a great deal of the former was the product of playing in Arizona (career .254/.326/.465 in Phoenix, .224/.311/.409 on the road) and he was coming off a season in which he hit .200/.280/.379 in 107 games. A career .262/.363/.474 hitter against left-handers, Young might have made a good platoon partner for Granderson, who has had only intermittent success against southpaws in his career, but more than that seemed a stretch.

What was less clear was the team's fascination with Eric Young, Jr. Acquired last June, Young managed to lead the NL in stolen bases given 46 bags swiped between his two home offices, but he hit only .249/.310/.336 (79 OPS+), numbers wholly inadequate for a corner outfielder, stolen bases or not, and perhaps even if the outfielder in question is an above-average defender. Young's not bad out in the pasture, but has yet to be compared to Tris Speaker or Virgil or Batman -- or Juan Lagares, who does.

As Braves' shortstop Andrelton Simmons (.248/.296/.396, +41 fielding runs) showed last year, if you're an elite glove, you can mitigate a mediocre bat. The Mets didn't seem to care. Terry Collins wanted ol' EYjr up at the top of his order for his speed, even though the top of the order isn't really about speed so much as it is about rewarding your best hitter with playing time, your leadoff guy being the player who hits more often than anyone else on your team.

The Mets as a whole are hitting .198/.273/.323. Young is hitting .226/.286/.323. Granderson is hitting .125/.263/.313. Lagares is hitting .303/.351/.515 and is catching flies just like, well, flies...There's one problem with that last scenario: Lagares is almost certainly not going to be hitting .303 when Chris Young comes back, be it when he's first eligible on the 18th or at some point after that. He's just not that kind of hitter. Again, if his defensive play is as good in '14 as it was in '13, that won't matter.

If Baseball-Reference's fielding numbers are to be taken at face value, Lagares' 2013 was the ninth-greatest defensive season by a center fielder of all time, and he got there in fewer games than anyone else in the top 20.

Steve's case is certainly compelling, and his thoughts were shared during the offseason by Michael Donato and Jeff Kopman.

Some will say that there are few sure things in baseball, and while that may be true, the likelihood of Lagares's defensive value dropping precipitously this season is small. Lagares may not save 25 runs again, or be worth, conservatively, three fWAR, but why not give him a chance to see if maybe, just maybe, the bat can begin catching up with the glove?

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