Time will tell if the Cleveland Indians choose to sign Yasiel Puig long-term, but what teams figure to be their competition if they want to?
Without knowing how the market will play out, which teams will be willing to spend, and which teams will choose to address their roster needs via trades rather than free agency, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Puig might be looking at for a contract.
Based on recent history, I consider five years and $70 million to be a reasonable base line. But we’ve seen plenty of serviceable-to-good players forced to take less money and fewer years in the last two winters, so Puig could just as easily be staring down the barrel of a one-year prove-it deal.
But let’s assume there is at least someone out there that might be willing to fork over $14 million a year for a right-handed outfielder with 25-homer power and a rocket launcher attached to his right shoulder. Who is it?
We can eliminate several teams right off the bat for various reasons. The Dodgers are stacked with outfielders, and they wouldn’t have traded Puig last winter if they felt they needed him. The same goes for the Reds.
The Brewers, Twins, Yankees, Phillies, and Mets are all pretty set in right field among teams with 2020 playoff aspirations. The Angels and Rangers might be a key piece or two away from jumping into the contention conversation, but both have greater needs than a player like Puig could fill.
The Tigers, Royals, Orioles, Mariners, and Marlins have no incentive whatsoever. You can probably add the Blue Jays, Pirates, and Giants to that list as well.
The Rockies are still into Ian Desmond for $40 million (which includes the $2 million buyout they will undoubtedly pay in 2022) unless they can somehow find someone to take him off their hands. They’ll pay Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon nearly $60 million combined next season. As interesting as Puig would be at Coors Field, Colorado is probably not in this mix.
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The Rays and A’s are both small-market teams who have found a way to win with lower-tier payrolls. If they are going to buck tradition, it’s not going to be for a player like Puig.
The Red Sox have a financial crisis on their hands thanks to a couple of huge pitching contracts that aren’t exactly panning out. Regardless of how their inevitably interesting offseason unfolds, it won’t involve Puig.
The Cubs are in a similar boat, with a ton of money tied up in players who aren’t worth what they’re being paid, most notably Yu Darvish and Jason Heyward. Plus, if Chicago were to spend on a right-handed outfielder, it would make more sense to bring back Nicholas Castellanos.
The Padres are a sleeper here, as they’re willing to spend money and if they move some pieces around, they present a decent fit. They already have a right-handed power outfield bat in Hunter Renfroe, and Wil Myers is mostly a highly-paid player without a position to begin with. Bringing in Puig with those two would only serve to clog a roster already abundant in right-handed outfielders.
And these are just the teams I can think of who have good reasons not to sign Puig. I don’t believe the Astros, Nationals, or Braves will be in this conversation either, especially if Washington is able to lock Anthony Rendon up long-term.
That leaves us with two teams outside of Cleveland who, as currently constructed, would make sense as suitors for Puig on this year’s free agent market: Diamondbacks and White Sox. Let’s explore both and gauge whether Puig could be heading back to the NL West or staying in the AL Central.
The Diamondbacks pulled off the incredibly difficult stunt of trading away their two best players and remaining a competitive team in 2019. They dealt Goldschmidt last winter, and sent Zack Greinke to the Astros at the trade deadline.
Thanks to some solid complementary pieces and some unexpected breakout campaigns, they won 85 games and stuck around in the Wild Card hunt for most of the summer.
Moreover, with Goldschmidt and Greinke off the books (mostly; Arizona is still paying some of Greinke’s salary) the Diamondbacks have a ton of payroll flexibility to build around the core that finished second in the NL West. The Giants are about to enter a full-fledged rebuild, and the Rockies are about five starting pitchers away from being a legitimate contender.
The Padres are on the rise and the Dodgers are the Dodgers, but this offseason represents a chance for Arizona to stake its claim to a position in the divisional race going forward. If the Diamondbacks believe they can contend–and they should believe that after this season–then Puig should be among their targets this winter.
Chicago White Sox
Expect the White Sox to be linked to some bigger fish this winter, particularly if J.D. Martinez and/or Stephen Strasburg opt out of their contracts. That said, Chicago’s AL representative was spurned by last year’s top free agents, so they’ll need a backup plan.
With the exception of bounce-back seasons in Cleveland and Boston, the White Sox are the only non-2019 playoff team in the American League that I can see making the playoffs next year if everything breaks right for them (maybe the Angels, but they need a makeover in their starting rotation).
The White Sox are a franchise that is ready to begin building around its core, and they can be expected to be one of the more active teams in this year’s free agent market.
Chicago has a legitimate star in the making, Eloy Jimenez, in the outfield. The rest of their top talent is confined to the infield. They have only one noteworthy in-house free agency decision to make, which is whether or not to bring back Jose Abreu.
If Abreu stays on with the White Sox, there is the threat of them becoming too righty-heavy with Puig. Abreu, Jimenez, Tim Anderson, and James McCann are all right-handed, with switch-hitting Yoan Moncada the only above-average player to line up on the left side of the plate.
Abreu has hung around as Chicago’s best hitter for some very dark years, so it’d be surprising if the White Sox don’t at least make him an offer. But he’ll also be 33 next year, and has hit at least 30 home runs in four of six seasons.
He’s likely to want to cash in on that as he nears the downside of his career, and as much money as the White Sox have to throw around, shelling a ton of it out to a first baseman in his mid-30s wouldn’t be the wisest move for a team in their position. I’d be surprised if the Yankees don’t take a run at Abreu, assuming they decline Edwin Encarnacion‘s $20-million option.
So that brings us back to Puig, who would slot in nicely in his wake. Daniel Palka isn’t a long-term option defensively in right, and Adam Engel and Leury Garcia can battle it out for center. Puig is a considerable improvement over what the White Sox currently have in place as they try to take the next step toward contention.
The Indians themselves are probably not going to adamantly pursue Puig, but if his market is thin, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that the Tribe pounces on the opportunity. We’re not far away from finding out.