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Braves potential free agent target: Yasiel Puig

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Puig our friend?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Cleveland Indians Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, okay....please hold your rotten vegetables to the end.

The Braves have a lineup and roster problem. The lineup problem isn’t really their fault as the league and players union can’t come together on whether or not there will be a designated hitter in the National League (there should be).

The roster problem is more in their control, however. With Marcell Ozuna currently a free agent, Atlanta pretty clearly needs a big bat as well as some guys with offensive upside going down the lineup. I will not be making the case that Puig is likely at all to be that big bat because, well, he isn’t even though its a fringe possibility. However, what he CAN be is a guy with offensive upside who, depending on how some other things go, could be a fit for the Braves in 2021.

Who is he?

Okay, no one is asking that as Puig is well-known and polarizing player. However, it is worth asking what kind of player he is right now. Puig is a career .277/.348/.475 hitter who, during his time with the Dodgers, was a 25/15 guy for the most part with a bit of variance up and down. He is aggressive at the plate which leads to a bit of swing and miss (K% of around 20% most of the time), on the basepaths, and in the field. Sometimes this works out great as he has substantial physical tools to back up those plays, and sometimes he does something silly that makes you put your face in your hands.

Most importantly, though, is that he just turned 30 years old and he didn’t play at all last year. The Braves were close to bringing him aboard, but a positive COVID test nixed the original deal and Puig wasn’t looking to sign an incentive-loaded alternative. Him taking a year could have lead to a tad more maturity and knowledge being gained, but it could also lead to rust and diminished physical skills which would be problematic. The team that signs him would really have to be confident that they know what sort of physical shape he is in as well as how he has been staying sharp baseball-wise.

Should the Braves sign him?

This is tougher to answer. Puig is a career 124 wRC+ hitter which is very, very good. He gets on base, hits for some power, makes plays, and is a high energy guy. That, in a vacuum, fits in well with this teams needs although his energy is at the high end which absolutely rubs some people the wrong way and its hard to predict how that would play out with the Braves in some respects. I will say that if the Braves were willing to sign him last year with AA knowing Puig from his time with the Dodgers, I trust that judgment.

Ronald Acuna Jr. and Cristian Pache should absolutely be two of the starting outfielders for the Braves in 2021. That much is clear. Ender Inciarte should, at best, be a bench option given his offensive shortcomings and diminishing abilities. Nick Markakis be thanked for his service and either retire or help a young rebuilding squad and not eat playing time on one with bigger aspirations.

However, that third spot outfield is tricky because there are better options (George Springer, Michael Brantley), cheaper options (Adam Duvall), or the Braves could move Austin Riley to left and then try to find a third baseman instead. Hell, they could just love Ozuna’s bat enough to just let him flop around in the outfield for a year, wait for the new CBA which one would assume would include the designated hitter in both leagues, and just call it a day by bringing him back for that role.

It does seem particularly clear that Puig isn’t looking to play on the cheap on a prove it deal or he would have more easily found a deal last year before the Braves tried to grab him. If the designated hitter does come back to the National League, that provides some more opportunities for Puig in Atlanta. Maybe the Braves sign Ozuna again and then Puig represents, probably, the most the Braves would probably be willing to invest in that outfield spot. If there is no Ozuna, maybe Puig is a DH candidate and the Braves make a move for an outfielder. These things seem possible.

That said, there is currently no DH and that makes Puig to Atlanta much less likely for me. He would absolutely be an upgrade and if it were a one year deal, well....we know that AA is at least going to entertain the idea as the man loves one year deals. But without a DH, that last lineup spot becomes a lot more important and Puig may not be the guy to shoulder that load. There is also the issue that one deal between these two sides has already fallen apart once before, but that may be overstated.

In short, could Puig be a fit? Sure, but we aren’t talking about one of the prime free agents here. There are situations where it could be a good fit, and others where it wouldn’t. For now, some of the factors that remain outside of both sides’ control are going to have to resolve themselves.