The Detroit Tigers are currently slated to enter the 2017 season without a real replacement in center field for the recently departed Cameron Maybin. They also are looking to cut some payroll and won’t be in the market for anyone making any kind of serious money (sorry, Andrew McCutchen fans). This really limits the Tigers’ ability to fill a large hole in the middle of their outfield.
However, there could be an answer in New York. With the recent re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Metropolitans look to have a full outfield next season, and that could push former Gold Glove winning Juan Lagares out of an everyday role. Could he find a full time spot in Detroit?
Who is he?
The soon-to-be 28-year-old Lagares debuted for the Mets in 2013. He has been with their organization since 2006, when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic at age 17 as a shortstop. He spent a long time developing in the Mets’ minor leagues before making his way to the majors. When he arrived in April 2013, he made an immediate impact with his glove.
Plays like these...
...would earn Lagares his Gold Glove in 2014. He also earned a five-year contract extension as the Mets looked to lock up their budding young star on team-friendly terms.
At the plate, Lagares is not much to talk about. He doesn’t have much pop with his bat, and struggles against righties (.633 OPS, 76 wRC+) while hitting at an average clip against lefties (.735 OPS, 105 wRC+). He strikes out a little under leage average at 19% but he doesn’t draw many walks either at just 4.8%. Overall his career OBP is just .298.
Why should we care?
Comerica park is big. Like, really big. It would be really nice to see an elite center fielder roaming that vast green carpet for the next few years. Lagares has some of the best range in the game and would be a truly massive defensive upgrade over any current options the Tigers have for next year. In 2013 and 2014, Lagares led all major league outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (DSR) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). He is not a huge base stealing threat — he has just 30 career stolen bases — but he is smart on the basepaths and uses his speed well. He has a career 50 percent extra base taken rate (XBT%), as well as a stolen base success rate of 71 percent. Having a runner that can effectively take the extra base when available would be a welcome addition to the Tigers lineup.
In addition, Lagares is owed a modest amount of money over the next three years. The Mets signed him to a five-year extension back in 2014 to buy out his remaining arbitration years. He is owed $23 million over the next three years: $4.5 million in 2017, $9.5 million in 2018, and $9 million in 2019. In today’s market for free agents, this is a very cheap salary for a starting center fielder.
Why should we stay away?
In short, injuries and hitting. Lagares has not put up the eye-popping Gold Glove numbers he did in 2013 and 2014 for the past couple seasons. While defensive metrics can be fluky, this decline is probably due to injury. In 2015, Lagares missed time with an intercostal strain and nursed an elbow injury. Last year, he only played in 79 games. He missed time in June with a strained thumb ligament, and then underwent season-ending surgery in July after tearing a ligament in the same thumb.
As stated above, Lagares’ hitting tool isn’t all that impressive. With below average numbers against righties and just average stats against lefties, he simply doesn’t contribute much at the plate. At age 27, his stats aren’t likely to improve much going forward either. To put this into perspective, he is basically Jose Iglesias with more strikeouts and a tick more power. Still, Lagares is not much to speak of at the plate. This makes him largely dependent on his defense for value. It’s possible that he can regain his form with a fully healthy year. But if injuries keep nagging him, he will merely be a slightly above average center fielder with a below average bat who will keep costing more and more money down the road.
Will he end up in Detroit?
While Lagares seems like a good fit for the Tigers, it’s doubtful a deal gets done. The Mets’ seem pretty resistant to moving him, and they would have to be comfortable with their roster to part with their talented center fielder. Lagares represents the only “true” center fielder they have available — yeah, we’ve see Cespedes up close, he’s not a true center fielder. In addition, we don’t know if the Tigers could fit Lagares’ contract into their budget given their stated intent to trim payroll. While he would certainly be less expensive than signing a free agent outfielder, the future salary owed to Lagares may still be out of the Tigers range. There is also more risk with him than most players, considering most of his value is in his glove alone.
However, if the Tigers can afford him and he is expendable to the Mets in the right deal, he could be a cheap addition, or included as an additional piece as part of a larger trade.