By Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
Former Mets star Juan Lagares could be on his way back to the majors after veteran Jon Jay was released on Friday, along with former Angel swingman Jesse Chavez.
The Angels faced a Saturday deadline to either declare in writing that Jay and Chavez would be on the Opening Day roster, or pay each player a $100,000 retention bonus and send them to the minors. They did it a day earlier, giving both players their unconditional releases.
Jay and Chavez are now free to try to latch on with other teams, while Lagares, 32, looks like the Angels’ choice for the backup outfielder on the Opening Day squad.
Before Jay’s release, on Thursday Taylor Ward was optioned and power-hitting Scott Schebler was reassigned.
Angels GM Perry Minasian decided to take a flyer on Lagares and signed him to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.
Minasian knew well about Lagares’ defensive prowess at all three outfield positions.
But Lagares surprised Minasian and manager Joe Maddon with his hot hitting and from the very first day of spring it seemed like the former Met, who won an NL Gold Glove in 2014, was the front-runner for that backup outfielder job.
Lagares has 14 hits in 27 at-bats (.378), has stolen three bases and hit a montstrous homer on Friday. His OPS is .924, respectable for a fourth outfielder.
Jay is a Maddon favorite but he simply didn’t hit — looking overwhelmed at the plate for most of the spring. He only had two hits (one of them a homer) in 29 at-bats.
If Lagares is indeed the fourth outfielder, his salary for 2021 will be $1.25 million. He has spent his entire eight-year MLB career with the New York Mets.
“In baseball, you’re always competing,” Lagares said last week in a Zoom conference. “Even if you have a secure job, you have to compete. So that’s what I do. I work hard every day.”