Stuck in the middle of one of the slowest offseasons in recent memory, the Mets’ hot stove may be warming a bit.
The club has reportedly made center fielder Juan Lagares available in trade discussions this offseason, as it intensifies its efforts to cut costs and trim payroll.
The Mets don’t need to move Lagares. He is signed to a very affordable contract that pays him just $6 million next season. That number is significantly less than what free agent center fielders Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Rajai Davis are thought to be asking. Teams that don’t want to pay a premium in free agency or miss out on their top targets could turn to Lagares. In total, Lagares is owed just $15.5 million over the next two years.
The 28-year-old outfielder is known for his defense, and while his bat has slowed down in recent years, he has shown he has the ability to produce if healthy and with ample playing time.
Lagares broke into the big leagues with the Mets in 2013, hitting .242/.281/.352 in 121 games while playing strong defense and leading all center fielders in assists with 14. He drastically improved at the plate during his sophomore campaign, when he hit .281 with four home runs, 47 RBI and 13 stolen bases while continuing to build his strong reputation in the outfield.
He took a step back at the plate in 2015 and only appeared in 173 total games between 2016 and 2017, so he has been trending in the wrong direction. But the talent is still there and Lagares can help make a difference for any team that may be looking to acquire him.
So, who may want him, and what could the Mets get in return?
The San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox are three teams that could use center-field help. The Giants traded away their starting center fielder to the Tampa Bay Rays in the Evan Longoria trade, while the Rangers and White Sox are slated to go with younger players as currently constructed.
Lagares would help all three teams, without a doubt, but it’s unlikely either would offer a worthy return for a player of his caliber. Given his shortcomings the past three seasons, teams are going to try to buy low on Lagares. And if the Mets can’t get a significant return — either a high potential arm in the lower levels of the minors or a young, major-league ready, cost controllable bullpen arm in return — then the Mets would be better off hanging onto Lagares for now.
Michael Conforto will begin the year on the disabled list, so there will be plenty of playing time early in the season for Lagares. And if he performs well while Conforto is out, he can boost his trade value, which would give the Mets a shot at getting more in return for their homegrown center fielder.
So while moving Lagares may seem like a good idea, the Mets are better off hanging on to him rather than selling low. Let Lagares build his value early in the season before shipping him off and, who knows, he may surprise you.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe
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