Whatever you think about the arc of Juan Lagares' Mets career, say this for him: He's seizing his moment now, at a time when, well, maybe few thought he could contribute much to a resurgent team in the National League Wild Card hunt.
His past few seasons certainly haven't gone the way Lagares or the Mets would have wanted. But when they've needed him in center field recently, he's delivered -- and not just with defense.
In his last 12 games, Lagares is batting .364 with a .917 OPS and has scored nine runs. With a rare chance at regular at-bats, he looks rejuvenated. He's had five multi-hit games over that span and 16 hits overall. He had 16 hits total in his previous 59 games.
He's also made several sensational catches in center field. At one point in his career, when the Mets gave him a five-year contract worth about $23.5 million in 2015, the club and its fans envisioned him routinely running down balls in center and providing superlative defense, ideal for a pitching-based team.
But Lagares, 30, has had injury woes since then. He only had 160 plate appearances in 2016, 272 in 2017 and 64 last year. His offense never blossomed. Scouts once raved about his outfield play, but that slipped.
Here's how far Lagares' stock had fallen, in the eyes of one opposing team's scout:
"He's not the same player. He doesn't hit much. His body has gotten thicker and he doesn't run as well. Very marginal extra player."
Asked when Lagares was still generally considered an exceptional defensive outfielder, the scout says: "The year after the won the Gold Glove."
That would be 2015. Lagares won a Gold Glove in 2014 and the Mets thought his offense would develop in the years to come. It hasn't.
Added another club's talent evaluator: "He's hot right now, but he can never seem to sustain it. He is an extra outfielder for me."
Indeed, Lagares may be at a career tipping point going forward. He's making $9 million this season, but is a free agent after this season. There is a $9.5 million option for 2020, but who can imagine the Mets picking that up? Instead, they'll likely pay a $500,000 buyout.
What happens after that is up to Lagares. He knows he has to perform now because his body of work over the past few years isn't sparkling. Maybe in the final few months he can make a big impression.
Even with Jeff McNeil back from the 10-day injured list, Lagares should still get playing time. The other day, manager Mickey Callaway said Lagares is both "saving runs and creating runs," so should still be a regular.
The Mets like the defensive boost in center, at least as long as there's enough firepower coming from the lineup. If the Mets feel they need more hitting, Lagares could lose playing time and Michael Conforto could shift into center field. Brandon Nimmo's eventual return could affect Lagares' playing time, too.
Lagares is undoubtedly helping himself stay in the mix by hitting both lefties and righties. He's traditionally better against lefties and is batting .385 against them over the last dozen games. Over the same span, he's batting .355 against righties.
Will it continue? The answer to that could help determine the Mets' fortunes, to say nothing of where Lagares goes from here.
"For his sake, I hope so," the first scout said. "The Mets can use him to perform."