Mets working on potential upgrade in center field

Source says Lagares on block; Realmuto talks won't impact search

December 13th, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- Generally, three position players have dominated talk at the Winter Meetings. There is , whose agent, Scott Boras, spent Wednesday touting the outfielder as one of the most valuable free agents in Major League history. There is Manny Machado, whose contract could rival that of Harper. Then there is J.T. Realmuto, whose status is placing at least some sort of freeze on the catching market.

Executives around the game are curious to see where Realmuto lands, whether New York or elsewhere. Once the Marlins trade him, if the Marlins trade him, other free-agent catchers could soon find homes.

That process could take hours, days or weeks. So while the Mets' interest in Realmuto remains real, they're not letting it stop them from attacking other areas of need.

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"I don't think we have to wait for a catching decision to impact any of the other moves that we would make," general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said.

To that end, the Mets have spent significant time in Las Vegas addressing their outfield situation. It's an area that's at least partly dependent upon Realmuto, given the possibility the Mets surrender or to get him. But it's not entirely dependent on what the Mets do at catcher. Even if Nimmo and Conforto both stay, the Mets have made it clear they would like to upgrade from in center field.

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Options there include A.J. Pollock, the top right-handed outfielder on the free-agent market, and , whose representatives met Wednesday with Van Wagenen. The Mets could also look to upgrade via the trade market.

Right now, they're assessing all sorts of options. According to a source, they are also shopping around Lagares, who is due $9 million in the final year of his contract. If the Mets could package Lagares with a prospect as a way to shed salary, it would aid their other pursuits, while also clearing roster space for a superior hitter.

Lagares, who missed most of last season recovering from foot surgery, recently re-emerged in the Dominican Winter League, where he's batting .286 with a .905 OPS in five games for Aguilas. If the season started today, Van Wagenen said, Lagares would be the Mets' Opening Day center fielder, but the GM left open the possibility for roster moves between then and now.

The other factor is , who could return around midseason, later than that or not at all. Van Wagenen said he has been honest with outfield candidates about Cespedes' status and role on the team, and how that might affect playing-time considerations once he returns.

Time will tell how everything meshes together. Although the Winter Meetings have been quiet for the Mets, that could change imminently in the outfield and elsewhere.

"As we've gone through the week, we have been really active," Van Wagenen said. "We have proposals out. We have offers out to teams. We have offers out to free agents. It's hard to say how those unfold here in the coming hours. We're not viewing the Winter Meetings as a scoreboard of how many transactions we complete. We're going to view it in terms of how productive the conversations were, and what we can do in the days and weeks ahead."