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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.

This Day in Transaction History: Padres pawn off James Shields

James Shields
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For a few years, starter James Shields was quite dominant. From 2011-14 with the Rays and Royals, the right-hander made a minimum of 33 starts each season with a 3.17 ERA. He peaked in ’11, finishing with a 2.82 ERA and finishing third in American League Cy Young balloting.

Shields leveraged that 2011-14 run into a four-year, $75 million contract with the Padres, inked in February 2015. It wasn’t an outright disaster of a contract for the Padres, but Shields did not live up to expectations. In his first year with the Padres, he posted a 3.91 ERA. Through the first two months of the 2016 season, Shields allowed 32 earned runs over 67 1/3 innings. The Padres, however, scored only 22 runs in his 11 games, so he was 2-7 after 11 starts. Shields also gave up one of the more memorable home runs in recent history on May 7, 2016:

On June 4, the Padres moved Shields and $27 million of the $58 million remaining on his contract to the White Sox. The White Sox gave up pitcher Erik Johnson and an infield prospect named Fernando Tatís Jr.

If the White Sox had a do-over button, they would have pressed it. Shields, 34 at the time of the trade, had a disastrous rest of the 2016 season, posting a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts for the White Sox. He finished out the remainder of his contract in Chicago, registering a 5.23 ERA in 2017 and a 4.53 ERA in ’18. Shields went into free agency but went unsigned and hasn’t pitched since.

Johnson flamed out after the 2016 season, yielding 20 runs in 19 2/3 innings in four starts for the Padres. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and spent the ’18 campaign between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso.

Tatís, as we know now, was the jewel of the trade. The White Sox signed Tatís as a 16-year-old as a free agent. A year later, before he ever appeared in a professional game in the White Sox organization, he was moved in a big trade. While it took him a couple of years to appear on top-100 prospect lists, his talent was readily apparent. In 2017, Tatís spent most of his season with Single-A Fort Wayne. He accrued 26 doubles, 21 homers, 29 stolen bases, 69 RBI, and 78 runs scored in 518 trips to the plate. Going into the 2018 season, Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus each ranked him among the top-10 prospects in the game.

Tatís was off to another great start in 2018. Through 88 games, he had a .286/.355/.507 line with 22 doubles, 16 homers, 16 stolen bases, 43 RBI, and 77 runs scored spanning 394 plate appearances. Sadly, in mid-July, Tatís broke his left thumb and suffered ligament damage while making a head-first slide. He recovered from the injury, playing in the Dominican Winter League and having another strong performance over 23 games. Tatís followed that up with a productive spring training, giving the Padres only one choice. He began the season on the Opening Day roster and jumped out to become one of baseball’s best players.

Over his first 84 games as a major leaguer, Tatís batted .317/.379/.590 with 13 doubles, six triples, 22 home runs, 16 steals, 53 RBI, and 61 runs scored over 372 plate appearances. Baseball Reference put him at 4.1 Wins Above Replacement. Sadly, similar to 2018, Tatís suffered a season-ending injury, a stress reaction in his lower back. At the time, he was neck-and-neck with Pete Alonso and Mike Soroka in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The injury allowed Alonso to win the award in a landslide while Tatís finished third.

While the White Sox would have loved to have Tatís at third base, they did end up finding some quality players in Yoán Moncada at the hot corner and Tim Anderson at shortstop. The White Sox and their young corps are close to being competitive again, but having Tatís in tow certainly would have sped up the process. And the Padres likely never would have gotten Tatís if they hadn’t inked Shields first.