Yasiel Puig Is a Dream Free Agent for Three Last Place Teams

Yasiel Puig’s first appearance in the majors had been fabled for some time. Matt Kemp, the young Dodgers star the team had just signed to an eight-year deal, was hurt for the third time in 14 months, and doubts of his superstardom were already creeping in. “Derek Jeter appeared on the disabled list twice during his 10-year contract with the Yankees,” Bill Shaikin noted in the L.A. Times, for some reason.

Where, it was being asked, would the Dodgers be expected to find their power with Kemp trying to swing through a shoulder injury and maintaining the lowest slugging percentage (.335) in the league among starting outfielders? What silhouette would appear on the horizon, a bat slung over his shoulder, and take the Dodgers to the Promised Land?

“He is not in the major leagues,” Shaikin wrote. “His name is Yasiel Puig.”

Seven years later, his name is still Yasiel Puig, and he is still a ball player, only now, he is available to play for your team. His biblical foretelling led to an explosive debut and a thrilling first two years of his major league career. Puig has gone through a lot since then; his uniform has changed multiple times and his numbers have fallen away so that only his reputation, the parts earned and unearned, has remained. Now, at age 29 and dragging 20.0 career WAR behind him over seven seasons, he is filling an odd little niche on the 2020 free agent market: He is the dream acquisition of last place teams. To invent a word on the spot, we might say that he can increase the “fan-ability” of three teams that could really use it in 2020.

Early on, it’s fair to say that Puig made himself a phenomenon. The echoes of that immediate impact are still reverberating, as despite his drop-off, he is still a name people both recognize and see value in. Puig was worth 9.8 WAR over two seasons, a collective 6.4 WAR above average. He brought power, slugging .502 with a .197 ISO and hitting fly balls 32.4% of the time, 15.2% of which went over the fence, and posted a 153 wRC+. Since then, his SLG has dropped (.462), his ISO has held steady (.199), he’s hit way more fly balls (37.4%) and slightly more of them have been home runs than before (16.0%), all while being good for a 110 wRC+. One thing that’s been true his whole career is that he’s a steady pull hitter, sending the ball to left about 40% of the time since the beginning. And FanGraphs says you could probably grab him for around $39 million over three years!

He’s also got that reputation that, when viewed negatively – and even unfairly – is considered selfish or brash, and when considered positively, is viewed as fun and joyous. Last season, he was traded from the Reds to the Indians during a game, but was too busy defending a teammate in a bench-clearing, suspension-generating brawl to find out. Puig is unafraid not only be a full-on ball player, but a full-on person, every inning of every game.

According to the giant machines that crank out our projections of the future, the Tigers, Marlins, and Giants are all destined for the cellar in 2020. They could surprise people! Anything can happen! But their success beyond last place would indeed be a surprise. They are at varying points in the last-place team status, but Puig is a viable candidate for any of them.

MLB Trade Rumors said Puig could fit with the Tigers, and some of their fans nodded in agreement. Giants fans are grappling with the idea that a once hated rival could feasibly become their champion. Marlins fans want him, and it kind of seems as if he wants them, too. Not that his appeal is limited to cellar dwellers, but about Puig makes him so compelling to fans of baseball’s less fortunate teams?

Well for starters, last place teams are bad, and bad teams are rarely as fun as we hope. Puig gives people a beacon of potential skill and joy in times of intense, crapulent boredom. But also, these teams aren’t exactly bursting at the seams with outfield talent, and Puig, at 29, is neither a used-up veteran nor an unaffordable slugger in his prime.

Marlins
Current Outfield: Corey Dickerson, Lewis Brinson, Brian Anderson
The talk around Brinson is still focused on his “raw tools,” as he has yet to channel them into effective on-field skills, as evidenced by his second-lowest wRC+ in all of baseball last year at 56. Anderson, conversely, was one of Miami’s sole bright spots in 2019, before his season ended after a fastball broke his left hand. Steamer has him dropping off, from 3.1 to 2.3 WAR and 114 to 105 wRC+. Dickerson is the Marlins’ newest and highest profile addition, available after having played 34 games for the Phillies during which he had the third highest wRC+ on the team (121) behind only Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. Puig slots here both skill-wise and fan-wise, thanks to fans’ desire to see this team continue adding, his seeming personal interest in being there, and his established relationship with manager Don Mattingly.

Giants
Current Outfield: Alex Dickerson, Mike Yastrzemski, Steven Duggar
The Giants have been connected to both Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos this winter, despite the season of research and development in front of them. Ozuna has since signed with the Braves and if desperation drops Castellanos’ price tag at all, the Giants may appear before him. But if not, Puig fits their bill, as their current crop features one prospect they want to see flourish (Yastrzemski), but is part of an outfield that collectively produced a total of 2.2 WAR in 248 games last season. There’s room for growth in Oracle’s spacious outfield. And you can’t tell me fans wouldn’t get over Puig’s Dodgers days in a hurry as he puts his talent and verve on display during what could potentially be a 100-loss season. He’ll be affordable and powerful, and he’ll get people to look at the Giants. That’ll be a big ask in 2020.

Tigers
Current Outfield:Christin Stewart, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes
Detroit isn’t working with an outfield of great depth, skill, or existence, and nobody has made improving it on the major league level a priority in two years. Adding a free agent like Puig wouldn’t put an obstacle in the path of a hotly anticipated prospect, and Puig exists in a financial tier that the Tigers could actually meet, even as they focus on cutting payroll. With his suspect defense and diminished offense, Puig is the best free agent teams looking to spend low as they begin or continue rebuilding can probably get. And in each of these cases, the universal notion of buying low on a player with a high ceiling in order to trade him later in the season for prospects exists here in a big way.

Puig is not the player he was early in his career. But he’s still got numbers that would be useful to most teams, and if any of those teams were projected to finish in, say, dead last, then they would look at Puig and think: This is a guy we could put on a poster, or use to sell tickets and jerseys, or give away as a bobblehead. Unless they’re the Tigers.

Being a fan of a team embarking on what has been widely accepted to be a losing season long before the first pitch is thrown is exhausting. Not only because of the games being played and lost, but also because of the way coverage tends to ignore them, making it feel like the team you follow is worse than bad — it’s entirely irrelevant to the sport. But there is a free agent that has the ability to mesmerize and polarize, and give fans desperate for something watchable the gift of, at the very least, momentary entertainment.

His name is Yasiel Puig.

We hoped you liked reading Yasiel Puig Is a Dream Free Agent for Three Last Place Teams by Justin Klugh!

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Justin is a contributor to FanGraphs and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He is known in his family for jamming free hot dogs in his pockets during an off-season tour of Veterans Stadium and eating them on the car ride home.

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whiptydojoe
Member
whiptydojoe

I hate to be cynical, and I read the entirety of the article, but why?

These teams are not just going to be cellar dwellers in 2020, but also probably the two years after that. No big cores coming up that could benefit from the…. “veteran” presence of Puig.

I LOVE Puig. I loved his debut with the Dodgers, had him on my keeper team for years, and last year loved him being a part of (hopefully) a Reds turn-around. But why would teams, with OF options on their 40-mans that are paid for, shell out nearly $40M for 3 years? That’s a lot of jerseys to buy

isavage
Member
isavage

I can’t imagine Puig is going to cost anything like 3/40? I think Ozuna signing for 1 year pretty much solidifies that no one’s going multi-year on Puig, and he’ll probably have to settle for under 10 million.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

The rational response to a baseball team that doesn’t even try to win at all is to stop supporting the team. The stadium should be empty with the possible exception of fans of the visiting team. But fans have been (willingly) fooled into buying this rotten idea that you’re a “bad fan” if you don’t pay money to support intentional losing. It’s preposterous. If fans didn’t accept this behavior, it would not exist.

algionfriddo
Member
algionfriddo

TKDC… good points. Add in the fact that owners get the taxpayers to foot the cost of stadiums even if the product is a joke.
Here is a recent article showing increased economic growth for cities with professional sports teams is a myth…
https://econreview.berkeley.edu/the-economics-of-sports-stadiums-does-public-financing-of-sports-stadiums-create-local-economic-growth-or-just-help-billionaires-improve-their-profit-margin/

maumannts
Member
maumannts

But fans as a whole are neither rational nor concerned about who paid for a new stadium. They revel in past glory and dream about “Cinderella,” even if the reality is grim. We want to see baseball as long-term peaks and valleys, but Average Joe just wants a hot dog, beer and something to cheer for. Big picture? That’s for someone else to worry about. But if your front office won’t at least put a 60-win team on the field, you’re gambling that casual fans will spend that money again when you finally become competitive. That’s a dangerous game to play in today’s marketplace.

Pirates Hurdles
Member
Member
Pirates Hurdles

Not if the the path to winning includes a few years of pruposeful losing. I think a lot of fans understand that. As a Pirate fan I would much rather see IP and ABs go to Max Muncy/Luke Voit types than retread vets to win 1-2 more games.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I have been thinking Pirates Hurdles’ thought here and the Tigers specifically for a few days, how they have really not worked very hard to try and cycle through Quad-A guys at 1B. The Brewers, Yankees, Marlins, and Rays have, collectively, acquired and gotten rid of Choi, Aguilar, Cooper, and Voit, and probably others I can’t even remember right now. Some of those guys have been on three of those four teams. There are some teams that are just much more aggressive about seeking out these players than others, and it’s good practice. That the Tigers had to go out and sign CJ Cron (who I actually like as a player) instead of being one of those teams looking for guys to plug in is really unfortunate.

So yeah, I don’t really see why the Giants would decide that they need to pay Puig to play in front of Alex Dickerson and Jaylin Davis because while chances are they’re not going to be good, I’d want to get a good long long at them anyway. And the Marlins are probably going to play Garrett Cooper in the outfield and Aguilar at 1B, and Anderson at 3B, I think, so I’m not sure there’s a fit there either.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

I think until Ilitch the Younger and whomever he trusts either get their heads wrapped around how to be successful in baseball or sell the team, the Tigers are going to be in a general rut.
I have no idea how involved Jr. was in the team while Elder was still alive, but given that they’ve basically held serve over the last few years, I suspect it wasn’t much.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with their GM, per se. His flaw, as I see it from the perspective of someone who likes the laundry and history but doesn’t know much about their current situation (besides what I read here and on MLBTR) is that he’s unimaginative. That’s fine for a team that treads water due to the scouting and development, or as an interim, but for a team that intends to be successful on the field as well as in the wallet, they need someone who’ll be a little more creative with roster churn or will look at unorthodox ideas in search of an edge that can be exploited for a little while (excluding cameras and trash cans). Their current guy just isn’t that guy.

phinsfanuk
Member
phinsfanuk

All the Puig interest from the marlins was before signing Dickerson, zero chance he goes there now.

frank
Member
Member
frank

Puig would have been a rational choice for the Marlins before the Dickerson signing. He’d be a good choice if he could play CF. But I agree with phinsfanuk that chances are slim now, particularly if it’s 3 years at $39M. Why block Bleday or Jesus Sanchez in a year or two, or take PT away from Cooper or Anderson now?

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

If you think the Pirates are on a path to winning then you are a sucker. It really is an amazing marketing marvel to translate being a terrible team into “the process,” brought to you by the Ivy League dipshits.

If the Cardinals or the god forsaken A’s can generally be good, any other team can, too. But why even bother when you can convince your fans that up is down and water isn’t wet?

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I think you have misread Pirates Hurdles’ comment.

jdr
Member
jdr

The Ivy League dipshits seem to be doing pretty damn well at putting together good teams.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

My comment was not meant to imply that everyone from an Ivy background was a dipshit. I was only referring to the ones that have not had success. At times, their pedigrees are used to paper over their failures.

airforce21one
Member
airforce21one

As opposed to all the extremely successful “baseball men” that came before them?

airforce21one
Member
airforce21one

“Ivy league dipshits”.

Who hurt you?

tung_twista
Member
tung_twista

I just find it hard to imagine that there are that many people who would have not supported the Tigers otherwise decide to do so because Puig put up a war 2.0 wrc+110 season and push them from a 50 win team to a 52 win team.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

It’s not that they wouldn’t support the team, necessarily – it’s that they wouldn’t buy as many tickets or jerseys otherwise.
A name is a powerful thing; look at any social media star who’s only famous for being a social media star. Or, how many people have you heard say, “Pass me a Kleenex”?
The comparison obviously pales, relatively, but the phenomenon is the same to an extent. Give a crowd a person they’ve heard of before and they’re more likely to A) support the name they recognize because they need something or someone to which to attach; B) give the ‘surrounding cast’ more of a chance to show what they can do; and C) be a little more lenient through the trying times.
Of course, that’s all predicated on him playing adequately; if he mails it in or gets hurt, all bets are off.

bglick4
Member
bglick4

A rational fan will just follow the Yankees and enjoy yearly championships runs. Fortunately, fandom is irrational. We love our teams because our fathers loved them or we loved one of their players in our youth. Fans should not be rational. However, a league should be rational league and a rational league will want every team to field a competitive product. I have no idea how this can be accomplished – I’m not even sure if it’s possible with the current structure. As it is, it’s perfectly reasonable for teams like Baltimore to punt entire seasons. That isn’t good for the league. The league needs to make changes that make such behavior unreasonable in order to make the league more competitive. Maybe severe financial punishments for consecutive 100 loss seasons?

airforce21one
Member
airforce21one

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that, for teams that can’t afford to have a competitive payroll every year, fans have been “fooled” into supporting teams that are trying to time their draft/winning cycles instead of simply “trying” and being mediocre every year?

rhdx
Member
rhdx

Still, I find it annoying when fans want their team to tank but won’t show up to games until the tank job has yielded returns.

dukewinslow
Member
Member
dukewinslow

Butts in seats and fear of long term brand damage if they aren’t at least, well, fun. Consumers aren’t stupid, and neither are front and back offices- I think the Sixers in the NBA loom large- they are still having trouble filling the stadium because they did long term brand damage to themselves by tanking the way they did, with utter contempt for their fanbase. It’s important to at least acknowledge that people are paying to show up during the lean years.

I mean, why not just not play the season? It’s not like it’s fun to suck for anyone (players, owners, what have you), and the only negative consequence is the loss of gate (kidding, of course)

Shalesh
Member
Member
Shalesh

76ers lead the NBA in attendance (espn.com/nba/attendance), so I think fans — who understand winning & rebuilding cycles — have a much better grasp on this than you do.

The most important and probably only reason for a rebuilding team to sign Puig is to try to flip him at the ASB.

Whiptydojoe is referencing 3/$40 because the author did.

The Amish
Member
The Amish

Yeah I’m sorry to pile on here but the 76ers LITERALLY lead the NBA in attendance this year. I have no idea why you would make this comment.

averagejoe15
Member
Member
averagejoe15

I really don’t think Puig is getting a multiyear deal at this point. He’s essentially a 2 WAR player now (likely to put up anywhere between 1-3 WAR). JBJ is a CF making $11M this year as a 2 WAR player and the Red Sox can’t find a taker.

At this point I see Puig having to settle for something in the 1 year $10M range.

MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

Bad teams should be buying lottery tickets while waiting for prospects. Cheap veterans that don’t block anybody but might bounce back and career minor leaguers that haven’t gotten a shot can become productive pieces when they are ready to win, or flipped at the trading deadline (or off season if on multi year deals) for prospects that might be. If they are bad, you don’t lose anything but a little bit of money. This is what the White Sox did with a whole bunch of guys the last few years, Most of the guys they ran through their system don;t belong in MLB, but neither did anybody else in the organization. They got James McCann and Evan Marshall out of it. Omar Narvaez got them Alex Colome. Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan got them some prospects. They didn’t get any superstars in any of those deals, but they picked up guys who can contribute some now that they are thinking they might be able to be good in the next few years.

You need 26 guys and at least 10 of them play every day in the AL. Might as well pick up some guys with some potential upside that might turn into actual assets down the road if it doesn’t cost to much or prevent other more important things from happening.