SAN DIEGO -- The Padres didn't waste much time finding a candidate to replace Manuel Margot in center field.
On Monday, they signed outfielder Juan Lagares to a Minor League deal with an invite to big league camp. The deal is worth $1.4 million with another $1 million available in performance bonuses, per MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.
Lagares is 30 and spent his first seven big league seasons with the Mets, where he batted .254/.297/.361. He served mostly as a defensive specialist in center field and was worth five Outs Above Average last year. Over the course of his career, Lagares has fared much better against left-handed pitching -- meaning he could serve as a defensive replacement with occasional starts against lefties.
That’s almost precisely the role Margot was slated to fill this season before the Padres dealt him to Tampa Bay on Saturday for righty reliever Emilio Pagán. Lagares is now easily the best defensive center fielder on the spring roster. But the Padres have three or four bat-first options who are expected to earn more playing time -- namely, Franchy Cordero, Trent Grisham and Wil Myers.
As things stand, Tommy Pham is slated to anchor left field for the Padres. But the rest of the outfield group is jumbled. Six other candidates are expected to vie for the two other starting jobs. Realistically, Lagares will be battling for the fifth and final outfield place on the roster -- along with Cordero, Naylor and prospect Taylor Trammell.
It's possible the Padres embrace a pair of outfield platoons during the season, with Myers and Lagares playing against lefties. But Lagares slumped to a .213/.279/.326 slash line in 133 games last season. If those numbers don't improve, he'll be limited to a defensive replacement role or Triple-A.