After his eight-year-long tenure with the New York Mets came to an unceremonious end in the middle of the 2020 season, Juan Lagares re-established himself on major league radars by absolutely tearing the cover off of the ball in both the Dominican Winter League and the Caribbean Series at the beginning of 2021. One of the teams that took notice of the outfielder’s mini resurgence was the Angels, who signed him to a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training in early February. Once he reported to Tempe, Lagares was thrust into a competition for the club’s fourth outfielder spot against guys like Jon Jay, Scott Schebler and Taylor Ward, which he would go on to win pretty easily and earn a spot on the Halos’ Opening Day roster.
Lagares’s tenure with the Angels didn’t get off to a great start once the regular season rolled around, as he suffered a left calf strain after just two games played and was forced to go on the shelf for almost a full month. Upon his return on May 5, however, Lagares found himself inheriting a lot more playing time than he originally expected, with injuries to both Dexter Fowler and Mike Trout severely thinning out the Halos’ outfield group.
From that point in the season until the callups of both Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell in July and August respectively, Lagares was essentially an everyday player, starting 83 of his 112 games played with the Halos. During that time, his bat never did reach the heights that he achieved during his torrid stretch in LIDOM and the Caribbean Series, as evidenced by his .638 OPS and 72 OPS+ that fell back in line with where he was for the majority of his major-league career prior to 2021. He did have some nice moments in the box as the season went on, though, none more memorable than his walk-off double on the 4th of July against the Orioles that salvaged the day after a rare Raisel Iglesias blown save.
The area where Lagares provided the majority of his value to the Angels was with the glove, as he proved to be one of the team’s better defenders regardless of position (admittedly a low bar considering their struggles in the field) throughout the entirety of 2021. He played all three outfield positions during the course of the season—with center field being his primary spot as Trout’s replacement—and posted some very respectable numbers out there, including two defensive runs saved and three outs above average, the latter of which ranked in the 74th percentile of all outfielders. His primary strength out there was his quick reaction times, as according to Baseball Savant, his averages jumps in the outfield were the eighth best in all of baseball.
Lagares also provided no shortage of highlight reel plays out in the outfield, dazzling fans with great catches on a regular basis. His finest play out there came on July 6 against the Red Sox, when he reached over the wall in right-center field to take a two-run home run away from Xander Bogaerts in a game the Angels would go on to win by two runs.
Oh my, Juan Lagares!— Brent Maguire (@bmags94) July 7, 2021
He just robbed Xander Bogaerts of a go-ahead, two-run home run. Incredible catch. pic.twitter.com/qL93S80bhY
Aside from that IL stint in April, Lagares would last the entire year on the 26-man roster, ultimately finishing fifth on the team in games played behind David Fletcher, Shohei Ohtani, Jared Walsh and José Iglesias. After the season concluded, he made his way back to Águilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League once again, where he’s hit .301 in 20 games as of today, including a go-ahead home run not even an hour after this story was originally published.
NOT A WALK-OFF BUT WE’VE GOT A JUAN LAGARES GO-AHEAD HR IN THE 8TH— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) January 11, 2022
112 games (83 starts) / 309 AB / .236 AVG / .266 OBP / .372 SLG / .638 OPS / 73 H / 6 HR / 20 2B / 2 3B / 38 RBI / 12 BB / 76 K / 1 SB / -0.3 fWAR
Best Performance of the Year
Lagares’s best performance as an Angel came on August 30 against the Yankees, where he went 3-4 with a triple and two runs batted in. Beyond just that statline, though, he came through in the clutch multiple times and was perhaps the biggest reason why the Halos walked away with an 8-7 victory against the Bronx Bombers.
In the sixth, Lagares came within inches of homering off former teammate Andrew Heaney, instead settling for an RBI triple that extended the Angels’ lead to two runs. Two innings later and with the game tied back up for the third different time, he scorched a two-strike hanging slider from reliever Clay Holmes into left field, driving home Brandon Marsh from third base and bringing the Halos back on top for good.
Lagares was only on a one-year contract with the Angels, so he became a free agent at the end of the 2021 season and remains one as of now and at least through the end of the lockout. It remains unclear whether or not he will be back in Anaheim in 2022, but the team’s current logjam out in the outfield—Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Brandon Marsh, Jo Adell and Taylor Ward will all still be around next year—makes a return feel unlikely. If the Halos decide to trade one of Marsh or Adell once the lockout is over, the possibility that Lagares is back as a fourth outfielder would grow significantly, but as now, it feels like he has played his last game with the Angels.