As always, the baseball world is more interesting with Yasiel Puig in it. The sometimes maddening but always exciting Reds outfielder is perpetually the center of the conversation every game he plays, and it feels like we’ve been debating and discussing him for a decade now. Amazingly, Puig is only 28 years old; he’s younger than fellow MLB stars such as DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rendon, George Springer, and Max Muncy.
Puig is going to be a fascinating free agent this offseason in a market that has few bats available, but his market may be more urgent than that. The Reds have had a frustrating season. Despite outscoring their opponents, they’re in fourth place in the NL Central, seven games out of first and 6 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. Their pitching has been better than it has been in years, but the offense has fallen off. FanGraphs has the Reds with only a 5.1 percent chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The good news is that the Reds accounted for this possibility, loading up their team with impending free agents -- like Puig -- without trading away any of their future assets. It allowed them to potentially come to the market with assets for desperate teams, and there may be no greater asset for the rest of the 2019 season than Puig. After a wretched start, Puig has been one of the best hitters in baseball. He has put up a .358/.397/.657 slash line in July and that’s not even accounting for his outfield defense, particularly his cannon of an arm. With a lack of quality bats on the market -- the best bat other than Puig is … Nick Castellanos? -- Puig is the one potential game changer who could be dealt. Teams should be lining up for him; no team would be worse for having Puig on it.
But which teams should be most eager to go for him? Here are six teams with which Puig could fit … and could make a serious difference.
Stephen Piscotty is currently on the injured list with a knee sprain, but it’s not like he was knocking the ball around anyway when he was healthy. Mark Canha has filled in with some power, but there’s plenty of room for Puig’s bat in Oakland’s lineup. The A’s will be fighting tooth and nail for a Wild Card spot, and they’ve shown a willingness to be aggressive when they’re in the chase this late. And while some teams on this list might not necessarily feel like a clubhouse or fanbase fit with Puig, A’s fans would adore Puig from the minute he put on the uniform. He’s always felt like an honorary Bash Brother anyway. This might be the best fit there is.
Puig might not feel like the most ideal match for the notoriously buttoned-up Cardinals, but that has always been a little bit overstated; the Cardinals clubhouse is considerably looser under manager Mike Shildt than it was under Mike Matheny. Puig, by all accounts, is beloved in the Reds clubhouse. The Cardinals’ July run -- they’re 9-3 since the All-Star Break -- has secured that they’ll be buyers, and what they need more than anything else is a bat. Puig fits in perfectly in right field, allowing Jose Martinez to be the terrifying bat off the bench he was born to be, and when Marcell Ozuna returns to the lineup next month, this lineup could look downright scary (and deep).
The Indians always need outfielders, even with the emergence of Oscar Mercado, and though Tyler Naquin has been better than you might have expected in right field, he is no Puig. The Indians are the most fascinating team at this Deadline, with so much up in the air about whether they’re buying, selling or both, but Puig would be an instant jolt of offense for a lineup with clear spots for easy improvement.
Jay Bruce, their injury replacement for Andrew McCutchen, now needs an injury replacement of his own, as he is sidelined with an oblique strain. Puig hasn’t played much left field in his career -- he has only seven games on his resume and none since 2016 -- but if the Phillies don’t want to move Bryce Harper over from right field, Puig’s bat would more than make up for any awkwardness. More to the point, the Phillies invested so much in this year’s team that making the playoffs should be of the utmost importance, and Puig puts them in the best position to do that.
The Rays are a little bit of a stretch here considering their outfield is one of their strengths already, and that’s before Kevin Kiermaier returns from injury in August. But the Rays could still use an extra hitter, and Puig can always DH if you need a place to slot him. It’s the sort of low-risk move the Rays can afford to try in what could be a breakthrough season for them and it might provide a spark after a recent downturn for the team.
They’re always lurking. Obviously, New York is plenty crowded in the outfield, but the team isn't sure Giancarlo Stanton is going to return in time to fully become Giancarlo Stanton again, Puig can play a reasonable Stanton impersonator for a couple of months. The Yankees are flush with enough talent and cash that they can afford to keep Puig around as an extra guy come playoff time. And let’s face it: They will love him in The Bronx.