MLB Free Agents 2020: Latest Rumors, Predictions for Yasiel Puig and More

Martin FennFeatured Columnist INovember 25, 2020

MLB Free Agents 2020: Latest Rumors, Predictions for Yasiel Puig and More

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Yasiel Puig set the baseball world alight with his charisma and energy as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013.

    Seven years later, Puig is fighting to make his way back into the big leagues.

    The 29-year-old had been unsigned for the majority of the 2019-20 MLB offseason before reportedly reaching a deal with the Atlanta Braves in July. However, the agreement was called off after he tested positive for COVID-19. He remained unsigned throughout the 2020 season.

    However, Puig is hoping 2021 will mark a new chapter. The former All-Star still has the tools to help a number of clubs, and he is already generating interest on the open market.

    Here are the latest rumors involving Puig, veteran left-hander Jon Lester and star Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, as well as predictions for where they might land this winter.

Yasiel Puig

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    A brief glance at Puig's numbers would suggest he should have a more lucrative market than he has been given in the past.

    Puig has an .822 OPS and 122 OPS+ for his career. He has hit 132 homers and stolen close to 80 bases in seven years in the bigs. He also has a cannon arm. Puig had three consecutive seasons with at least 23 homers and 15 steals between 2017 and 2019.

    Upon closer examination, however, Puig's somewhat limited market has an explanation. He was worth 9.4 fWAR in his first two seasons, per FanGraphs. But Puig has been worth just 8.4 fWAR combined in his last five seasons. The Cuban star also had a career-high 133 strikeouts in 2019 and, as mentioned, did not play in 2020.

    Still, multiple clubs are already showing interest in Puig.

    Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported the Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox all have Puig "on their radar," adding other teams might be in the mix.

    It is not a surprise to see the O's involved again. Baltimore reportedly offered Puig a deal back in July. The Red Sox are also looking for outfield production given Jackie Bradley Jr. is a free agent and Andrew Benintendi is coming off disappointing seasons in back-to-back years.

    But the Astros might be the best fit here. Three of Houston's outfielders—George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick—are free agents. The Astros are unlikely to re-sign all three as it would probably take them over the luxury tax threshold.

    According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Houston and Brantley are trying to get a deal done, which could be an indication the team is prepared to move on from Springer. Indeed, veteran MLB reporter Peter Gammons noted Bradley, a center fielder, is a "priority" for the Astros. 

    That said, the Red Sox will be working to re-sign Bradley, as well. Houston could pivot to a power bat in Puig, and possibly move Kyle Tucker to center while slotting Brantley in left field.   

    Prediction: Puig signs with the Astros

Jon Lester

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Lester is no longer the domineering presence he once was in the mid-2010s and in his early years with the Chicago Cubs.

    The 36-year-old had a 4.46 ERA and gave up the most hits of any National League starting pitcher (205) in 2019. Lester then posted a 5.16 ERA and career-worst 86 ERA+ in 12 starts this past year, resulting in the Cubs making the obvious choice to buy him out for $10 million rather than exercise a $25 million option.

    Still, Lester is sure to have a bit of a market considering the lack of quality starting pitching in this year's free-agent class.

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported the San Francisco Giants have interest in signing Lester. Morosi noted current Giants general manager Scott Harris was with the Cubs' front office during Lester's time in Chicago, which could explain some of the interest.

    But there are other reasons Lester makes sense for the Giants. For starters, he is almost certainly going to take a cheaper, one-year deal. That is good news for a San Francisco team hoping to keep its books clean for next winter, when guys such as Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt both become free agents and the team has club options on Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto.

    From an on-field perspective, Lester's brand of pitching could fare better in Oracle Park. Lester has been giving up more fly balls than usual while also suffering his highest hard contact rates in the each of the last two years, per FanGraphs. But hard contact might not be as much an issue at Oracle as it was at Wrigley Field, where the ball flies out of the yard in the summer.

    The Giants can keep their future books clear while also counting on Lester to eat innings in the middle or back end of the rotation. It would be a sensible move.

    However, a return to Chicago also makes sense. The Cubs could be on the verge of substantial lineup changes. In addition to Lester, they also lost Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood to free agency. Chicago figures to give starts to Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay, but there are still spots to fill.

    Unless the Cubs are totally hellbent on starting over, it is possible to envision the Cubs bringing Lester back on a cheap, one-year deal.   

    Prediction: Lester re-signs with the Cubs

Ha-Seong Kim

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    Toru Takahashi/Associated Press

    Although the Giants would like to keep future payroll clear, they also need young assets to build around for the future. This could make Kim the ideal target.

    The 25-year-old infielder has been one of the best players in the Korean Baseball Organization since he was 19 years old, and now he is ready to make the jump to Major League Baseball.

    Yonhap News' Jeeho Yoo (h/t Morosi) reported the Kiwoom Heroes will post Kim on Wednesday, opening up a 30-day window for him to negotiate with MLB clubs. Morosi added the Toronto Blue Jays are one of the teams that "evaluated" Kim closely ahead of the posting date.

    Kim is sure to generate plenty of interest, and for good reason. He is coming off a year during which he hit 30 homers, stole 23 bases and posted a career-high .921 OPS. Kim is also rather young compared to other international stars who have made the leap.

    Toronto's interest in Kim is fairly straightforward. Although the Blue Jays have Bo Bichette at shortstop, they can move Kim to shortstop and keep Vladimir Guerrero Jr. But Ross Atkins is likely to prioritize pitching given Toronto already has a fairly deep cast of young and talented position players.

    Alternatively, the Giants have a need for young and impactful bats in the lineup. Morosi reported in October that the Giants were thought to be among the suitors for Kim, who would also be a natural replacement for Crawford when his contract expires at the end of the 2021 season.

    San Francisco would have to work around Evan Longoria at the hot corner. However, it is possible they could experiment with Kim at second base and explore trades for Donovan Solano. In any case, Kim could be a legitimate building block for the Giants.   

    Prediction: Kim signs with the Giants   

           

    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.