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Is Puig inevitable?

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The clown prince of goofballs is the perfect fit for a club that’s not trying to win games or fans in 2020.

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

First, I need to make it clear that I’m not responding to this somewhat random Henry Schulman tweet from yesterday:

Rather, I am very much finishing a post that I’ve been working on for nearly two months because I fear the Giants really are about to sign Puig and I fear it will become obsolete, and I really don’t want the little bit of work I’ve done to go to waste. I also don’t want it to count against my California AB5 freelance contributor cap number (35).

Still, maybe you don’t believe me on the “nearly two months” claim. Here’s the version history straight from our CMS:

The consensus is that the Giants aren’t going to be good or even remotely competitive in 2020, so it’ll be a year of experimentation. And yet, the Giants have been linked to at least two free agent outfielders — Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos — who are young enough that any interest in them would necessarily involve a multi-year deal to matchup with when they expect to have a competitive roster again.

But the future is unknowable and planning for it is irrational. What if the only smart thing to do in modern baseball is make moves only for short-term? But not in the Bobby Evans mold where you give away your Bryan Reynoldses for the decline phases of more expensive players — I’m talking about moves that only matter in the context of now or maybe the next few months.

It’s not about trading for a prospect who will be the next star, in other words, it’s about trading for a prospect because you want another prospect. Maybe he’ll turn into something useful. Maybe he’ll become a superstar, but the point is that you don’t tie up long-term plans and — more importantly — long-term thinking with one move or series of moves.

Free agency, then, is less about finding long-term solutions but instead short-term value. Yasiel Puig on a one-year deal sure sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

But why would the Giants’ front office entertain the possibility of signing one of the most loathed players in the history of the fandom whose personal history directly conflicts with a team legend who just left in free agency?

There are three good reasons why Zaidi, Harris, and Kapler would love to bring Yasiel Puig to the Giants:

He fits all their needs

The Giants are looking for

  • power
  • to get younger
  • retain financial flexibility

Puig has

  • a career OPS of .831 and .213 ISO at Oracle Park
  • will be 29 in 2020
  • can probably be had on a one-year or low AAV two-year deal

Teams will trade for him if he’s good

The Reds traded for Puig in part because it helped clear Homer Bailey’s contract off their books — okay, it was mostly about that — but they thought there was a chance that Puig being paired with his old hitting coach while getting to hit at the Great American Ballpark would lead to an MVP-caliber season.

That didn’t happen (.252/.302/.475 in 404 PA), but he put up enough in the power department that Cleveland still traded Trevor Bauer (by way of a bunch of prospects coming through from San Diego) for Puig, and all he did with Cleveland was hit .297/.377/.423 in 207 PA. He went to a tougher league (the AL) and a tougher park and hit better in a small sample.

The Giants might not be able to set themselves up for a bunch of Drew Pomeranz & Ray Black for Mauricio Dubon-level moves, but Puig on a low-cost short-term deal might be one of the few moves that can create a repeat of that trade in 2020.

Tormenting the fan base is Smart.

But why get Puig or any free agent, for that matter? The front office knows their team can’t compete against the best teams in the league and trying to fake-compete is a losing long-term proposition. So, while they wait for their genius and smart moves to take hold to build an organization that can pry open a sustainable two-year contention window at some point over the next 5-10 years, the individuals programming the algorithm need a diversion. If the baseball can’t be entertaining, might as well get some kicks from ticking off the fan base. Edgelording is the most efficient and legal form of public self-gratification.

Of course, there are Giants fans who do like Yasiel Puig and the loose and stupid way he plays. My guess would be that the split is more 70-30 against, but that 30% for any move the front office makes have a point in this case. Puig has been productive. The smart fans will get it. And if Zaidi, Harris, and Kapler are ever going to make the Giants theirs, then they’ll need to start fresh. Hose out that Sabean musk and burn all the pitch to contact arms and just make contact bats to setup the best analytics and 21st century thinking.

A trade of Bumgarner and Vogt for Puig and Kapler would be the best way to tell the fan base that they’re not in control anymore (if they ever really were). I’m all for denying people fanservice. Besides, while people stay mad at them for adding Yasiel Puig, they’ll be less mad about everything else going on with the team. Stuff like trades and DFAs of popular players and a whole helluva lot of losing.

But there’s still a very good chance that another team offers Puig a multi-year deal or AAV that makes the Giants uncomfortable. It wouldn’t take a large number in either scenario to scare away rational thinkers, and just for comparison’s sake, Didi Gregorious, a 30-year old shortstop coming off Tommy John surgery and a half season line of .238/.276/.441 (344 PA) got a one-year pillow contract of $14 million from the Phillies. Puig dropped 20 points of OPS+ fro 2018 to 2019 despite hitting in Great American Ballpark and $14 million or so could eat into that payroll flexibility the Giants are determined to maintain for other types of deals.

So, while this would seem like a decent move in a lot of ways, it’s not a perfect fit. But then again, we don’t really know what the Giants deem to be a perfect fit these days, and when it comes down to the 2020 season, throwing warm bodies on the field who have a vague idea of what they’re doing might be the only goal.

Happy New Year!