In perhaps the most unconventional, unique, and fascinating situation in the history of professional sports, Major League Baseball will hold a 60-game, fan-less 2020 regular season. After months of tedious back-and-forth between MLB and the MLB Players Association on a season taking place in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, no deal was reached, therefore leading to Commissioner Rob Manfred mandating a 2020 season.
The recent announcement of a 2020 season ends a transaction freeze across the sport, allowing teams to make roster moves. The best player on the open market? Yasiel Puig. The outfielder is coming off a split season with the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians after spending the previous six seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Puig has become an undermined player. The reality is he’s still a reliable outfielder who can wreak havoc as a starter. The other reality is that it’s difficult to envision him being a day one starter on a contender, though, that can change over time. There’s also the element of unknown, that being who and how many players are going to test positive for the virus. No team can have enough depth, which is partially why the sport is having expanded rosters which gradually decrease as the season goes on.
Here are three contenders that should get on the phone with Yasiel Puig’s representation.
Howie Kendrick is the Nats’ likely DH this season, but first baseman Ryan Zimmerman is mulling sitting out the 2020 season due to the virus. If Zimmerman sits out, the Nats need another body on the depth chart, and having that body be an outfielder makes a lot of sense.
Michael A. Taylor is their fourth outfielder, but he has been a tad inconsistent with the bat and is a primary center fielder. Meanwhile, Eaton is shaky in right field, as is. Puig could platoon with Eaton, starting in right field when a left-hander takes the hill. Puig is an exceptional right fielder, possessing a cannon for an arm and having the knack for getting behind any fly ball hit in his general vicinity.
There’s no replacing Anthony Rendon. That said, Washington has done a savvy job remaking its depth chart, signing Starlin Castro and Eric Thames. Signing Puig would further that movement. He improves their outfield rotation and defense, as well as their offense, as a whole.
The D-Backs outfield projects to be David Peralta, Starling Marte, and Kole Calhoun with Ketel Marte moving back to being a primary infielder. That said, Puig could be the missing piece to that outfield rotation.
Puig has endured an uptick in production in recent memory, totaling 75 home runs over the last three seasons. The outfielder sports a career .823 OPS and 122 OPS+; he has found his power stroke.
Calhoun is a power hitter and a reliable right fielder. Concurrently, he hit .212 against left-handers last season, whereas he hit .240 against right-handers. Puig hit .279 against left-handers, though his .263 batting average against right-handers is respectable. Puig can start in right field against left-handers, and Calhoun can start against right-handers.
Meanwhile, Jake Lamb, who could very well be the D-Backs’ DH this season, has missed extensive time due to injury over the last two seasons and is difficult to get a gauge on. If Lamb gets hurt and/or struggles at the dish, Calhoun and/or Puig can DH with the other starting in right. Puig gives manager Torey Luvollo more flexibility.
Kyle Schwarber will be the Cubs’ DH, making Albert Almora, Ian Happ, and Jason Heyward the team’s starting outfield in some order with Steven Souza Jr. in the mix. One could argue that Puig is a better all-around player than the four outfielders in the Cubs depth chart.
Almora, Happ, and Heyward have posted an OPS no higher than .772 over a full season since 2017. They’re steady, versatile outfielders who are starters at the big-league level. At the same time, it occasionally feels like every member of the 2016 Cubs has been accentuated; their impact and production don’t merit any of them being shoo-in starters.
Meanwhile, while a power hitter, Souza hasn’t appeared in a full MLB season since 2017 due to injuries; the Cubs don’t know what they’re getting from him. Puig can give Heyward a day off in right, play some center field (Puig has started 60 games in center), or move someone to DH if Schwarber gets a day off.
The Cubs need all the help they can get, as they play in a tight NL Central. Nicholas Castellanos was arguably their best hitter down the stretch of last season, and he now plays for the rival Cincinnati Reds. Puig could be this season’s Castellanos for the Cubs. Besides, it’s a 60-game season, which is more games than Castellanos appeared in for the Cubs.