Free Agent Yasiel Puig 'Not A Priority' For Tigers -- But He Should Be

Should Detroit take a flier on the former All-Star?

Will Burchfield
January 24, 2020 - 3:00 pm

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports


The Tigers aren't done shopping for free agents. That much seems clear after Al Avila and Ron Gardenhire addressed the media Thursday at the start of the team's winter caravan. 

They'd like to add another arm or two. More importantly, they'd like to find a corner outfielder with a bat. The right field job has been up for grabs since the departure of Nicholas Castellanos. 

"We’ve been working since the season ended, talking about anybody that can make us better and give us more depth. Al is still working at it," said Gardenhire. "He’s still searching and talking to people, so I would guess before spring training starts that we might add a guy or two. Nothing’s imminent, but they’ve got a lot of lines out there." 

Will they call Yasiel Puig? 

“He’s a free agent,” Avila acknowledged. “But for us, at this point, it’s not a priority.”

Okay -- but should they call Yasiel Puig?

He boasts the best track record of the remaining free agent outfielders, and he could likely be had on the cheap. One year for less than $10 million? That's within the Tigers' means. Puig's offense has declined in recent years, but he still posted 24 homers and .785 OPS last season, both of which would have ranked first on the Tigers. 

Moreover, Puig plays with electricity. That part of his game hasn't faded at all. He'd be a source of excitement for a fanbase that desperately needs it. The Tigers saw a drop in attendance last season for the sixth year in a row, down to 25th in the majors -- their lowest ranking since 2003. Puig would put some more butts in the seats. 

If he put up numbers, too, the Tigers could flip him at the deadline for another piece to their rebuild. The Reds packaged Puig in the deal last season that helped them land Trevor Bauer. 

'No More Gimmes' For Tigers In 2020: 'It's Time To Win'

The Tigers would prefer a left-handed bat. They've already added two right-handed hitters to the middle of the order in C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. Someone like Matt Joyce, who would cost less than Puig, might make more sense. 

But Joyce isn't selling many extra tickets. Neither are Cron and Schoop, for that matter. Puig might raise some behavioral concerns, something the Tigers are surely taking into account in a clubhouse full of young players, but his problem-child reputation is mostly a thing of the past. He became a clubhouse favorite last year in Cincinnati. 

In Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers have the right manager to harness Puig's free spirit. You can almost hear Gardenhire now: Just let that Wild Horse run. Puig, by the way, was one stolen base shy of the 20-20 club last year, a club to which just nine big-leaguers belonged. He remains a unique talent. 

"I don’t know if it’s about the price, it’s just a matter of the fit. And does it block anybody (in the system)," Avila said of the team's outfielder search. "Right now, we’re actually wrestling with that. We’ve been talking to some agents, so I can't say we're definitely going to sign a guy but we’re looking into it. If it makes sense, we will do it."

There isn't an outfielder in the Tigers' system that should preclude them from signing a player like Puig. Travis Demeritte wasn't up to snuff when he got his shot in right last season. Victor Reyes, the right fielder in residence, could just as soon replace JaCoby Jones in center or Christin Stewart in left. The Tigers will give Troy Stokes Jr. and Jorge Bonifacio a look this spring, and that's sort of the point. 

If those are your best options, and if it's truly 'time to win' in 2020, why not take a run at Puig? 

At the very least, he'd be a reason to watch.