In the beginning of November, the Mets declined their $9.5 million option on Juan Lagares, making him a free agent and likely ending his career with the club. If you type “Lagares” into the search box at our site – at least before the publication of this piece – you’ll get 875 search results. We’ve written about him a lot. So it seems he should get a proper farewell.
When the Mets traded Carlos Beltran, we did something we hadn’t done before or since. Each contributor at the site was given the chance to weigh in on Beltran and say what he meant to them or what they thought his career was like. It seemed a fitting tribute to a player of his stature. So, what’s the proper sendoff for Lagares then?
First, we have to determine his stature. Yesterday it was pointed out in the comments section that one of the reasons for the Mets’ improved offense in 2019 is that they didn’t give as many PA to guys who couldn’t hit as they did in 2018. The guy with the most PA on the ’19 club who didn’t crack a .700 OPS was Lagares, who came to the plate 285 times and put up a .605 OPS. Only two other guys had 100 or more PA and a sub-.700 OPS – Adeiny Hechavarria (151/.611) and Tomas Nido (144/.547). Compare that to 2018, when eight guys got at least 100 PA with an OPS in the 600s or below.
Of course, defense was always his calling card and he won a deserved Gold Glove Award back in 2014. That season he put up a 2.9 fWAR in 116 games. After that performance, the Mets gave him a four-year extension, something they’ve only done with Jacob deGrom among guys called up in the current decade. And it took a CY Award and hiring deGrom’s former agent to get that particular extension worked out.
Lagares was a very good defensive player for a number of years. He’s posted an 82 DRS in his career, meaning he’s provided eight wins with his play in the field. That’s outstanding. UZR was not quite as bullish, as he had fewer than half the total in that system, with a 37.3 lifetime mark. But both of the leading defensive systems agreed he was not good defensively last year. DRS gave him a (-2) and UZR had him with a (-2.9) in 703.2 innings.
Perhaps injuries robbed Lagares of the career he could have had. Only once in his career did he top 1,000 innings and that was back in 2015 when he had 1003.2 in the year the Mets advanced to the World Series. Lagares was healthy that season and was on pace for many more innings but he was moved to a reserve role the final two months of the year once the team traded for Yoenis Cespedes.
But despite the injuries, despite the balsa-wood bat and despite the constant importing of outfielders in his Mets tenure, Lagares finished with 2,119 PA. That ranks 38th all-time for the Mets. Interestingly, he’s nestled between Ruben Tejada (2,194 PA) and Wilmer Flores (2,011) on the list. Lagares, Tejada and Flores ended up being the three best offensive international players signed by Omar Minaya. Given how much credit Minaya has been given over the years for his work in this area, this is not a lot of bang for the buck.
In his last year with the Mets, Lagares pulled down $9 million and FanGraphs’ Dollar Values had him contributing (-$6.2) million. Ouch. The pro-Lagares camp will recall his outstanding defensive work from 2013-14 while the rest of us will remember the guy who was injured and ineffective the final five years he played for the club.
So, Mr. Lagares, fare thee well, adios, adieu. And best of luck to you in the future. May you enjoy health and happiness in whatever you do next in your career and life. But it’ll be nice to have a cheaper, more productive player on the team in your spot next year.