With the MLB off-season rapidly ending and Spring Training on the horizon, the Hot Stove is starting to wind down. Most of the available players have signed or have been traded. And the season is starting to look set in stone.
The only major question is now, where will Yasiel Puig end up?
The market for Puig has gone pretty much blank at this point with corner outfielders at a low demand. The two major corner outfielders on the market have been signed (Marcel Ozuna-Braves, Nick Castellanos-Reds) and that has really been it. Which has left Yasiel Puig looking around with nothing of interest from teams.
Hard to imagine that 6 years ago people were placing Puig on the same level with the likes of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, etc. as being a centerpiece of a franchise. The raw talent he had then was amazing and was an exciting player. However, due to issues with behavior early on, and what I believe was somewhat of a way of not handling it well by the Dodgers organization, was that Puig’s stardom start to wane as he has been labeled as a headcase. A headcase to teammates, Don Mattingly, etc. His days in Los Angeles were numbered.
The Reds took Puig in what really felt like a money dump move by the Dodgers and Puig’s numbers were so-so. Puig hit 22 HR but had a .250 average and an OPS of .777. However his behavior was from all accounts fine in Cincinnati (until his final game there when he took part in that big brawl with rival Pittsburgh). The trade to Cleveland was that of a mixed bag as well in the sense of his hitting (.297 Avg, .800 OPS and a 109 OPS+, but only 2 HR in his time with the Tribe). So it hasn’t been like Puig has fallen off or his hitting skills have dropped but more of he has not busted out like everybody imagined he would 6 years ago at this time. Is Puig still capable of having a big year? Well, yeah.
Enter the Detroit Tigers.
The last three seasons in the Motor City for baseball has been incredibly miserable. The Tigers are in a massive rebuild, after the mega contracts in the Dave Dombrowski era really handcuffed the franchise from moving forward. After the 2020 season, Jordan Zimmermann’s contract is off the books which will give the Tigers some help with their payroll to spend (hopefully). The rebuild has been slow, even for teams are in a rebuilding phase. People blame GM Al Avila for the slow pace and the trade blunders (i.e. JD Martinez, Justin Wilson, etc.) and then the “stopgap solutions” of Gordon Beckham, Josh Harrison, Tyson Ross, etc. and so far in this off-season has been more of the same (though the signings of CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop are nice given how they averaged 24 HR last year whereas the team leader in home runs was Brandon Dixon with an impressive 15 round-trippers). And the last two years Avila has made it clear about where the state of the Tigers are: rebuild.
But it is time to move forward.
The 2017-2019 Tigers are very comparable to the 2001-2003 Tigers where it was just godawful in every sense of the word including a season where they couldn’t eclipse 50 wins (last year and in 2003). Then-owner, the late Mike Ilitch said enough and opened up the checkbook to get out of the nightmarish doldrums and got star catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Yes, it didn’t turn the Tigers fortunes around right away, but it signaled things were on the up for Detroit. Three years later the Tigers were in the World Series.
I am not saying Puig is going to be Pudge 2.0 for Detroit. But signing him will also help out in a lot of ways. First off let’s say he signs.
He is in a ballpark that in summers the ball really flies out of the park, normally to the left field side. Puig has that power he could do that and be on pace for his career best by the break (I’m going to chalk up he pressed too much in Cleveland which hurt his HR tallies).
It also may rejuvenate Miguel Cabrera. When Miggy was having fun, he was the best hitter in baseball. Now Cabrera’s best days are long gone (I’m using my Ernie Harwell impression) but he could have a small renaissance at the plate but it is probably hard for him to know in April the Tigers are really out of it. Who knows, maybe Puig gives him a small jolt with his numbers, which he is standing on the cusp of 500 HR (477) and 3,000 hits (2,815).
He plays well yet the Tigers are probably eliminated from contention by the deadline. He could be moved, just as well as Cron and Schoop could be and at least land a prospect.
Lastly, the city of Detroit NEEDS something. We know the city stories of Detroit and being down for so many years, whether it is economic issues, crime, etc. But even through those times one of their four sports teams would rally the city to have the fans get behind. In the 80’s the Bless You Boys Tigers fans rallied behind with a World Championship in 84 and an amazing battle for the AL East title in 87 with Toronto while at the end of the 80’s saw the Bad Boys Pistons reign atop the NBA while the city had to endure the Lions and the Dead Wings. The 90’s saw the birth of Hockeytown and a start of nearly 2 decades of dominance by the Red Wings while the Lions were competitive with Barry Sanders while the Tigers were awful and the Pistons sputtered, re-started and sputtered again. 2000’s showed the Pistons were serious contenders as were the Wings while the Tigers recuperated in the last half and then the Lions…..eep. Now we fast-forward to today: the Lions are a joke…again or still, pending on how you look at it. The Red Wings returned to the Dead Wings as they are near the pace of having the worst season in recent memory. The Pistons are a hot mess. And the Tigers are taking their sweet old time for this rebuild to happen which at current point, they still look like a 100-loss team on paper in 2020.
Getting Puig won’t cure all ills for the Tigers and probably end up being a team still hovering around 95 losses with him. That is very evident, but I’m also tired of hearing Al Avila pretty much say “we are not going to compete this year” during Spring Training and then see Detroit get slaughtered 11-1 nightly. I know better times are ahead with the stockpiled arms of top prospects like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, an out-of-nowhere monster in Tarik Skubal, and Joey Wentz (acquired in the Shane Greene trade-and a guy I was really excited to see the Tigers get), but they are still September away from being with Detroit at the earliest.
But at least if they sign Puig the Tigers can show they have a pulse once again before the the young guns arrive. Albeit a small one.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat