Marlins are talking to Yasiel Puig

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A few years ago the notion of Yasiel Puig‘s free agency seemed kinda fun and exciting. You could picture people arguing about whether giving him big bucks was a good idea. Whether the great production was worth the circus.

These days he’s nowhere near a first-tier free agent, his 2019 season was — with the exception of one early-season bit of chaos — kind of quiet, and his lack of production has rendered this offseason almost completely devoid of Puig chatter.

Jon Heyman breaks that silence today by reporting that the Miami Marlins met with Puig this week. Heyman says the club has also talked to Avisaíl García, Corey Dickerson and Kole Calhoun. Again, not the kind of company you would’ve figured Puig would be keeping in his eventual free agent market, but a lot has happened over the years.

As for that production, Puig hit a mere .252/.302/.475 (92 OPS+) for the Reds before being traded to the Indians. Once in Cleveland his performance improved — he hit .297/.377/.423 (109 OPS+) — but it was definitely a down year overall. Certainly a step down from his performance for the Dodgers in 2017-18, when he was increasingly platooned but productive when he did play, and many steps down from the kinds of things he did when he first burst on the big league scene as a superstar in 2012-13.

Then, of course, there was the legacy he authored in Los Angeles. He was never as bad as his worst critics tended to portray him. Indeed, given that he was portrayed as literally putting fans’ lives at risk, such a thing would be impossible. A more sober, and better-reported deep dive into his time in Los Angeles revealed that Puig was generally liked by most of his teammates and club officials, even if he could be exasperating. Which meant that most of his problems weren’t personal, they were professional. Puig was a frustrating teammate who failed to take full advantage of his potential and failed to take coaching advice. The knock on him being a team cancer was overstated, but his stubbornness and belief in his physical skills and resistance to playing smarter rather than simply playing harder turned him into an often unreliable underachiever, and that can be even worse when a guy is being counted on.

So here we are. The Marlins, one of the least desirable free agent destinations in the game, is his first primary suitor of the offseason. At 29, Puig is certainly capable of bouncing back and, perhaps, turning into a free agent bargain for either Miami or someone else. But one also suspects that, barring a big change in his approach, this could be the last time he’s spoken of as a player in which anyone is all that interested.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.