Will the Red Sox make a splash this offseason? Boston has financial flexibility and a strong desire to bounce back from a disappointing 2020. As such, we’ll examine whether several notable free agents make sense (or don’t make sense) as the club looks to retool for 2021 and beyond.
Yasiel Puig is a lightning rod.
Some love him. Some hate him. But everyone pays attention to him, as he’s a fascinating player with excellent talent and a polarizing temperament that occasionally ruffles feathers.
It all started with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, when the Cuban outfielder burst onto the scene and finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting. He earned an All-Star selection the following year and landed among the top 20 on the NL MVP ballot.
Puig hasn’t quite lived up to the hype since those early days in LA, although he stuck around with the Dodgers for another four seasons before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in December 2018 and then to the Cleveland Indians in July 2019.
The 29-year-old did not play for a major league team in 2020 after contracting COVID-19, a development that nixed a deal he agreed to sign with the Atlanta Braves.
So, Puig remains a free agent and it sounds like he’s ready to return to the diamond. Should the Boston Red Sox consider taking a flyer?
MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported Tuesday, citing sources, that the Red Sox, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles are among the teams that have Puig on their radar, so it’s not that farfetched.
Let’s examine the possibility.
Position: Outfielder (mostly right field)
Age: 29 (Dec. 7, 1990)
Weight: 240 pounds
149 games (611 plate appearances)
24 home runs, 84 RBIs, 19 stolen bases
861 games (3,376 plate appearances)
132 home runs, 415 RBIs, 79 stolen bases
Why Puig makes sense for Red Sox:
It’s fitting Jackie Bradley Jr. jumped into a friendly Twitter challenge involving Puig and pitcher Trevor Bauer earlier this week. All three players are free agents, and signing Puig essentially would be Boston’s way of trying to offset Bradley’s departure. (Bauer also has been linked to the Red Sox in free agency speculation.)
Of course, going from Bradley to Puig hardly is apples to apples. The former is a far superior defensive outfielder, fully capable of locking down center field in any MLB ballpark, whereas Puig has played primarily right field and perhaps would transition to left field in Boston.
The Red Sox already have Andrew Benintendi stationed in left field, so signing Puig might indicate Boston is comfortable deploying Benintendi and Alex Verdugo in center field and right field, respectively, or that another move is forthcoming. Unless the Sox are sold on Puig in center field or right field, something that’s hard to envision based on Fenway Park’s dimensions.
Either way, Puig is an attractive option mostly for his offensive upside and the infusion of energy he’d provide, two factors that might be enough to override a suboptimal defensive alignment.
Although Puig has regressed since posting his two highest WAR totals (4.7 and 4.9) at ages 22 and 23, there’s probably still some life in his bat and his legs as he enters his age-30 campaign. He totaled at least 23 home runs and 15 stolen bases in each season from 2017 through 2019.
Counting stats usually aren’t the best indicator of a player’s impact, but with an OPS of at least .820 in two of those seasons (2017-18), it’s difficult to overlook Puig’s potential for what could be short money.
According to Feinsand, the belief is Puig will sign an incentive-laden contract after a year off. A one-year deal seems plausible.
Why Puig doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
Puig is an imperfect defensive fit for the Red Sox, as constituted. The preference might be to land someone capable of playing center field if Bradley walks in free agency. Benintendi has proven fine in left field, while Verdugo was excellent in his first season patrolling right field in Boston.
Beyond that, given the relative low cost of acquisition, it’s mostly a character question: Is Puig’s offensive upside enough to justify the risk that comes with adding such an enigma?
One could argue it’s exactly what the Red Sox need — a shot in the arm after a disappointing 2020 — but there’s obvious downside, too. And Boston will need to seriously consider both the pros and cons, while also weighing the possible impact of him sitting out last season.
Verdict: Not a fit.
Prediction: Puig signs a one-year contract with the Orioles.