Although Juan Lagares emerged as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball last season, a debate has been raging since spring training started regarding whether or not Lagares will get the chance to be the Mets’ full time center fielder from the outset in 2014.
The debate presently exists mainly because Mets manager Terry Collins is infatuated with Eric Young, Jr., due to Collins’ belief that Young (and his .310 on base percentage) added a certain “dynamic” to the club after arriving last year.
In Collins’ mind, it’s worth putting an elite defender like Lagares on the bench, replacing him in center field with Chris Young, and sliding Eric Young, Jr. in as his left fielder and leadoff man (who, like any leadoff man, would be guaranteed to lead off an inning exactly once per game).
It may be that common sense prevails, with general manager Sandy Alderson overruling Collins and mandating that Lagares be handed the starting center field job.
Or, the Mets could acquire one of the two shortstops they’re interested in, and have the situation resolve itself.
Regardless of the fact that he was a finalist for a gold glove, Eric Young, Jr. is not a good defender. Regardless of what Terry Collins thinks he can do on base percentage wise, his past performance tells us that he’ll likely never have an OBP that justifies an every day job. Eric Young, Jr. is the main leadoff choice because another decent one doesn’t exist. If the Mets were to sign Stephen Drew or trade for Nick Franklin, a better leadoff option would exist.
Scenario #1 – Mets sign Stephen Drew:
If the Mets sign Drew, who is still holding out hope that someone will overpay for his services, they’ll have someone who can lead off the majority of their games – eliminating the “need” for Eric Young, Jr. in the lineup and allowing for Juan Lagares to play center field daily.
Drew has a lifetime on base percentage of .343 against right handed pitching, and should slot in as the leadoff hitter against righties. On days when a lefty is on the mound, the Mets could slide Drew down in the order and use Chris Young (career .363 on base percentage against lefties) in the leadoff spot.
Scenario #2 – Mets trade for Nick Franklin:
It’s been reported over the last few weeks that the Mets have interest in acquiring Franklin, a 23 year old switch-hitting shortstop who’s currently with Seattle. The Mariners are seeking young pitching in return, and had multiple scouts at Tradition Field for both Mets games this weekend.
If the Mets trade for Franklin, he can be their leadoff hitter against both righties and lefties. Juan Lagares would be the full time center fielder, and Eric Young, Jr. would come off the bench.
During his minor league career, Franklin posted an on base percentage of .360. Last year for Tacoma in Triple-A, Franklin had an OBP of .436 against lefties and .441 against righties. In addition to his on base ability, Franklin also possesses above average speed.
…Acquiring either Stephen Drew or Nick Franklin would do more than solve the “Juan Lagares or Eric Young, Jr.” debate.
It would also likely turn a position of weakness into a position of strength, in turn giving the Mets some more room for error offensively. With Drew or Franklin in the lineup, there would be less pressure on Lagares (whose offense is an unknown commodity) to produce.
The Mets are in need of an upgrade at shortstop, and also need to make a decision regarding their outfield alignment. Acquiring Drew or Franklin could take care of both issues in one fell swoop.