Direct and at ease, his countenance at once representative and antipodal, an air of confrontation peeking through his face, Yasiel Puig stares back from the cover of the 2019 Cincinnati Reds Yearbook Magazine. His gaze is sure and unwavering, his mouth set in a Mona Lisa line betraying just a hint of a secret, his powerful shoulders ever-so-slightly forward leaning, arms crossed atop the knob of his powerful bat, guns at-the-ready, his message clear, unmistakable: I’m here to do damage.

From the moment he arrived this winter, stocking-capped on the frozen concrete of Crosley Terrace, ready to do battle with the polar vortex as if it were just another National League Central opponent, he’s owned this town. He’s wooed the organization and the city the way John Cusack once wooed Ione Skye. Whether it’s hanging out with the kids at the Reds Youth Academy, singing the praises of fellow Cuban Tony Perez, who in Puig’s words, “helped me a lot with the way to play baseball,” or playing the bat whisperer, entreating it with words and tongue to give him “something good” in the moment, the Wild Horse will do anything, say anything.

The irony is that while the enigmatic Puig has been anything but in his short stay in the Queen City, it’s Alex Wood who’s been the inscrutable one. Hidden away in rehab and baseball back fields by the curse of a recalcitrant back, Wood remains an apparition to Reds fans heading into his July 28 opening day, a handful of Goodyear photographs the only proof he is a Cincinnati Red. His performance—good or bad—will tell us very little about who he is now or who he will be going forward.

To reveal the unvarnished Wood, to get the raw facts and figures of the man who the Reds hoped to be a major part of a resurgent pitching staff, one must retreat to the Interwebs, to Baseball Reference for knowledge.

A 28-year old lefthanded starting pitcher, Robert Alexander Wood—uninspiringly nicknamed “Woodman”—was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Georgia by the Atlanta Braves. Quick to the majors, he began logging serious innings in 2014 before being traded to the Dodgers in 2015 and became an All Star two seasons later.

Late last season, having logged 27 starts for Los Angeles, he was unceremoniously sent to the bullpen following a bad outing at GABP, the Reds having battered him for 8 hits, banishing him from the game before he could complete 4 innings. Following the All Star break, Wood had posted a 3.17 ERA in 9 starts, but had either fallen in disfavor with the Dodgers brain trust or was simply a victim of organizational depth or circumstance.

The trade that brought Puig and Wood, et al., to the Reds and sent Homer Bailey and prospects to the Dodgers was about financial flexibility and prospect depth on one side—and hope for a better 2019 on the other. Many have suggested the Reds—losing sight of the leaders post-All Star break—could now deal Puig, Wood or Tanner Roark to replenish some of the depth that was lost when Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray were sent off to Hollywood in supporting roles to marquee names.

But the game keeps evolving and the value of certain types of players keeps changing. Free agents to be at the end of this season, Puig and Wood are rental players, and rental players are no longer held in high regard. For example, at the last two deadlines, rental players J.D. Martinez and Manny Machado each failed to bring top 100 prospects in return.

So, rather than sell erstwhile Dodger gelt for little return, they should keep them for the rest of the season, reward fans and try to add wins while building a sense of momentum heading into 2020.

Wood has been a shadow for obvious reasons, but even Puig’s presence in town feels like a way station on his inevitable journey to a bigger stage. To prevent the Wild Horse from saddling up and heading off, keeping Yasiel in red until season’s end could send a signal to an emotional player that yes, he is seen as the future of this franchise.

Of course, it will take more than emotion to keep Puig in Cincinnati.

So much money comes off the Reds’ books at the end of the season. That, and the continued development of Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, the rehabilitation of Sonny Gray, and the arrival of Nick Senzel should provide the impetus for the ownership group to finally spend big money, while protecting prospects at all cost. Re-signing Puig is only the beginning, as the Reds have needs at shortstop, centerfield or second base, depending on what is done with Senzel, and perhaps even catcher.

The Reds still need pitching to go along with Castillo, who in my opinion hasn’t shed the training wheels. That’s not a knock on Castillo, but a realization that if the Reds want to do more than contend for a wildcard spot in 2020, they need to continue building their pitching staff at the top if they hope to match up favorably with the Dodgers, who stand in the way of anyone hoping to represent the National League in the World Series for the foreseeable future. #GetThePitching shouldn’t have been a mantra for one season, only to be now deemed mission accomplished. It should be the mantra at each season’s end, as pitching remains the most important cog of a baseball team—and the most fickle.

And because you can’t have too much pitching, I’d heed Chad Dotson’s advice in a recent Cincinnati Magazine article and attempt to sign Alex Wood to a team friendly contract, reap the benefits of the drop in Wood’s value and hope he returns to form, which feels like a #2 guy in most rotations.

But back to Puig. There are plenty of OLD right fielders who are free agents this winter. Settling for a 35-year old Jon Jay or 36-year old Nick Markakis is not the kind of move you make when the market for young right fielders is thin and you already have one in Puig, who will be 29 in 2020.

People are eager to declare trade winners and losers—and the Reds surrendered valuable prospects in Downs and Gray. But, if the Reds can keep Puig and Wood in the fold, the Reds may find themselves big winners when all is said and done.

The transition from Dodger Blue to Cincinnati Pantone 199 has always felt temporal, fleeting. Here’s hoping that by next season at this time, The Wild Horse and the Woodman remain in Cincinnati and have the rest of the National League Central seeing Red.

10 Responses

  1. Joel Mckee

    I would bet that with O ‘Grady, Aquino, Van Meter, Senzel, and later in the 2020 season, Trammel, we can do better than Puig, at least offensively. I would be okay issuing a qualifying offer, however. We do need to find out what we have in these guys.

  2. I-71_Exile

    Love the Pantone 199 reference. Well written piece Richard. I’d love to see both stay—especially Wood if he makes it through the rest of the year.

    • Phil

      In 2017 and 2018 Puig had an 827 OPS and 120 wRC+
      In March/April of this year: 580 OPS and 43 wRC+
      In May of this year: 737 OPS and 88 wRC+
      In June: 950 OPS and 139 wRC+
      In July: 933 OPS and 137 wRC+

      From May 1st through yesterdays game: 866 OPS and 120 wRC+
      Almost identical to his 2017-2018 numbers.
      I’d feel safe assuming his numbers over the next couple seasons would like similar to that.

  3. Don

    Well written piece and fun to read.

    I would agree with Pete unless the owners are going to start going above league average for payroll (add $20 mil to the 2019 payroll), the $20 mil for Puig should be spent on pitching.

  4. Richard Fitch

    I will persuade you–eventually. Resistance is futile, Pete.

    I agree that numbers are [sometimes] made for manipulation. Which is why I like to look at a broad set of numbers. Puig’s career OPS+ is 124, yet you insist on clinging to 4 months of numbers. Hmmmm.

    You’re unwilling to consider taking the gamble on Puig, but you will on Aquino, who has produced nothing at the major league level. You’re more than happy to gamble on 76 games of AAA numbers while ignoring his uninspiring 2017-18 AA numbers.

    Seems like a disconnect here.

    Signing Puig is a risk, yes. But so is expecting Phillip Ervin to suddenly figure out how to hit right-handers, who start in approx. 70% of games.

    The free agent market the last 2 years has been hard on position players. He’s unlikely to get a huge offer from someone else. And who among the big markets will the Reds be bidding against? The Yankees already have plenty of thump in their lineup with Judge, Encarnacion, Stanton, Torres, LeMahieu, etc. The Yankees need starting pitching.

    The Cubs stood pat this winter because they’ve already spent a ton on free agents and Ricketts has said “enough.”

    The Dodgers aren’t bringing Puig back. The Giants are starting a rebuild. The RedSox have blown way past the luxury tax this season. The Indians are cutting payroll.

    This seems like a fine time to get a 28-year old slugger with a big outfield arm at a reasonable price in a year when there aren’t a lot of other options out there.

    I don’t get it.

    • Richard Fitch

      Pete, I said nothing about locking up Puig now to a contract. He’s not doing that. He’s made every indication he wants to test the market and will. I believe keeping him thru the end of the season is a goodwill gesture to him and the fans, who would like to see some competitive baseball in August and September and might help swing him to stay in Cincinnati if the ownership group makes a competitive offer.

      Again, if Manny Machado can’t bring back much as a rental, you’re fooling yourself if you think Puig will. If you’re sure the Puig we’ve seen the first 3 months of the season is the Puig we’ll see in the future, what makes you think other GMs will think differently? Again, a disconnect.

      If VanMeter can play his way into the lineup with Puig here, so can Aquino and Ervin–if they are good enough.

  5. SteveLV

    I’d really like to see Aquino get 40 starts this year. It would be a small sample size issue, but at least could categorize into a couple of buckets – (1) he looks overmatched or (2) he looks like he has a shot at being a solid starter. Not saying it should be his only shot, but am saying that much information could be valuable. I’ll admit, I don’t know how to pull that off with Senzel, Ervin, Winker, and Puig all there.

    On Wood, seems like the medical staff should have high priority input. The dude can pitch when he can pitch. Question is, can he take the mound? Seems disruptive to count on him if he can’t really be counted on. If they think he will be healthy, then great.

  6. David

    Panic in pinstripes! What will happen tomorrow?

    Stay tuned!

    And no, I don’t want to sign Puig to a long term contract. I just don’t get it.

  7. Goat

    Let them offer a qualifying offer. Puig will turn it down and test the market. After riding out the winter and realizing nobody will pay what he demanded then he will accept an offer for much less than what he anticipated.
    My main objective this offseason would be to lock up Sood for 3-5 years. After locking up Wood I Would put all of my efforts into locking up Jose Iglesias yo a long term deal.
    Right now I would focus on trading Raisel Iglesias if the return is acceptable. I would then be willing to trad Winker for some pitching. Winker is too slow and plays poorly defensively. He would make a decent designated hitter but not an outfielder.
    Your outfield for next year would of then consist of a Phil Ervin, Van Meter, Senzel, Aquino, with Oeraza being used sparingly, along with h a possible free agent.
    I would also focus now on trying to unload Jared Hughes b cause his performance is diminishing quickly.
    Don’t trade Scooter but offer him a contract now. His value is low but the numbers should improve by next year after the groun injury he had.
    After longterming Iglesias and Wood. and letting a Puig leave for free agency they will still hav a significant amount of payroll to acquire another outfielder along with some decent bullpen help.
    After longterming Wood the Reds should then may a three great offer for 36/39 million to Tanner Roark.