A healthier Juan Lagares rebounded in a big way in 2016, posting a 17.6 UZR/150 in center field and re-establishing himself as an elite defender. His offensive peripherals also improved, as he posted the highest walk and line drive rates of his career, though that resulted in only an 84 wRC+. Despite that meager offensive output, Lagares’s net value projected out to 3-4 fWAR as a full time starter, making him a very solid bench option.
Unfortunately, the injury bug caught Lagares again, as he went on the disabled list twice for a thumb sprain, eventually electing to have midseason injury. In his four year major league career, Lagares has also suffered hamstring, rib, and elbow injuries. That history is particularly concerning given that Lagares leans so heavily on his elite defense to justify a major league role.
If he can stay healthy in 2017, there’s an argument to be made that Lagares should be the starting center fielder instead of Curtis Granderson, who most likely no longer has the athleticism to play even average center field defense. Projection systems have Granderson’s offense declining in 2017, too, though he’s still expected to be above league average. Lagares’s elite defense and mediocre-but-not-disastrous-offense likely offer more value over the course of a full season. At worst, Lagares represents an excellent platoon option, with his right-handed bat and strong defense spelling Granderson against left-handed pitching.
Though a platoon role may materialize in time, the Met have given no signals that Granderson is anything less than the full-time starter in center field, meaning Lagares will have to reprise his role as a defensively-gifted fourth outfielder to start the season. The Mets’ outfield is filled with plenty of age, performance, and injury risk, though, and Lagares should see plenty of at-bats even as a the first outfielder off the bench. Hopefully his performance forces the veteran loving Terry Collins to give him more starts, giving his golden glove more opportunities to shine.