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Mets decline to pick up 2020 option on Juan Lagares

The Mets' Juan Lagares tosses his bat after

The Mets' Juan Lagares tosses his bat after he lines out against the Los Angeles Dodgers to end the fifth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Juan Lagares, who had been the longest-tenured player on the Mets, is no longer with the team.

The Mets officially declined their 2020 option on Lagares on Friday, a mere formality considering the $9.5 million salary he would have earned and his underperformance in recent seasons. Instead, the Mets will pay him a $500,000 buyout.

The Mets also announced that infielder Joe Panik and lefthanded reliever Donnie Hart declined outright assignments to Triple-A Syracuse. They now are free agents.

The Mets’ other free agents: Luis Avilan, Brad Brach, Rajai Davis, Todd Frazier, Rene Rivera and Zack Wheeler.

Lagares, 30, a free agent for the first time, was a member of the Mets longer than anybody else on the 2019 team. He beat Wheeler  to the majors by about two months in 2013. If Wheeler signs elsewhere, the longest-tenured Met will be Jacob deGrom, who debuted in May 2014.

A leftover from Omar Minaya’s time as Mets general manager, Lagares originally signed with the Mets in May 2006 as a 17-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He debuted in 2013, won a Gold Glove in 2014 and signed a $23 million contract in 2015.

But Lagares struggled to stay healthy, averaging fewer than 100 games per season from 2014-19. He suffered left thumb injuries in 2016 and 2017 — with an oblique strain mixed in — and  played in only 30 games in 2018 before crashing into the outfield wall, hurting his left big toe and needing season-ending surgery.

Although he once drew comparisons from former manager Terry Collins to Carlos Gomez — a two-time former Met who, at his peak, was an All-Star, a dynamic offensive threat and a down-ballot MVP candidate — Lagares never developed as a hitter the way the Mets hoped and thought he might.

Lagares owns a career .254 average, .297 OBP and .361 slugging percentage, good for a below-average 83 OPS+. Relegated to a part-time role in 2019, he had a .213/.279/.326 slash line.

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