Examining the difference between the newest San Diego Padres’ outfielder Juan Lagares and Manuel Margot, who the team traded last week.
The San Diego Padres shocked its fanbase last Saturday night by trading Manuel Margot to the Tampa Bay Rays along with prospect Logan Driscoll in exchange for reliever Emilio Pagan. Forty-eight hours later, the Padres added center fielder Juan Lagares on a Minor League deal.
It seems that Lagares is a potential budget replacement for Margot, so let’s compare their careers and 2019 performances offensively and defensively.
Manuel Margot, 25, was once considered a top prospect in the Padres farm system. After making his Petco Park debut in the 2016 Futures Game, Margot made his MLB debut on Sept.21, 2016. He projected as an excellent defender who gets on base with little pop. He certainly lived up to the hype defensively but disappointed offensively. A career .301 OBP is significantly below standard, especially with a career 87 OPS+.
Juan Lagares, 29, debuted with the New York Mets on April 23, 2013. Similarly to Margot, Lagares projected as an elite defender in center field and not much as a hitter. Lagares has spent his entire career thus far with the Mets, accumulating a career 83 OPS+.
Given that both players hit right-handed, they hit left-handed pitching better. Margot’s career OPS+ vs. lefties is 123, while Lagares is 113. However, most MLB pitchers are right-handed, and Lagares barely edges Margot in OPS+ vs. right-handed pitching, 94-91.
In 2019, Margot certainly out-performed Lagares at the plate. Even though Margot didn’t show offensive improvement in 2019, his 83 OPS+ is considerably better than the 63 OPS+ Lagares posted. Margot did get 30 more starts than Lagares, though, so he received more opportunities to prove his worth.
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Margot also has a lot of value on the basepaths, especially when it comes to stealing bases. In Margot’s three years in the MLB, he stole 50 bases. That is approximately 16 stolen bases per season. On the other hand, Lagares stole 44 bases in his six-season career. His seven stolen bases per year don’t come close to Margot’s total. Not to mention, Margot stole 20 bags in 2019 compared to Lagares’ four.
In the field, both of these guys are elite. However, both players are not as good in the field as they once were.
In Lagares’ prime, he won a Gold Glove and was considered the best defensive center fielder in the National League. However, as Lagares aged, his fielding declined. In his rookie year, Lagares posted 26 DRS, a 2.98 RF/9 innings, and threw out 14 baserunners. Lagares never put up similar numbers, as his defense steadily came back to league average.
The most drastic fall came from 2017 to 2019. In 2017, Lagares had 15 DRS and a 2.68 RF/9 innings. Lagares suffered an injury in 2018 and missed the majority of the year. His defense didn’t recover and played slightly below league average in 2019. Negative-two DRS and 2.17 RF/9 innings are both way below what he used to be. He hopes that with a healthier 2020, better defense will follow.
As for Margot, his best fielding season came in his rookie year. Margot’s best year with his arm also happened to be in 2017, tallying six assists. Since then, Margot has struggled gunning down runners, only throwing out four baserunners since his rookie year.
With the glove, Margot can do it all, mostly because of his range. In 2017 and 2019, Margot’s RF/9 innings was 2.39, above the league average. Margot also made his plays, accumulating eight DRS in 2017, nine in 2018, and six in 2019.
The difference between the two defensively is Margot is remaining steady, while Lagares seems to be declining. At the plate, it is the lesser of two evils with Margot.
Margot is going to be the better player in 2020. It may seem odd that the San Diego Padres took a downgrade in center field, but the Padres got value for Margot, and are saving money by adding Lagares.
The offseason is not over. General manager A.J. Preller can still add a center fielder to start over Lagares using the plethora of prospects in the Padres system. Spring Training is approaching quickly, and there are still question marks in the outfield. Lagares may not even make the opening day roster. Questions will be answered in Peoria this March.
Dominic is currently a Senior at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, studying Sports Journalism. He also hosts the “Devils Talking Padres” podcast and is the producer and co-host of the “Padres EVT Podcast.