These are some strange days that we’re living in. Alexa – play the album Strange Days by the Doors. Nothing like a little mood music. For the past 28 days, I’ve been stuck in a house with my wife and twin five-year-old boys. Since my wife is a teacher, she’s spent half of the time teaching remotely. For me, that means I’ve been dadding-so-hard. I’ve become an expert obstacle course builder, an expert in all things monster trucks, and unlocked that special part of my brain that has to do with Pokemon. Secret time – my favorite thing to do while playing hide and seek is to pretend I can’t find them and get five minutes of quiet. UPDATE – I found that if I hide in my bed, under my comforter, they can’t find me. This is a game-changer! In other words, send help. I need sports so badly.
In my fantasy drafts that have already taken place, I’ve ended up rolling the dice on Yasiel Puig a lot. Like, we’re at an alarming rate. If you want to consider this a puff piece on Puig, that’s fair, but this is also a time for me to dive into Puig and reflect. We’ll dive into Puig for fantasy purposes, as well as take a look at why the 29-year old outfielder – one that’s averaged 25 homers over the last three years – is still without a team.
Rise and Fall in Los Angeles
After a short stint in the minors in 2012, Yasiel Puig hit the ground running in his inaugural Spring Training. After batting .517 with 3 bombs and 4 stolen bases, many speculated that Puig punched his ticket onto the Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, the Dodgers were paying Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier a combined $54.6 million and on March 26th, Puig was sent to AA. Puig continued his hot ways with the Chattanooga Lookouts, putting up a .982 OPS in 40 games.
On June 1st, a Crawford hamstring injury (shocker) opened the door for Puig to make his debut. Puig made an instant impact in his first game, going 2/4 and flashing his strong arm throwing out Chris Denorfia, who was trying to scramble back to first. Over his first month in the majors, Puig batted .436 with 7 taters. In his first two years with the Dodgers, Puig produced 160 and 148 wRC+ seasons.
Despite Puig’s offensive barrage, things weren’t all sunshine and rainbows in California. The list of issues goes from arguments with teammates to benchings for being late and everything in between. Andy McCullough of the LA Times summed up the negatives of Puig’s time with the Dodgers, “Tardiness plagued Puig. His attention wavered. His preparation waned. He ran the bases with enough recklessness that teammates joked Puig thought he was invisible. He hassled staffers. He ignored suggestions from coaches. He rejected entreaties from teammates.”
Yasiel Puig has the ability to be great when he wants to be. Following his two elite seasons in 2013 and 2014, Puig suffered through two injury-plagued seasons. He managed to get back on track in 2017 and 2018 years going 28-15 and 23-15. The only thing he left people wanting for (other than discipline and being coachable) was the .300 average he flashed in his early years.
Finally, in the 2018 offseason, Puig was traded to the Reds in a package with Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer for Homer Bailey, Jeter Downs, and Josiah Gray. Despite his team-related issues, Puig remained a fan-favorite, which continued in Cincinnati and Cleveland, and initially, the trade was met with criticism.
A Tale of Two Cities
Here’s what I remember about Yasiel Puig’s time in Cincinnati – helium in his draft price, an ESPN interview to prove he wasn’t a malcontent, a slow start, and multiple brawls with the Pirates. Honestly, did I miss anything? The fantasy community became enamored with Puig in Great American Ballpark, inflating his draft price from an ADP of 130 in January to double-digits by March. Puig managed a mediocre .218 average through May with 10 homers. Puig was pressing at the plate, trying to make an instant impact with every out-of-control swing.
June brought better times for the Reds’ slugger as he settled in and batted .319 with 6 taters from June 11 through the end of the month. The day before the trade deadline, Puig was traded to the Indians. The announcement of the trade came while the Reds were in a game with the Pirates. The cherry on top of Puig’s time with the Reds was another brawl with the swash-bucklers.
As little as I remember of Yasiel Puig’s time in Cincinnati, I remember even less about his time in Cleveland. The Cuban slugger batted .297 with just two homers with the Tribe. While the homers weren’t there, Puig managed 15 doubles in that time, which tied him for 15th-most in the league. One thing that improved significantly was Puig’s patience as he went from a 5.7% walk rate with the Reds to a 10.1% walk rate with the Indians. If we dive into this further, his Swing%, O-Swing%, and SwStrike% all dropped in his time with the Indians. At the same time, his FB% dropped from 45.1% to 31.7% and his LD% went from 19.9% to 23.7%. This brings to mind the scene in Major League where Coach Lou Brown tells Willie Mays Hayes that every time he hits the ball in the air, he owes him 20 push-ups.
From a fantasy perspective, Puig’s 2019 season was decent. He didn’t live up to the hype that drove his draft price into the top 100, but a .267 average with 24 homers, 19 steals, and decedent runs/RBIs is a good season. It’s especially impressive considering he was batting .218 on June 1st. His Statcast data (barrel rate, average exit velocity, and sprint speed) for the year was all in line with his career averages. That’s probably why his NFBC ADP was hovering around 140 in February, despite him not having a team.
Man Without a Home
So, why is Yasiel Puig without a team? His reckless reputation certainly doesn’t help. I’ve seen a couple of reports that Puig wants too much money. One article that he turned down a one-year offer for $10 million once Free Agency started. But other than that one rumor, nothing else has really been mentioned. This offseason the Marlins signed Corey Dickerson to a two-year deal worth $17.5 million. Over the last three years, Dickerson has averaged a 119 wRC+. During that same time, Puig has averaged a 113 wRC+. Maybe Puig is easier to replace than I once thought.
For fantasy purposes, I love that Puig has stolen at least 15 bags each of the last three years, but do his coaches want him to do that? Yes, he stole 19 bases last year, but he was also caught 7 times. For selfish reasons, we want him to land in a situation where management will let him play his way. Where might that be? Who has money to spend and a roster spot that makes sense?
The Pirates traded Starling Marte in the off-season and currently have the league’s third-lowest payroll at $51 million. They also are projected to have an outfield spot filled by a Jarrod Dyson/Guillermo Heredia platoon. I’d call Puig both an instant upgrade and a fun reason for people to go watch baseball in Pittsburgh.
Yasiel Puig’s most recent team, the Indians, seems like a logical fit as well. Puig put up good numbers for the club and he’d fill a starting outfield spot currently taken up by a Greg Allen/Jordan Luplow platoon. I don’t want to take anything away from Luplow, who’s a lefty-masher, but Greg Allen’s career-high wRC+ is 75. You’re telling me you want Allen on the strong-side of a platoon with his .229/.290/.346 slash line? Of the 320 players to receive at least 250 plate appearances last year, Allen’s 63 wRC+ ranked 304th. Oh, and their payroll is the sixth-lowest in the league.
To me, the best fit, especially from a cultural standpoint would be for Yasiel Puig to take his talents to Long Beach and join the Marlins. If he was considered a fan-favorite in places like Cleveland and Cincinnati, imagine how the city of Miami would embrace the Cuban slugger. According to a 2017 census, 25.7% of Miami-Dade County’s population is comprised of Cuban-born residents. The Marlins aren’t going to compete whether they have Puig or not, so why not bring him in just to get some butts in the seats?
Unfortunately, MLB rosters are frozen until further notice, leaving my Yasiel Puig shares without a home also. Where do you think Puig ends up? Leave a comment and we’ll keep this conversation going. Stay safe and if anyone has more creative “keep the kids busy” ideas, please let me know!