Now that the Mets have signed Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, the outfield conversation has shifted to the potential configuration in 2014. Assuming there are no other deals that will affect the outfield (and this is a big assumption, as more moves are likely), the Mets could go with either of the following setups:
LF- Eric Young, Jr.
CF- Curtis Granderson or Chris Young
RF- Curtis Granderson of Chris Young
LF- Curtis Granderson
CF- Juan Lagares
RF- Chris Young
There is a large contingent of the Mets’ faithful that believes Juan Lagares is a lock for center field on opening day. I must have been absent the day that he was anointed as a modern-day Willie Mays, because I simply don’t see it. Certainly Lagares showed defensive prowess in his time with the Mets last year, posting an incredible UZR of 24.4. However, as stellar as his defense was, his offense left a lot to be desired. Lagares hit .242 with an OBP of .281. Further, he swung at 47.3% of the pitches he saw, and he swung at 35.6% of the pitches he saw that were outside of the strike zone. Lagares walked only 20 times in 392 at bats, for a walk percentage of 4.8%. He struck out in 22.8% of his official at bats.
What does all of this mean? We’ve heard that Lagares is a hard worker, and at 25 (he’ll turn 25 on St. Patrick’s Day), he has plenty of time to improve offensively. And, with his eye-popping defense, Lagares deserves a shot to get better and earn a regular spot. However, for now, it may not make sense to have him in the starting lineup. He can’t bat lead off with his low OBP (and with Eric Young Jr. not in the lineup, the Mets will need a lead off hitter). The Mets tried Daniel Murphy (who could be dealt) in the lead off spot, but that didn’t work so well in 2013, which led to the acquisition of Young. Also, Lagares may benefit from more time at AAA to improve his offense. An outfield of Young, Granderson, and Young would be fine defensively (with plenty of speed), and would allow the Mets to use Eric Young Jr. in the lead off spot. Young also needs to improve upon his OBP, which was .310 last year. However, his stolen base prowess (he led the league with 46 last year) enables him to create runs when he gets on base. Lagares is still an unpolished base runner.
All of this is speculation, as it’s quite likely that more moves will be made. As referenced above, a trade of Daniel Murphy may force the Mets to use Eric Young Jr. at second base. That would drive the outfield configuration to be Granderson/Lagares/Chris Young. The point here is that it seems the fan base has embraced Lagares, and with some validity to do so. However, it may be a little early to be handing him the center field spot. He still has significant learning to do, and the Mets would have to find a spot in the batting order where he could be used effectively. With next week’s Winter Meetings, answers to many of the Mets’ questions could be coming soon. It will be interesting, that’s for sure.