With free agency officially underway, the New York Mets should really consider re-signing Juan Lagares.
On Nov. 1, the New York Mets decided to decline their club option of $9.5 million on outfielder Juan Lagares for the 2020 season. In doing so, the 30-year-old who’s spent his entire career with the Mets’ organization is now officially a free agent on the open market.
However, there are a handful of advantages of bringing Lagares back to Queens for next season.
Currently, the Mets only have three outfielders on their active roster, not including the frequently injured Yoenis Cespedes. So, Brodie Van Wagenen and the Mets will have to add an outfielder to their roster this offseason anyway.
The Mets also don’t have much financial flexibility this winter, as the team owns somewhere around just $10 to $15 million in spending for this offseason. Regardless of whether Lagares was even worth his $9.5 million option for 2020, the Mets wouldn’t have been able to afford the veteran outfielder at that price.
Based on Lagares’s performance this past season, the Mets if they choose to, should be able to sign the Dominican-native to a contract significantly lower than $9.5 million per season. Through his 133 games this past season, Lagares recorded 12 doubles, five home runs, 27 RBI, .279 BABIP, 60 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR and a miserable slashing line of .213/.279/.326/.605 as well.
Lagares also produced a troubling 26.3% strikeout rate and a measly 7.7% walk rate. Based on these numbers above, Lagares surely can’t provide much offensively for the Mets. Although, the Mets also over-relied on Lagares this past season. With fellow outfielder Brandon Nimmo missing the majority of the 2019 season due to a bulging disk in his neck, the Mets had no other option but to begin utilizing Lagares more than he was accustomed to in previous seasons.
At this stage of his career, Lagares should only be used as either a late-game defensive replacement or a player who slides into the lineup once every four or five games. Based on his excellent defensive capabilities, the Mets would very likely prosper from utilizing Lagares in this type of capacity during next season, which is exactly why Van Wagenen should bring him back this winter.
This past season, Lagares committed just a trio of errors through his 703.2 innings played in center field. Despite recording a -2 DRS, -2.9 UZR and a -6.1 UZR/150, Lagares did create an impressive 5 OAA this past season. For those of you who are new to the defensive stat outs above average, it’s essentially wins-above-replacement for outfielders. OAA is a season-long stat that is calculated based on the results of catch probability.
To put this into perspective, Nationals’ outfielder Victor Robles generated a league-leading 23 OAA this past season. New York Yankees’ outfielder Aaron Judge, who was just awarded the 2019 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award for right field, finished tied for eleventh-best in the league with his 8 OAA. For Lagares, the soon-to-be 31-year-old completed this past season tied for 27th-best in the league in OAA.
Since Lagares would only be brought back for his defense, the Mets could likely resign him on a one-year deal worth approximately $4 million in 2020. Sure the Mets could sign a player like Billy Hamilton, who recorded a 7 DRS and a 7 OAA in 2019. But given this will be just his age-29 season, Hamilton will likely be asking for much more than just $4 million for next season.
If the Mets were willing to increase their payroll beyond their expected spending limits for this offseason. Then, Gold Glove outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Red Sox would make a perfect addition to their roster. The 29-year-old hit 21 home runs and 62 RBI along with recording an impressive 6 OAA this past season. Although, Bradley Jr. is heading into his age-30 season and is also slated to make north of $8 million next season.
Even if Boston was willing to eat some of Bradley Jr.’s salary for next season, the Mets would be forced to subtract from their already thinned prospect system. So, Van Wagenen and his staff will likely stick to the open market to find their fourth outfielder for next season.
Considering the Mets’ needs this winter, locating a fourth outfielder likely won’t be high on their list of priorities. Along with receiving less than $20 million in spending from ownership, it makes a lot of sense for the Mets to resign Lagares for one more season.
With the Mets’ current outfield of J.D. Davis, Michael Conforto and Nimmo all their team needs is a reliable defensive outfielder who can come off the bench late in games, which exactly fits Lagares’ profile.
So, even though there are better quality options out in free agency and through the trade market, the Mets’ best affordable option would favor one final opportunity for Lagares. If the veteran fielder doesn’t produce quality defensive results by the trade deadline, then the Mets should seek elsewhere for improved productivity from their fourth outfielder position.