Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
Juan Lagares has established himself as an elite defender in center field and a favorite for that position going into 2014. Matt den Dekker was sidelined for much of the year with a broken wrist and now his role for the future is still very much up in the air.
With less than two weeks left in the season, the Mets look to be experimenting with different combinations to identify what each can bring to the table.
There’s little question that Lagares has earned his place as a front-runner for next year. His hitting has been unspectacular, posting a .657 OPS so far this season, but he has shown some ability to adjust and improve after a horrendous start. Regardless, his shortcomings at the plate are more than made up for by the immense performance he has delivered in the field. By any metric you choose, including the “eye test,” he has emerged as one of the best outfielders in the the game.
As a player, den Dekker bears a fair amount of resemblance to Lagares. He has the potential for a bit more offense, as he shows some power; but he has always suffered from a high strikeout rate and is very vulnerable to left-handed pitching. It’s difficult to get a good read on his true abilities at the plate, as he has very few plate appearances and is also known for struggling after a promotion. We can be more confident about his glove, which has excelled throughout his professional career. He was considered for some time to be a better defender than Lagares, though at this point that’s extremely unlikely, given just how good Lagares has become.
For several games up until Tuesday night, Lagares was playing in right while den Dekker patrolled center. Some perceived this as a demotion or a slight to Lagares; but, from an evaluation standpoint, it makes sense. There’s no doubt about Lagares’s skills, but the team needed to see how den Dekker looked out there at the major league level.
Tuesday night, the team changed things around and put den Dekker in right for just the third time in his professional career. This was an important move because den Dekker’s best shot of making the team next year would be as a fourth or fifth outfielder and being comfortable in corner spots makes him more valuable in that role. He looked good and made all the plays. Obviously more time is needed to see how he settles into the nooks and crannies of Citi Field, but he should have some time in the final days of the season to get in some practice.
Lagares has been a treat to watch in the field all season and from what has been said for years about den Dekker, he will be too. With the right pieces around them, it would be great to have both on the roster in some role next year, providing the speed and defense that make a great outfield.