The Seattle Mariners and Yasiel Puig: Yes, No, Maybe?

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 25: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Cincinnati Reds bats during a spring training game against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Stadium on February 25, 2019 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)
PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 25: Yasiel Puig #66 of the Cincinnati Reds bats during a spring training game against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Stadium on February 25, 2019 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images) /

The Seattle Mariners will have their first full-squad workout today but that doesn’t mean the team should be done adding to its camp.

The 2020 Seattle Mariners got worse last week with the announcement that Mitch Haniger had another surgery that will likely cause him to miss a significant portion of the 2020 season. We don’t know how long that actually means, but it is difficult to feel too good about seeing Haniger before the end of June.

But while the team is worse without Haniger, Seattle isn’t trying to sell anybody on the idea that they’ll be trying to squeeze every last win out of this roster. Wins aren’t the goal of 2020, at least not in the first 3 months of the season. This season will be about the development of young players and beginning the process to find out who could be a part of the next winning team for your Mariners.

But while the season is about the youth movement, the Mariners must be careful not to rush the youth to the big leagues. While it is tempting to place Logan Gilbert in the opening day rotation, there is no logical reason to do so. Asking any player to compete at the big league level before they have the necessary tools to do so is how you end up with Mike Zunino‘s on your roster (no offense to Mike of course).

The loss of Haniger opens up an already light outfield early in the season for Seattle. For much of the off-season, we assumed that the starting outfield would be something to the effect of Kyle Lewis, Mallex Smith, and Haniger, with either Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, or a low-cost veteran acting as the 4th outfielder.

Now we know that Haniger won’t be in the mix for a while, meaning that Seattle’s outfield could have 2 spots that will need to be filled with players who may not be quite ready to compete in the big leagues.

The team added a few veterans, Carlos Gonzalez and Collin Cowgill, but neither is likely to help the team for a few months, and neither will have any value come June or July. That may be fine, but there are other options available who, A. can provide MLB value for months and gain trade value and, B. is still young enough to play their way into the plans of Seattle.

And, of course, you know by now I am speaking of Yasiel Puig. The former Dodger, Reds, and Cleveland outfielder, Puig is the best bat still available in free agency with very little reported interest at the moment.

Puig is 29-years-old and carries a nice bat along with his big personality. In his career, he has posted a .277/.348/.475 slash line, good for a 111 wRC+ in 861 games played. Puig has also hit 23 or more home runs in each of the past 3 seasons, with steal totals of 15, 15, and 19 respectively.

Puig’s batted ball data shows he is still a solid hitter, ranking in the 67th percentile in exit velocity and the 50th percentile in hard-hit %. Puig also still has above-average speed, landing in the 79th percentile in sprint speed.

Defensively, Puig ranges from below-average to average. In 2019, Puig 1200+ innings in right field and posted a 0 Outs Above-Average, or OAA, which is league average. In fact, Puig got 275 attempts in right field, with an expected catch percent of 84%. He caught 84%. So he got to the balls he should have.

Puig isn’t going to win a gold glove, but he will make the routine plays and is still very good at making plays on balls he has to charge. Puig takes good routes but has slow reactions off the bat and it can take him some time to get into full speed.

Puig is, at worst, a player that offers an average bat and glove, with above-average speed and a great arm. He is looking for a one year deal, won’t cost significant money, and has been traded twice in the past year, showing he does have some trade value.

Puig also brings a big personality and isn’t afraid to talk some smack, slide hard into bases, flip his bat, or throw down if needed. Seattle hasn’t shown much interest in these “firey” types of players, but a little personality in the clubhouse could help.

Of course, if Seattle believes that Fraley, Lewis, and/or Bishop are ready to start 100+ games at the big league level, or they are concerned about Puig in the clubhouse, they wouldn’t have much interest in Puig. And thus far, they haven’t been marginally linked to him.

But Puig is a player who can help the Mariners until Haniger returns or Lewis shows he can put up a respectable OBP against big-league arms and could play his way into a longer-term spot in Seattle. In short, he could be their offensive version of Taijuan Walker.

Next. Don't assume Walker is one-and-done. dark

There are valid points to be made on both sides of this discussion. The “let the young kids play” argument is valid. So is the “protect the youth from overexposure” argument. Puig may just represent the divide between these two sides. He’s good enough to be intriguing but not good enough to stop people from dreaming about a breakout season from their favorite prospects, regardless of how unlikely it is.