Phillie fans were greeted with an unfortunate piece of news two weeks back, when they learned that the Phillies would be without Andrew McCutchen to begin the 2020 season — a disappointment to say the least.
In 2019, when the Phillies left fielder suffered a torn ACL, the entirety of the team embarked upon a downward spiral, from which they never truly recovered. Needless to say, beginning a brand new season with a team staple on the injured list is certainly not optimal.
In preparation for the “worst case scenario,” as it were, the Phillies went out and acquired multiple ‘just in case’ options, should McCutchen not prove ready, or, even worse, suffer a setback prior to Opening Day.
The first of these options came in the form of Nick Martini, whom the Phillies acquired on a waiver claim from the Cincinnati Reds. Martini has seen his fair share of success in professional baseball — he turned in an excellent 2018 with the Oakland Athletics, and even achieved a 50-game on-base streak in the Minor Leagues last year
However, after the Mookie Betts blockbuster shook the world in February, the Dodgers DFA’d talented outfielder, Kyle Garlick, whom the Phillies promptly snapped up in exchange for LHP Tyler Gilbert, and, in a corresponding move, DFA’d the aforementioned Martini.
Thankfully, Martini cleared waivers, and is back in camp with the Phillies, where he and Garlick are both showing promise — alongside the oft-forgotten Nick Williams, who also serves as an option.
The question now becomes — do you trust either of Martini, Garlick, or Williams to hold down the fort while Andrew McCutchen is on the mend? These three players have all produced at the Triple-A level, sure — but are they anything more than the Quad-A floaters we’ve seen them as in years past?
Plus, with rumor of Jay Bruce’s elbow not being fully healed, what happens then? All of a sudden, you have both Jay Bruce AND Andrew McCutchen unable to play the outfield. So, who do you turn to?
Enter: Yasiel Puig.
The enthusiastic outfielder, somehow, remains on the market, and would make for an impactful late-spring add to any club... so why not the Phillies?
Before moving forward, no, there is no eventuality in which I could see the 29 year-old accepting a Minor League pact — but, perhaps he would settle for a low guarantee? Who’s to say.
Puig is certainly not the superstar-caliber player that he once appeared to be when he debuted back in 2013/14, but he’s unquestionably a starter in the majority of Major League outfields, and provides power from the right side, as well as a big arm from the outfield.
You may find yourself asking; why isn’t the market taking to a substantial major league bat with upside?
Honestly, it feels as if Puig is a victim of circumstance. Around the league, it appears that most outfields are crowded with present and/or future talent, and that’s making it tough for the righty slugger.
One contributing factor to his slow market might be that Puig hasn’t seen defensive playing time outside of right field since 2016... and he was really, really bad in left field when the Dodgers last tried him there — so, in a starting role, he has little flexibility in terms of where you can play him (if you care about the whole defense thing.)
That said, there are a few teams out there that appear to be in need of his services more so than the Phillies;
For whatever reason, the New York Yankees have yet to make a move on the still-young right fielder, even as TWO of their superstar outfielders (Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton) have succumb to injury once again in 2020.
The Colorado Rockies also have yet to pull the trigger on a single Free Agent this Winter — even though they feature a plethora of obvious holes — but who knows what the hold up is there?
So, with the obvious suitors standing pat, why not take advantage of this unique, albeit unfortunate, circumstance?
It is worth mentioning that, should the Phillies decide to give Puig a shot, Andrew McCutchen is still this team’s starting left fielder when healthy. This being the case, once Cutch makes his triumphant return, Puig automatically gets bumped to the bench — which I’m sure he wouldn’t be thrilled with.
This leaves the Phillies with two options; shop him, or hang on to him.
Should they decide to sell him immediately after Cutch returns, they’re not likely to net much in terms of a return. The market is, obviously, rejecting Puig’s price tag, and I’m sure it won’t take much kinder to the added tax of young talent.
However, if Puig gives any indication that he might be willing to platoon with the Phillies current outfielders and/or ride the bench with a competitive ballclub — the team should be all over him.
Yasiel is among the many right-handed-hitters that, for whatever reason, struggle against left-handed pitching. Over the duration of his career, Puig carries a .285/.350/.495 slash against righties with a WHOPPING 102 home runs — and that’s over 2202 at-bats, no small sample size. Conversely, Puig has slashed a meager .255/.343/.419 against lefties over that same career span, with just 30 home runs.
Andrew McCutchen, on the other hand, LOVES facing left-handed pitching, and boasts a hefty career slash of .310/.403/.543 against southpaws. This being the case, it would appear that McCutchen/Puig would make for a really nice platoon option — especially as a slow start for Cutch is likely, seeing as he’ll be missing most, if not all of Spring Training, and is coming back from a significant injury.
Puig is no slouch defensively, either. While, as previously mentioned, he’s been pretty terrible in his limited time in left field, the guy has a cannon for an arm, and can save you a few runs with his accurate and impressive slings.
Additionally, though it’s not optimal, both Andrew McCutchen AND Bryce Harper have seen some time in center field over the years — so, if Joe Girardi really wanted to, he could start all three of these guys in the same lineup.
Imagine, if you will:
Andrew McCutchen, LF
Jean Segura, 3B
Bryce Harper, CF
Rhys Hoskins, 1B
JT Realmuto, C
Didi Gregorius, SS
Yasiel Puig, RF
Scott Kingery, 2B
Come on, THAT is a pretty scary lineup.
So, the TL;DR:
Is it likely that the Phillies sign Yasiel Puig? No, of course not.
Should the Phillies sign Yasiel Puig? It would be cool, but won’t kill them if they don’t
Is he better than the other bench options they’ve stashed thus far? Absolutely.
Would he make the Phillies’ clubhouse ten times more fun? Probably.
Overall, it goes without saying that Yasiel Puig is one of the more dynamic, fun, and overall exciting players that this game has to offer, and it’s unfathomable that the guy hasn’t found a job as of yet.
Whether or not that’s due to his own pride... I have no idea — but, if his price tag falls to a feasible amount, I think he’d be worth the cash.