Ranking the Top MLB Landing Spots for Free-Agent OF Yasiel Puig Amid Rumors
It's comeback season for Yasiel Puig.
According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, several teams are interested in seeing what the outfielder has to offer, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles.
After sitting out the 2020 season, the 30-year-old Puig, nicknamed "The Wild Horse" by legendary former Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, played in the Dominican winter league while attempting to show he can be an asset to a team next season. He has a new agent, Rachel Luba, and what appears to be a new outlook.
Last month, the Cienfuegos, Cuba, native held a conference call organized by his team, Toros del Este, and told reporters he was ready to change after criticism of his maturity. Puig said he would listen to coaches who asked him to change his outfield positioning.
He has an unbelievably strong arm in right field, but he was never as good of a defender as many thought he could be, often taking strange routes to fly balls, getting late jumps and missing cutoff men.
He ran the basepaths with reckless abandon, often running into outs. His strike zone expanded and his swing stiffened. Puig was good enough that he didn't have to try hard, despite the Dodgers' best efforts to get him to stop coasting on raw talent.
Character aside, we know who Puig is as a player. He's hit more than 20 home runs in a season every year since 2017, save for last season, when he did not reach an agreement with a team. He has a career OPS of .823 and an OPS+ of 122.
Puig had down seasons in 2015 and 2016, but he was a key player in the Los Angeles Dodgers' runs to the World Series in 2017 and 2018.
There is always a risk in taking a player like Puig, but there's no doubt he can help a team and set himself up for future contracts in the process.
Here are the best fits for him, ranked.
Others: Rangers, Giants, Cubs, Tigers
A rebuilding American League team such as the Texas Rangers would make sense for Puig, who could DH or platoon in the outfield for one season to reset his market. The San Francisco Giants reportedly had an interest in him last summer, and he had a deal with the Atlanta Braves that fell apart when he tested positive for the coronavirus. The Chicago Cubs have a group of steady outfielders but none as dynamic at the plate as Puig.
The Detroit Tigers' A.J. Hinch could be an interesting manager for Puig. It's tough to separate Hinch from the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, but that aside, as a manager he's been known to be laid back while also having the ability to hold his players accountable. The latter may be something Puig needs.
The Tigers are probably another year or two away from being a playoff team, but Puig would at least be an exciting addition in a down year.
However, the Rangers, Giants and Tigers are more likely to prioritize development and look for answers inside of their own organization than outside of it. While Puig would add to the Cubs' outfield group, ultimately they don't need him.
7. Cleveland Baseball Team
The Cleveland baseball team could use a little pop in the lineup, especially now that Francisco Lindor is with the Mets, and Puig can provide that.
Terry Francona knows how to manage the mercurial outfielder, having briefly coached him in 2019. And while Puig has a fondness for Francona, the appreciation does not appear to be mutual, with Cleveland VP Bob DiBiasio and radio voice Jim Rosenhaus telling fans at an event a year ago that Francona was not a fan of Puig's style.
Of course, we knew that when he refused to run out a ground ball in Minnesota in 2019 and Francona openly criticized him for it. But since Puig respects Francona, maybe he would be willing to listen to him with newfound receptiveness to coaching and managing.
6. Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles had an interest in Puig last season before his ill-fated deal with Atlanta. But the Orioles are in a different position now, with a surplus of outfielders. Trey Mancini, Baltimore's primary right fielder, was out last season because of colon cancer, but he's expected to be back in time for spring training.
The Orioles recently added Yusniel Diaz to their 40-man roster to give them eight outfielders. Two of their top prospects, Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle, took big enough steps forward last season that another outfielder probably isn't needed.
However, it never hurts to have established players around as an insurance policy in case the development of young guys doesn't go as planned. For Puig, this could be a chance to hit 25-30 home runs on a short-term deal, show that he still has what it takes to play in the league and get a bigger contract next winter.
5. Houston Astros
The Houston Astros are in the process of making over nearly their entire outfield, as George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents. Chas McCormick, ranked No. 21 on Houston's prospect list by MLB.com, is expected to take over in right field in the near future, but it's unclear how near that future is.
The Astros could sign Puig as insurance in case McCormick needs more seasoning, and it would give them an established veteran to supplement a relatively young outfield.
The Astros, much like the Dodgers, go heavy on analytics. Puig wasn't a fan of the fancy stats in Los Angeles, but he came around to them in Cincinnati. And if he is as open to defensive coaching as he says he is, then being in Houston shouldn't be a problem.
Part of finding a fit for Puig is the culture. Manager Dusty Baker lets players be themselves and doesn't try to confine their personalities, and the team has a strong leadership core helmed by Jose Altuve. The atmosphere may suit Puig.
4. New York Mets
Michael Conforto is the New York Mets' right fielder, and that's not changing anytime soon.
The Mets and Conforto avoided arbitration Friday, coming to terms on a one-year deal. An extension for Conforto brings up questions about whether the Mets, under new owner Steve Cohen, will make a play for free-agent outfielder George Springer and approach the luxury-tax threshold of $210 million, which never seemed possible for the club in the past.
The Mets do have a need in the outfield. Brandon Nimmo isn't the answer in center field, and moving him to left would allow Jeff McNeil to shift back to the infield, where the Mets' biggest need is unmet: third base.
Conforto has the range to play center field, and he showed as much in 2017, 2018 and 2019, so Puig could take over right field or spell Conforto on days off. The Dodgers used Puig at all three outfield positions, so employing him as a utility outfielder of sorts might not be a bad idea, though it could take away at-bats from Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis, who often play left field.
It looks like they're still in on Springer, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman. Should things fall through with him, Puig would be an affordable option.
3. Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox are rumored to be shopping Andrew Benintendi, per The Athletic's Jim Bowden, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is likely on his way out the door as a free agent. They did sign Hunter Renfroe to a one-year deal, but if the plan is to try to win again, then they may need more depth. Taking a flier on Puig would supplement the outfield and the order.
He would be able to play for Alex Cora, who has long been lauded for his abilities to connect with players. Plus, playing in a major market like Boston would give him some much-needed exposure after a year away from the league.
2. New York Yankees
We're living through some strange times when the Mets are considering spending past the luxury tax and their rivals in the Bronx, the Yankees, are trying to be conservative with their payroll (at least by their standards). A corner outfielder isn't exactly a priority with Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman and Giancarlo Stanton on the roster. But the Yankees lack outfield depth, and Puig could provide that.
The Yankees are one of the teams Feinsand reported had checked in on Puig, which sounded strange at first. The tongue-wagging, the brash play and the bold hair colors don't exactly mesh with the Yankee Way of doing things. But while the Yankees still may not be allowed to have facial hair, they've been a little less serious and little more fun in recent years.
But winning is also fun, and the Yankees haven't been able to get over the postseason hump since 2009. They lost in the ALCS in 2017 and 2019 and were eliminated in the ALDS by the eventual American League champions, the small-budget Tampa Bay Rays in 2020. Gerrit Cole was supposed to be the star arm who pitched them past everyone else, but he wasn't enough.
The Yankees are finalizing a multiyear contract with infielder DJ LeMahieu, per Feinsand and colleague Jon Paul Morosi, which is where most of their offseason budget is going. They are doing the same with free-agent right-hander and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, per Feinsand, as a reclamation project. Puig could be another one of those, and he wouldn't cost as much as other free-agent outfielders.
1. Miami Marlins
Feinsand listed the Miami Marlins as another team that showed interest in Puig, who has an offseason home in South Florida. The Marlins have Monte Harrison, Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra competing for their right field position and are waiting for JJ Bleday to develop, but they may not be ready yet.
Signing Puig would take the pressure off them and allow them to continue developing. They are expected to be key pieces of the upstart Marlins' roster, but a one-year, incentive-laden deal to play in a place with a large Cuban-American population could be an opportunity for Puig to thrive.
This move would also reunite him with Don Mattingly, his first manager in the major leagues. Puig and Mattingly sparred over punctuality and maturity early in his career. But if he's trying to show the league that he has, in fact, learned from his mistakes, then this could be the perfect time for a reunion with his former Dodgers skipper.