It's August 3rd and the craziness of the non-waiver trade deadline is now mercifully behind us and Toronto Blue Jays fans are... Let's just say split.
Still, it is done, and now, we find ourselves in a situation where we can calmly look at the roster and discuss the team going forward.
And, by 'going forward' I mean both for the present season leading through August and September, but also going into next season (NOTE: The team can still trade players who pass through waivers, but they won't be playoff eligible if after August 31). The conversation needn't be separate from one another.
Improving the roster, including bringing in a new starting OF to force Bautista into a DH role for the remainder of the season, could give the team a much needed boost entering the home stretch of the season. If that same move also helps the team next season, well isn't that just a happy coincidence?
We can worry about playoff eligibility when/if the team clinches. Let's do that first.
Let's look at the Blue Jays outfield as it stands right now and going into next season.
The team has two (possibly starting) outfielder's locked up for next season, so let's start with them. Kevin Pillar and Melvin Upton Jr. are both top defensive players at their position (Upton is 2nd in LF UZR/150, and 3rd in DRS while Pillar is Pillar), which is where much of their value comes from.
Upton Jr. has above average power for LF and provides speed on the basepaths. Perhaps not enough to counter his below average bat (.254/.301/.430 with a 97 wRC+ this season), but they are assets nonetheless. While Kevin... Kevin has a nice beard. He also has some speed but, truthfully, the overwhelming majority of his WAR value comes from his defence.
The incumbent Right Fielder, Jose Bautista, has begun to decline. Pretty harshly, in fact. And realistically is a 1B/DH type now (-12.6 UZR/150 in RF). That's true this season and will only become moreso next. Michael Saunders isn't much of an outfielder defensively himself these days (-7.5 UZR/150) and should probably also transition to DH, as well. Either could be moved out of the starting outfield and into the DH spot to make room for someone else.
Another happy coincidence would be that this eliminates the need for future Justin Smoak AB's.
Ezequiel Carrera, while having a nice season (.258/.346/.368 96 wRC+ 0.9 WAR), should probably not be relied upon to be the everyday RF. He's probably a 4th OF on most teams, and is the 5th OF on this team (when he gets healthy).
And finally, Dalton Pompey.
His play in the MiLB may warrant a look. He's hitting .290/.355/.371 with a 112 wRC+ but only 2 HR's. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but still good. What is that translated to the MLB? To me it suggests a probable defense-first, speedy outfielder who will make up most of his value on the basepaths and in the outfield, a cross between Pillar and Upton. Without Upton's power or Pillar's elite glove.
That's an option. But, I'm here to discuss another.
Now, I know what you're saying. "Mike! We see the picture! We see the title! Just get to the point!"
Touché, let's get to it.
Let's talk about Yasiel Puig.
The LA Dodgers were rumoured to be trying to move the 25-year old Cuban outfielder before the deadline. When they failed to do so they demoted him back to the minors.
The obvious implication being that the team no longer considers him as part of their long-term plan and Puig is a player on the outs with his organization. A young talent with huge upside whose management doesn't seem to know what to do with him at this point. Underperforming, possibly in need of a fresh start to reach the superstar potential he is capable of, and has shown capable of.
Sort of like another NL outfielder the Blue Jays traded for once upon a time.
Now, there are those who might not want to take a chance on Puig. His reputation proceeds him. And that's fair. Still, I'm going to make the case for the Jays trading for him, banking on him returning to form in the AL East (and the noted hitter's parks that it boasts).
I'd be remiss if I didn't first note how team friendly Puig's contract is. Even if it doesn't have much an impact on the team this year it should be noted that at $6.5M next season, and $7.5M the year after, it's hard to find a much better potential for excess value in a contract than Puig. At least it's difficult to believe he won't be able to match the value of his contract.
According to Fangraphs, Puig was worth 11.9M last season (nearly three times his salary), though he has fallen short this season thus far ($3.8M on a $5.5M salary) it's difficult to believe a healthy Puig can't better that number.
Of course, he could opt into Arbitration (according to this Fox Sports article) but he still has three years of control regardless, which is of value to any team. Especially one like Toronto who has some aging stars and more than a couple key pieces hitting Free Agency after this season. A cheap, controllable asset like Puig offers flexibility when negotiating with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Michael Saunders.
Yasiel Puig, while hampered with hamstring issues, hasn't been a bad defensive Right Fielder this season. His 1.1 UZR/150 ranks 13th of 19 qualified RF (13th of 23 who have played a minimum of 500 innings) and he's 6th in DRS (with 6), having played between 50 to 291 innings less than those above him. His RZR (.920) is 9th, for whatever that is worth.
2013 Puig had very similar rankings, though his UZR/150 (9.7) was more favourable placing him in 6th, and 2014 Puig graded out about the same in the league (0.2 UZR/150 ranked him 12th or 21 RF in 2014) but his DRS of 0 placed him 11th. And, let's not forget his arm rivals any in the league, including perhaps Yoenis Cespedes.
He's not an elite fielder, but he's clearly better than Saunders and Bautista, which could only help this season. Puig has shown a very capable outfielder with a cannon for an arm, much in the way Bautista used to be before Father Time caught up with him. At 25 there is no reason to believe Puig won't be able to field the position going forward at much the same level, which could make a great defensive OF with Upton and Pillar. How well he's played, even through leg injuries, is an encouraging sign moving forward.
For this season you might suggest just playing Upton and not giving up assets to get Puig, but the chance to bring in a game changing talent has to count for something. And it would be more prudent to try and get him now, while his value is at its lowest, instead of in the off-season where there may be a bidding war for his services.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE TALENT
This is slightly harder to sell amidst his issues this season. And while I'd gladly fill this space up with narratives (perhaps his struggles are psychosomatic? Perhaps the Dodgers trying to 'tame' him have actually taken away the very swagger that allowed him to be so dominant?) I think it best to stick with the facts on this one.
So, no, Puig has not been great. Overall he's been... bad. This year. Puig's struggles this year are well noted. A .260/.320/.386 slash with a 95 wRC+ and just 0.5 WAR. His power is also down (7 HR's). He's battled injuries, he's battled management in his short time in LA, and he's battled his teammates.
What is also noted is his 4.1 WAR 2013 and 5.3 WAR 2014 seasons.
His 2015 season was hindered with injuries (hamstring, again... maybe this guy needs to apply to the Jose Bautista school for in-game stretching?), but in 79 games he put up 1.5 WAR. If prorated to a 146 game season (he'd averaged 146 the previous two seasons between the minors and MLB) it is a 2.77 WAR season. That's a solid season by most standards.
My belief is that the floor of a healthy Puig is likely just that, a 2-3 WAR player. His upside? Well, we've all see his upside.
But, perhaps most tantalising:
His power. Notching 19 and 16 HR's in 2013-14, as well as 18 over his last 160 games (614 PA's in 2015-16), he has the potential to be a 20-25 HR guy. Perhaps not a 30 HR guy, but neither was Josh Donaldson before coming to Toronto. Playing in the Homer Dome, the Little League Park in New York, as well as Baltimore and Boston could only help Puig reach his power potential.
Look at Justin Smoak as yet another example of what the ALE parks can do for someone's power potential. He has a career high of 20 HR's (in 521 PA's during the 2013 season), but last year in just 328 PA's he hit 18. That's a 29 HR pace has he been given 521 PA's. And Puig is far and away a better hitter than Smoak. At least, I believe it can be reasonably argued he is. Perhaps a move to Toronto will do for him what many hoped it would do for Smoak.
When Jose Bautista is no longer a Blue Jay we'll need to fill a void in our Bat Flips department. Yasiel Puig is the obvious heir apparent.
The only question remaining then is whether he would outperform any of the other options the team has. I believe the answer to that is yes. Even this season, a down year, his worst year, he is nearly a league average hitter. Is Dalton Pompey? Is Ezequiel Carrera? I mean, really?
Sure, Bautista and Saunders are, but how much of their value do they lose playing defence in the outfield? And, when considering beyond this season, how much will they cost? Keeping in mind both will enter the season in their 30's. And while Upton is both a league average hitter and a strong glove, he's nearing 32 years old and Yasiel has the much higher ceiling, and a floor that can be argued is at Upton's ceiling at this stage of his (Upton's) career.
Wrapping things up, I suppose I should address the big question. What would a trade for Puig cost?
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. The Dodgers are said to want an OF in return. Might that be Pompey? Could we work out some kind of Michael Saunders sign-and-trade? DJ Davis is always a popular pick in BBB circles. Anthony Alford? Other prospects?
I don't know, and I'd hate to really speculate on it. Feel free to discuss it in the comments, though.
What I will say is that yes, Puig comes with his share of issues, of which there is no doubt. But, if the Dodgers are looking to move their former golden boy, I don't think Toronto need look a gift horse in the mouth. This is a supremely talented kid whose team seems ready to move on. He could help the team going forward this season, and beyond.
If ShAtkins wants a non-expensive, highly talented option to replace a former star, Yasiel Puig could be the way to go.