The Cleveland Indians finished the 2019 season in disappointing fashion by missing the playoffs. However, should they bring back one of the bright spots for 2020 even though they traded for him mid-season with expectations of letting him walk this winter?
Yasiel Puig was traded to the Cleveland Indians at the 2019 trade deadline. It was made clear during the three-team trade that Puig was brought in as more of a rental than a long-term option. For a team that struggled to score runs consistently, a player with a 120 wRC+ with runners in scoring position in 2019 might not be the worst guy to bring back.
Puig had 555 at-bats with a .267 average along with 84 RBI’s and 24 home runs in 2019 with the Indians and Cincinnati Reds. Looking at his FanGraph splits, he’s predominantly a pull-hitter with a knack for punishing inside pitches.
Puig is not only a great player, but also a presence in the locker room with the potential to be a leader. Once he arrived in Cleveland, the organization, players, and coaches all agreed he was a great person to be around and meshed with the team. But meshing with teammates doesn’t correlate to working out a long-term deal for a team looking to stay on a budget, especially one with other outfielders to turn to.
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Franmil Reyes is a player I can see getting some starts in right field for the Indians next year, and the team has made it clear they want to give him a shot to do so. As talented as Reyes is, however, he struggles with plate discipline. According to Fangraphs, the time he was with the Cleveland Indians he swung at over 30% of pitches outside the strike zone with a contact rate under 45% on those pitches.
His contact rate on pitches inside the zone was 75.6%, and he swung at them 74.8% of the time. With an overall 50% swing rate on all pitches, he had an 18.7% swinging strike rate–the third-highest in the league during this span.
Puig is similarly prone to swinging at pitches outside the zone, albeit with more success making contact. Puig chased 30.2% of pitches during his short tenure with the Indians, but made contact 63.6% of the time. His overall swinging strike rate of 11.7% was markedly lower than that of Reyes.
At the end of the day, what the decision on Puig will likely come down to is dollars and cents. Reyes may have some holes in his swing, but he’s locked into an extremely team-friendly financial situation given his upside. Puig, on the other hand, will seek out market value from a number of teams in need of a power-hitting right fielder.
While I’m no fan of watching talent walk out the door, all signs point toward the Indians moving on from Puig for the 2020 season.