Mets’ center fielder Juan Lagares has had some recent thumbs down years, due his thumb being in a cast. In June of 2016 he tore the ligaments in his left thumb attempting a diving catch, then in June of 2017 he broke the same thumb, again on a diving try. The injuries lead to much abbreviated seasons in both cases. Then this year he changed it up a bit when he crashed into the outfield wall on May 17, leading to a toe injury that required surgery, ending his 2018.
When Lagares is healthy, we know he can be an excellent contributor to the team. In 2014 his slash line was .281/.321/.381, and he won a gold glove. In 2015 he had an off year, but he did come alive in the postseason as he batted .348 and scored seven runs in that pennant year.
This past season he was off to a fine start, he assembled a .339/.375/.390 slash line in 30 games, then the season ended due to the toe injury. The speedy outfielder also reduced his strikeout rate to 14.1, best of his career.
Lagares has been used at times in a platoon role. Looking a little deeper into his 2018 by examining the FanGraphs’ splits tool, Lagares hit right-handed pitching quite well. His BA was .379 in 29 AB. Against lefthanders he hit .300 in 30 AB. These are obviously small samples, but still those numbers show an encouraging trend.
Lagares seems to be recovering from his latest injury pretty well. Anthony DiComo reported in September that Lagares was participating in sprinting drills, and was running at full-speed. That sure sounds like the toe has healed well. DiComo also said Lagares was planning on playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, another good sign.
The Mets’ outfield situation for 2019 is somewhat in flux. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are budding stars in the corner outfield slots, and Nimmo plays an acceptable CF as well. Yoenis Cespedes is recovering from double heel surgery and is expected to miss at least half the season, and few would be surprised if he misses the whole season. RF Jay Bruce is coming off a down year and could end up being used more at 1b. So there certainly is a pathway for Lagares to get plenty of playing time, if he stays healthy and plays anywhere near like he did in his abbreviated 2018.
There is a little extra motivation for Lagares in that his contract expires after the 2019 season. Not that he seems to need much motivation, any player who crashes into the wall late in a runaway game (like Lagares did against Toronto resulting in his toe injury,) seems plenty motivated.
The Mets have said they want to improve their defense up the middle, they want more right-hand batters, and they want to improve speed. A healthy Lagares would help in all those areas. Perhaps for a change 2019 will be a thumbs up year for Lagares.