Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Puig over Ozuna? Here's a convincing case why

November 8, 2019

Yasiel Puig is on the open market for the first time since he signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Dodgers as an international free agent. Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding Puig, who has averaged 25 homers over the last three seasons and

Yasiel Puig is on the open market for the first time since he signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with the Dodgers as an international free agent.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding Puig, who has averaged 25 homers over the last three seasons and recorded a career-high 84 RBIs between with the Reds and Indians in 2019.

Why Puig might be a more attractive option than Ozuna

Nov. 8: In many ways, Puig and fellow free agent Marcell Ozuna have been virtually the same player over the past three seasons, as Eno Sarris points out in his article for The Athletic (subscription required) breaking down some intriguing mid-level free agents.

In that span, Puig has posted a 19.7 percent strikeout rate, an 8.9 percent walk rate, a .212 ISO and -6 Outs Above Average. Ozuna? A 19.8 percent strikeout rate, an 8.8 percent walk rate, a .206 ISO and -6 OAA. Ozuna recorded a better wRC+ (121 to Puig's 112) in those three years, but that number is buoyed by his 2017 season (143 wRC+), which has proven to be an outlier. Both are right-handed hitters who will soon turn 29 years old, and Puig is faster and has a better arm.

When Ozuna's qualifying offer is factored in, Puig might just be the more attractive free agent. If Ozuna rejects the QO he received from the Cardinals, other teams will need to forfeit one or more Draft picks to sign him. Puig was ineligible for a QO after being traded to the Indians in July.

Puig lands among FanGraphs' Top 20 free agents

Nov. 4: FanGraphs' annual Top 50 free agents list was published Monday, and Puig came in at No. 18 on their big board rankings.

FanGraphs writer Kiley McDaniel estimates a three-year, $39 million contract for Puig this offseason, while the site's readership submitted a median crowdsource estimate of three years and $38.3 million. Fellow FanGraphs writer Ben Clemens notes that Puig's statistics hint that he might have been pressing to begin the season in Cincinnati, but his plate discipline improved as the season progressed. The only outfielders ranked above Puig on FanGraphs' list are J.D. Martinez (who primarily serves as a designated hitter), Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos.

Does anyone stand out among the top free-agent outfielders?

Nov. 3: Unlike last offseason, when Bryce Harper, Michael Brantley, A.J. Pollock and Andrew McCutchen were free agents, the outfield market this year lacks star power.

Teams seeking a center fielder will likely need to look to trade for one, with Starling Marte and Jackie Bradley Jr. among the potential candidates to be dealt.

There are a number of similar free-agent options available for clubs in need of a corner outfielder, headlined by Marcell Ozuna, Nicholas Castellanos, Puig and Avisaíl García. All four bat from the right-handed side of the plate, and none is particularly known for his defense, though Puig has had his moments in the past and García has the tools to be a solid fielder.

J.D. Martinez could make the market even more crowded by opting out of his deal (three years, $62.5 million), but he has been more of a designated hitter over the past two years, perhaps limiting his suitors to American League teams.

Here's how Castellanos, Ozuna, Puig and García compare to each other statistically.

wRC+, 2019
1) Castellanos (121)
2) García (112)
3) Ozuna (110)
4) Puig (101)

wRC+, 2017-19
T-1) Ozuna (121)
T-1) Castellanos (121)
3) García (117)
4) Puig (112)

FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement, 2019
1) Castellanos (2.8)
2) Ozuna (2.6)
3) García (1.8)
4) Puig (1.2)

fWAR, 2017-19
1) Ozuna (10.4)
2) Castellanos (7.2)
3) García (6.1)
4) Puig (6.0)

Castellanos and Ozuna seem to be neck and neck as the top two outfielders available, and García improved his standing with a rebound campaign in 2019. Puig surprisingly comes in fourth in each category, but teams might place added value in his marketability and postseason experience.

Any chance Puig remains in Cleveland?

Oct. 28: Though Puig hit just two homers in 49 games for the Indians after being acquired at the Trade Deadline, the former All-Star still provided a spark to help keep Cleveland in the postseason race late into the season. That said, the Indians seem set on giving Franmil Reyes a chance to win the everyday job in right field, making it unlikely that they extend a significant offer to Puig.

Even if the Reyes experiment doesn't pan out, the Indians have outfield prospect Daniel Johnson -- who had an impressive year split between Double-A and Triple-A -- waiting in the wings, plus Tyler Naquin (ACL tear in right knee) is expected to be ready sometime between April and June.

All that said, Puig fit in well within the Indians’ clubhouse down the stretch, with manager Terry Francona describing him as “enjoyable” to have on the team. Meanwhile, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti was not ready to rule out a potential return when asked about Puig after the season.

“We wouldn’t close the doors on anything,” Antonetti said.