When I initially examined possible free agent outfielders/left-handed batters in a recent post, I left out Yasiel Puig as a serious option for the Royals. While his name was floated out as a possibility by the Athletic’s Jim Bowden, I figured Puig’s projected high price tag (Roster Resource crowd projections is predicting a two-year $11 million AAV deal) as well as clubhouse and recent legal issues would rule him out as an option in Kansas City.
However, today, Royals Academy floated this Tweet, which he found from Puig’s Instagram account:
Of course, a picture is only a picture, and considering that Puig and Jorge Soler are both native Cubans, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Puig would be working out with his fellow countryman in Miami, along with Salvy and Royals special instructor Mike Tosar. After all, Puig doesn’t necessarily have a team to work out with at this moment, and COVID probably has limited his options in terms of having access to different facilities to work out in.
That being said, Soler is far from the only Cuban playing in Major League Baseball currently, and this picture of Puig is the first real picture of Puig with some other MLB players. And thus, to see Puig not only work out with Soler and Salvy, but actually pose for a picture with them, is quite interesting, especially as the free agent market starts to drain when it comes to possible options for the Royals.
Furthermore, earlier this evening, a Twitter follower shared with me this Tweet from Rachel Luba, Puig’s agent, in regard to “discussions” she had about Puig with an interested team:
As expected, her video is pretty vague, and honestly, because I’m not the biggest fan of Trevor Bauer, I don’t really want to go on the Momentum YouTube page (which he kind of helped create) to watch the whole video. That being said, even in that small snippet, it’s hard to believe that the “City” Luba is referring to is NOT Kansas City. A picture with two potential Royals teammates? Really emphasizing that Puig could fit in the partiular “City”? Sure, it’s probable that I am over-analyzing things as an over-eager Royals fan who wants to see the organization do something serious again in free agency this Winter. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that Luba’s video and Puig’s Instagram photo are not connected.
Thus, maybe Royals fans need to consider Puig as a more serious option in the Kansas City outfield in 2021.
If Puig is indeed a realistic option for the Royals next year, what could he provide this Royals lineup?
While Puig broke in with the Dodgers in 2013 as a potential five-tool talent who could be a perennial All-Star, Puig has regressed into a more offensive-focused player who has grown in his power, but has demonstrated struggles defensively and with plate discipline.
2014, Puig’s second season in Major League Baseball, was the Cuban outfielder’s best season, as he not only made the All-Star team, but posted a career high 5.5 fWAR, according to Fangraphs. With the Dodgers that season, Puig posted a slash of .296/.382/.480 and he also posted a wRC+ of 148 to go along with 16 home runs in 148 games and 640 plate appearances.
However, after his All-Star campaign, Puig was beset by injuries in 2015 and 2016, and he only played in 79 and 104 games, respectively. During those two “limited” seasons, Puig posted a 1.5 and 1.0 fWAR, far cries from his impressive WAR metrics in 2014 as well as in his rookie season in 2013 (3.9 fWAR in 104 games).
Puig did show that he could produce again in 2017 when healthy, though it wasn’t quite as complete as his first two seasons in Major League Baseball. After playing 152 games, Puig hit a career-high 28 home runs, but his batting average hung around .263, and he only produced a 2.9 fWAR, still lower marks than his rookie and sophomore seasons with the Dodgers. He did put together another 20-plus home run season in 2018, but his BB/K ratio regressed from 0.64 to 0.41 from 2017 to 2018, and his fWAR also regressed from 2.9 to 1.8. Lastly, his defense continued to be a liability, as he was 8.5 runs BELOW average in 2018, according to Fangraphs’ Def rating.
Thus, with younger, more cost-controlled outfielders like Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger on the Dodgers roster, Los Angeles prior to the 2019 season made a blockbuster trade that sent Puig and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati in what seemed to be a cost-cutting (but forward-thinking) move for the Dodgers. However, the move paid off for Los Angeles: the Dodgers were able to clear space eventually for Mookie Betts, and Puig didn’t quite live up to expectations with the Reds. While he hit 22 home runs in 100 games, he struck out 22 percent of the time, only posted a 95 wRC+, and was involved in a huge brawl before he was traded to Cleveland at the Trade Deadline for Trevor Bauer.
Puig improved after moving north in Ohio to Cleveland, as he posted a 113 wRC+ in 49 games and 207 plate appearances with the Indians. However, after the conclusion of the 2019 season, no team picked up Puig, citing his clubhouse issues as a main concern. He did seem to be on the verge of a deal with the Braves prior to the 2020 restart, but he tested positive for COVID before a deal could be made official, and he didn’t play for any team last season.
Going into 2021, Puig offers the Royals a pretty clear-cut benefit: power. Puig has produced three straight 20-plus home run seasons from 2017 to 2019, and his other power metrics hint that if fully healthy, Puig could continue to transition that power to Kansas City in 2021, if signed. In 2017 and 2018, he produced ISO numbers of .224 and .227 with the Dodgers, and though he did post a .191 ISO in 2019, his ISO was .223 in Cincinnati before he was traded to Cleveland (though I’m sure Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly park helped him in that category).
That being said, his Statcast data is a little difficult to decipher. In 2019, he posted a 90 EV and 13.8 average launch angle on batted balls, which would have been his second and best marks, respectively, in those Stacast categories over his seven-year career. And yet, despite producing an exit velocity that ranked in the 66th percentile, and barrel rate that ranked in the 65th percentile in 2019, his hard hit rate only ranked in 49th percentile, and his xSLG (expected slugging) only ranked in the 54th percentile.
Thus, even though Puig certainly had the potential to be a Soler-esque power hitter in 2019, he failed to even come close to what his fellow countryman did in Kansas City nearly two seasons ago. Furthermore, much like Soler at times, Puig also demonstrated swing and miss issues at the plate, as he ranked in the 22nd percentile in whiff rate, according to Baseball Savant. Unlike Soler though, Puig didn’t walk much to make up the high amount of whiffs, as Puig only ranked in the 31st percentile in walk rate. In addition, his BB/K ratios over his career aren’t really impressive either, as he has only posted a BB/K ratio over 0.50 twice (2014 and 2017), and he posted a 0.33 ratio in 2019, his worst mark since 2016.
The Royals made it known this offseason wanted to improve their plate discipline and OBP as a lineup in 2021 (hence explaining the Santana signing). Unfortunately, based on his mediocre BB/K ratio in 2019, and two straight seasons of an OBP under .330, it’s unlikely that Puig will help satisfy that desire from the Royals front office next year.
Someone on Twitter asked me what Puig could possibly produce in Kansas City, and I’m pretty sure Puig would probably produce a similar line to what he had in his last two seasons of play, which would be a slash in the .260/.320/.440 range with 20-plus home run upside. Puig has demonstrated raw speed in the past, as his sprint speed ranked in the 79th percentile in 2019, and he stole 15 or more bases for three straight seasons from 2017 to 2019. However, considering he hasn’t played for over a year, and he has a bit of an injury history, I highly doubt he shows that 15-plus stolen base potential in 2021, even if the Royals may be more prone to run as an organization.
Without a doubt, Puig is a tough free agent to project, and it is likely that Royals GM Dayton Moore is probably conflicted about the possibility as well. Puig does offer a little more guaranteed production in the lineup, and he is a veteran presence that could help the Royals be more competitive in the Central Division next season. However, the Twins just added Andrelton Simmons via free agency today, and with a Nelson Cruz reunion looming soon, the top two spots in the Central maybe locked up by Chicago and Minnesota. Hence, while Puig may make the Royals nominally better, it seems unlikely that he makes the Royals good enough to sneak into playoff contention, even with an extended postseason a possibility.
Moore will probably be making a decision on Puig soon, and it will be interesting to see what the fallout will be in the Royals organization if Moore does ink the talented, but troubled star. Will Nicky Lopez be moved to the bench? Will the Royals start out with Franchy Cordero on the bench? Will Edward Olivares start in Triple-A? Puig may solve some lineup issues for the Royals in the short-term, but could he hinder the organization in the long-term, especially if his clubhouse issues transition to Kansas City?
There will be a lot of issues for Moore to weigh, and so far, Moore has hit multiple home runs this off-season with the Santana and Minor signings (and I’m beginning to like the Taylor singing more and more). However, Puig is a different challenge, as this move could possibly overshadow the Santana and Minor signing in either a good or bad way in 2021.
If Puig does sign in Kansas City, let’s hope that Puig-casted shadow is a positive one…
Because the Royals can’t afford any setbacks in 2021 after seeing some gains last season.