Braves have agreed a deal, pending a physical, free agent outfielder Yasiel Puig, Mark Feinsand from MLB.com reports (via Twitter). The deal ends a long saga with a free agent for the mercurial Puig, who is a well-known commodity for Braves CEO Alex Anthopoulos (formerly Dodgers VP of baseball). Puig is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Puig, 29, was the most prominent name among unsigned free agents, having gone all season without agreeing to a deal and then enduring a league-wide transaction freeze during the pandemic that further slowed his path to a team. He reportedly received offers from the Marlins and Orioles along the way – as well as some interest from the Korea Baseball Organization – but Puig never found an offer he thinks it seems. It is doubtful that he will order the significant multi-year deal he sought during the winter in this new arrangement with Atlanta, but he will join a club with obvious ambitions after the season.
The Braves, of course, lost just one notable field goal last week when the veteran Nick Markakis announced that he will not be playing in 2020. Puig will give the Braves another perfect bat that offered similar production as Markakis in 2019. While the Atlanta field was already largely set with Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna Jr., the addition of Puig allows the Braves to rotate all of their corner-outfield options (even inclusive) Adam Duvall) through left field, right field and DH while keeping everyone fresh. Acuna can also play midfield instead of Inciarte, so we will surely see days where Ozuna, Acuna and Puig are lined up from left to right in the field – perhaps with Duvall on designated hits.
Puig shared the 2019 season between Ohio’s two clubs and opened the year with the Reds before moving to the Indians – while he was in the middle of a fight on the field, no less – in the three-team blockbuster that sent Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati. While generally a solid bat, his offensive production did not really reflect his previous standards. Puig appeared in 149 games and in 611 plate appearances, fighting .267 / .327 / .458 with 24 long balls – albeit only two after his trade to Cleveland. During a season that saw huge peaks in offensive production due to the changing composition of the ball, Puig’s line controlled right at the league average (101 wRC +, 100 OPS +). It is quite similar to Markakis (102 wRC +, 98 OPS +) but falls well shy for 2017-18, when Puig was about 20 percent better than a league-average hitter.
Given the difference in age, however, there are more reasons to expect a recovery from Puig than the 36-year-old Markakis would have been. Adding Puig and Ozuna to an already strong core does not compensate for the loss Josh Donaldson, but it will give the Braves an undoubtedly deep container of bats from which they look to nail down a third straight NL East Division title.
From a defensive standpoint, Puig played an average right field last year according to each of Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average. His gloves in the past have varied from affordable to excellent in a given year, depending on one’s preferred measurement value. But at least it’s reasonable to expect Puig to be at least an average bat and an average cornerback, making him a nice pickup for Atlanta.
The Braves originally announced 56 players in their 60-man pool for the 2020 season, although both Markakis and veteran right-handers Felix Hernandez can be deducted from that number after opting out of the season. Atlanta has also had four players, including the cornerstone Freddie Freeman, test positive for COVID-19. If someone is placed on IL as a result, they do not count towards the player pool. Even without IL placements and after adding Bryce Ball to the player pool recently, the Braves will have space in their 60-man pool for Puig. The Braves also had a vacancy on their 40-man roster, so no corresponding moves need to be made to accommodate Puig’s presence on the roster.