The Mets have received recent trade interest in Juan Lagares and “haven’t ruled out” a trade of the defensively gifted center fielder, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post. Per Puma, at least one AL club has maintained interest in Lagares into the middle portion of Spring Training.
Lagares, who turns 29 on Saturday, is guaranteed $ 6.5MM in 2018 and $ 9MM in 2019, plus a $ 500K buyout of a $ 9.5MM option for the 2020 season. While his bat has been a negative asset since he signed his $ 23.5MM extension prior to the 2015 season, his glove remains superlative; over the past three seasons, Lagares has amassed 1914 2/3 innings in the outfield (nearly all in center field) and delivered 25 Defensive Runs Saved and 22.1 Ultimate Zone Rating. Statcast’s OOA metric pegged him at seven outs better than an average defender in 2017.
Moving Lagares would obviously thin out New York’s outfield mix, though Puma notes that Brandon Nimmo could be leapfrogging Lagares on the depth chart with a strong spring showing while Lagares struggles at the dish. Michael Conforto is expected to man center field upon his return — which Puma notes could come by early May — with Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce lining up in the corners. Conforto’s return would push Nimmo and Lagares further down the depth chart. Cespedes, it should be noted, is being slowed by a sore wrist, though MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo tweets that X-rays on the wrist came back negative.
The Mets are currently set to open the 2018 season with a club-record payroll of more than $ 152MM, and the fact that they already have $ 95MM+ on the payroll for the 2019 season creates some further impetus for moving Lagares if he’s been pushed to fifth on the outfield depth chart. The Mets figure to get some of those projected Opening Day figures back in the form of an insurance policy on David Wright’s salary — he’s expected to be shut down from baseball activity for eight weeks — but it obviously stands to reason that no team would relish the notion of paying a fifth outfielder at that relatively lofty rate.
Speculatively looking around the American League, the A’s, Tigers, White Sox and Rangers were among the clubs that received questionable defensive ratings from their center field contingents in 2017, and the Royals lost Lorenzo Cain to free agency (though they’ve since added Jon Jay on an affordable one-year deal). The Mariners, meanwhile, are dealing with a thin outfield mix that is being slowed by injuries and have placed a premium on defensive value under GM Jerry Dipoto, who is never shy about making trades.