Juan Lagares may be the odd man out in the Mets’ outfield

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The Mets made a splash this off-season, signing Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million contract. They also picked up Chris Young on the cheap, and manager Terry Collins views him as a starter. That leaves one spot in the outfield between Juan Lagares and Eric Young, Jr.

According to Mike Vorkunov of the Star-Ledger, it sounds like Young is in the lead and Lagares may be relegated to a bench role or sent to Triple-A Las Vegas.

“As we sit here today Eric Young is the guy you’d like to see at the top of the order,” Collins said.

Collins also said: “Juan had a nice winter but when he gets in here we’ve got to see what our best options are. We’ve got three guys that can play centerfield that we know of and by gosh the best one is going to be out there because it’s a big position. Especially in our park…So we’ve got some jobs out there and if we need one of those guys to get nights off we know we’ll have a quality player to put in there. So we’ll make decisions farther in spring training.”

Lagares was quietly one of the more productive outfielders in baseball last season despite leaving a lot to be desired offensively. Both Baseball Reference (using DRS) and FanGraphs (using UZR) rated Lagares as a significantly above-average defender. Between center field (819 2/3 innings) and right field (84 1/3 innings), DRS credited him with 30 runs saved while UZR credited him with 24. By WAR, Baseball Reference lists Lagares as the 67th most valuable position player in baseball in 2013. FanGraphs ranked him 85th among those with at least 400 plate appearances.

The Mets, however, lack a “true” leadoff hitter, which is why they like Young. Young was even less impressive with the bat than Lagares last season, but he got on base three percent more often and stole a league-leading 46 bases in 57 attempts. Young also offers flexibility, having played all three spots in the outfield as well as second base.

Zack Greinke understands that “the opener” isn’t just about in-game strategy

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Over the weekend, Craig was among those cited as having criticized the Rays by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Craig wrote about it in Sunday’s And That Happened. Many of the responses from Rays fans to him on Twitter, at least most of what I saw, conflated distaste for ownership’s penny-pinching for a belief that the team is bad. Indeed, the Rays enter Tuesday’s action 64-61 and their position above .500 has something to do with “the opener” strategy, which is when they have a reliever like Sergio Romo start the game before handing the ball off to an actual starter after an inning or two. Other teams, like the Twins, have taken notice of “the opener” and have begun experimenting with it.

On Monday, Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller published a lengthy column discussing how recent changes to the game of baseball have made it a worse product. He quotes a lot of old-timers, which I discussed yesterday. Miller also quoted Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke on the subject of “the opener.” While quotes from the likes of Goose Gossage and Pete Rose were a bit more eye-popping, Greinke’s thoughts shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Greinke said:

It’s really smart, but it’s also really bad for baseball. It’s just a sideshow. There’s always ways to get a little advantage, but the main problem I have with it is you do it that way, then you’ll end up never paying any player what he’s worth because you’re not going to have guys starting, you’re not going to have guys throwing innings.

You just keep shuffling guys in and out constantly so nobody will ever get paid. Someone’s going to make the money, either the owners or the players. You keep doing it that way, the players won’t make any money.

Back in May, I wrote about how the overarching concept of “bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue in baseball. Greinke touched on exactly those points. An elite starter makes significantly more money than an elite reliever. Compare contracts signed by David Price (seven years, $217 million) and Max Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) to the contract signed by Aroldis Chapman (five years, $86 million), which is currently the most lucrative contract signed by a reliever. It wouldn’t crack the top-85 contracts in baseball.

A starter’s number of starts and his innings pitched total are both cited in arbitration filings and contract negotiations. A pitcher who made 33 starts in a season will have more leverage than a pitcher made only 15 starts. Meanwhile, Romo and Ryne Stanek‘s innings totals aren’t much different than a normal year of relief. Thus, if you’re Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman and GM Erik Neander, spreading the number of starts (and innings) between the “rotation” and bullpen will reduce the cost of pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible starters. The owners save this money and pocket it instead of reinvesting it into the team. Then they’ll turn around, cry poor, and ask residents of Tampa to foot the billion-dollar bill for a new stadium in Ybor City, roughly 25 minutes from their current digs.

Greinke is right and we should pay attention to what he’s saying. While “the opener” has some strategic merit, particularly for teams with less-than-complete starting rotations, it also conveniently helps save money for stingy and exploitative front offices. We’ve already accepted that a third of the league gave up on the season before it began. Let’s not accept that teams can give up on their pitching staffs as well.