By Joe Giglio
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During the 50-plus year history of the New York Mets, public relations hasn’t been the strongest attribute of the organization. Lately, that thought has manifested itself with confounding and ridiculous day-to-day mixed messages from unnamed front office sources and manager Terry Collins.
The incessant coverage and talk around the Mets’ first base situation has been spurred on by Collins’ behavior and decision-making process. From naming Lucas Duda the starter “for now” to finding ways to get Ike Davis’ bat in the lineup to the refusal to stick with a plan, Mets fans should take what the team says with a grain of salt.
However, there’s one positive and forward-thinking announcement Collins could make: naming center fielder Juan Lagares an everyday player for the rest of the 2014 season.
Although the team and Collins are under no pressure to make any announcements surrounding the 25-year-old defensive wizard, expect questions to arise soon due to Chris Young’s impending arrival back from the disabled list.
Barring a setback, Young is eligible to return to to the 25-man roster on April 18. In less than a week, Collins will be presented with the same conundrum that befuddled him throughout spring training: Four outfielders for three spots.
Yet, in reality, it’s two outfielders for one spot. Due to Curtis Granderson’s long-term contract and Young’s $7.25 million deal for 2014, the former 30-plus home run hitters will play when healthy. As long as Eric Young Jr. gets on base, Collins will be hard pressed to keep him out of the lineup.
That leaves Lagares — despite an .867 OPS heading into a weekend series against the Angels — as a young player fighting for his job on a daily basis.
In theory, that’s fine. If Lagares plays better under pressure, perhaps silence is the answer from the Mets. But here’s what isn’t: an outfield position war throughout the season, similar to what we are seeing at first base. Simply put, Collins can’t be allowed to change his mind on a daily basis, leave Lagares out of the outfield or create another distraction around the team.
Last year, Lagares’ defense was worth 3.5 wins, according to BaseballReference.com. To put that into perspective, Daniel Murphy’s entire game — from offense to defense to base running — has never been worth more than 3.3 wins in a season.
Whether or not you believe in WAR or defensive metrics or advanced stats, there’s one thing everyone who watches the Mets can agree upon: Lagares is an outstanding defensive player.
Now, in a very small sample size in 2014, he’s hitting well. Time will tell if that continues, but even if Lagares doesn’t hit at a league-average rate (.729 OPS for the average center fielder in 2013), he’s too valuable to sit down for more than a few games this season.
Instead of waiting for a controversy to manifest itself over the next few weeks, Collins can end speculation now of an outfield platoon or day-to-day cloud hanging over another aspect of a flawed roster.
Come out ahead of the questions and give Lagares a full season of at-bats to sink or swim. At worst, he’s a valuable player due to a special glove, accurate arm and outstanding range. At best, he hits enough to be a National League All-Star in July.
For a team with more roster questions than answers, a proactive stance from the manager would be a refreshing change to witness.
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