A Reunion Between the Indians and Yasiel Puig Makes Perfect Sense
It took a little while, but the Cleveland Indians finally made their first notable move of the offseason this week. With Cesar Hernandez now in tow at second base, Cleveland officially addressed the biggest concern on its roster.
While Cleveland’s infield appears set for Opening Day (provided there’s no shakeup at shortstop), the outfield is still a bit of a grey area.
As you can see, eliminating one of these corner platoons would do a lot of good for the Indians. When it comes to addressing this, it wouldn’t hurt to target a familiar face.
Yasiel Puig, an instant fan favorite during his short time with the Tribe last season, is still available. Pulling him off the market is a move which would make a ton of sense for the Indians.
Obviously, this goes beyond just ensuring the Chicago White Sox don’t sign him as part of their mission to land every free agent under the sun this winter. The Indians have options in the outfield, but almost all of them come with question marks. They could use an upgrade to solidify this, but also shouldn’t – and likely wouldn’t – feel compelled to splurge.
In Puig, Cleveland would have someone who checks both of those boxes.
For starters, the outfield market isn’t exactly loaded this winter. The two available corner outfielders with the highest WAR from 2019 are Nicholas Castellanos (2.8) and Marcell Ozuna (2.6). The former is a Scott Boras client, and therefore likely expecting to cash in on a big contract. The latter is coming off a season in which he made $12.25MM.
It’s safe to say the Indians won’t be pursuing either of these two.
From there, the options don’t carry as much appeal. Some are past their prime (Alex Gordon, Matt Joyce), while others didn’t boast a positive WAR in 2019 (Domingo Santana). Corey Dickerson could be worth consideration, as both FanGraphs and Steamer project his WAR increasing in 2020, though the team would need to ensure he’s properly healed from the fractured foot he suffered last season.
Then there’s Puig.
The Cuban-born right fielder was a little hot and cold for the Indians after they acquired him last July. His slash line was decent (.297/.377/.423), but he only offered Cleveland a WAR of 0.6 during his brief stint with the team.
Yet, he’d still represent an improvement if added to the Indians’ 2020 roster.
Of Cleveland’s outfielders, only Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado and Tyler Naquin finished with a higher WAR than Puig in 2019. Luplow’s struggles against righty pitching make him a platoon option for now. Mercado is set to be the Tribe’s starting center fielder. Naquin is recovering from ACL surgery.
Every other outfielder on Cleveland’s roster finished 2019 with a WAR of 0.8 or less.
One thing Puig has going for him is that both FanGraphs and Steamer are a little bullish when it comes to his 2020 projections. Each has him boosting his slash line, WAR and wRC+ next season.
Another is the fact his market seems a bit cool at the moment.
Puig reportedly met with several teams at the MLB winter meetings, yet remains unsigned. The White Sox have been talking to him, and the assumption seems to be that he can be had for a short-term deal.
Considering the fact he’s coming off a season in which he made $9.7MM, the Indians could certainly get something done here. There’d be no need for a lengthy contract, but an offer along the lines of one year for $10 million with a club option might do the trick if he’s still struggling to land a deal.
Puig may be holding out to see if the contracts Castellanos and Ozuna land set the market a little higher. As noted, the well certainly dries up once those two are removed from the equation.
Still, Cleveland would be wise to target him in the coming days. The team needs to think beyond the usual $1MM spring training invite on a past-his-prime free agent. The outfield is crowded with enough mediocrity as it is.
In Puig, the Indians could an everyday starter, who’s projected to improve in 2020, who likely won’t be too expensive and with whom they already have a level of familiarity with.
As you can see, a reunion between these two sure seems like the perfect fit.