Reality Check: The price for Puig
Would you trade Yasiel Puig for Matt Kemp ?
Among the many hypotheticals thrown our way during a typical Fantasy Baseball Today (weekdays, LIVE @ noon ET) episode, this one seemed innocuous enough, yet when presented with it on Monday's show, I hesitated and recognized how drastically it could alter a Fantasy owner's fate.
On the surface, yes, trading Puig, who I have 43rd among outfielders in my rest-of-season rankings, for Kemp, who I have 20th, seems automatic. But I say that as someone on the outside looking in, as one who won't have to live with the consequences of Kemp never rediscovering his stroke or of Puig continuing to terrorize the league.
Is either of those scenarios the most likely one for that player? My guess is no, which is why I rank Puig and Kemp the way I do, but neither is the kind of predication I can make with 99 percent assurance. It's more like 60-40.
Which brings me to the broader question concerning Puig: Now what?
Let's say you have him. I'll get to if you don't in a minute, but for now, he's yours. You beat everyone else to him and have relished every moment since. The easy response would be to just plug him into your lineup and let him do his thing.
But would that be for the best?
Since your mad dash to the waiver wire, Puig's value has escalated. He's gotten off to an impossibly hot start, becoming just the second player since 1900 to hit four home runs in his first five games as a pro. But the numbers don't tell the whole story. The timing of his feats -- from the game-tying three-run homer June 4 to the grand slam that cushioned the Dodgers' one-run lead Thursday to the game-tying solo shot just one day later, not to mention all the game-changing, highlight-reel assists from right field -- has elevated him to almost mythical status.
In short, you aren't the only one relishing every moment. Everyone else sees what's going on with Puig and can't help but think, "Man, I wish ..."
Which is, of course, the perfect recipe for a sell-high candidate.
Now, here's where it get tricky: What if Puig really is this good -- or, perhaps more applicable, what if he's really this good this soon?
I wouldn't even entertain the possibility if not for Mike Trout last year. Before him, the assumption for any rookie who took the league by storm in his first few weeks on the job was that he'd inevitably meet with an adjustment period that would bring his numbers down to size. He may overcome it soon enough to finish the year among the best at his position, but he'd bring a certain level of frustration to those who owned him in Fantasy -- and without any real assurances.
Yes, before Trout, rookies who could not only help a Fantasy team, but carry it, came along once every generation, like Albert Pujols .
|Player Name||% change|
|1.||Gerrit Cole , SP, Pirates||46|
|2.||Kyle Blanks , OF, Padres||31|
|3.||Tony Cingrani , SP, Reds||30|
|4.||Anthony Rendon , 2B, Nationals||27|
|5.||Carlos Quentin , OF, Padres||26|
|6.||Adam Lind , 1B, Blue Jays||22|
|7.||Bartolo Colon , SP, Athletics||18|
|8.||Jose Iglesias , SS, Red Sox||17|
|9.||Ryan Doumit , C, Twins||16|
|10.||Jason Marquis , SP, Padres||16|
So maybe Trout just so happens to be this generation's Pujols -- i.e., a beautiful, freakish aberration. It stands to reason. But Puig is doing his best to suggest otherwise. Unlike Trout, who struggled to the tune of a .220 batting average in his first taste of the majors back in 2011, Puig has only thrived against major-league pitching so far, carrying his .517 batting average and 1.328 OPS from spring training into his first week as a pro. And unlike most rookies, he most likely already has some experience against upper-level competition from his playing days in Cuba.
Why couldn't he be that rare case of lightning striking twice, living up to all the Bo Jackson comparisons by delivering the kind of numbers that shake up the standings? It's a relative long shot, judging by all the rookies who've come before him, but for some Fantasy owners, that long shot is all they have.
At 4-6 or 3-7, they're close to dropping out of the playoff picture and on the verge of not even caring anymore. They don't need just another good player to get them back in the race. The need a miracle of Mike Trout proportions. And now, with Puig, they have hope.
Unless someone in their league is so enamored with Puig's potential that he's willing to give up a stud hitter like Edwin Encarnacion or Adrian Beltre or a true ace like Justin Verlander or (as one person on Twitter suggested might actually be a possibility) Adam Wainwright , they're not going to find that same hope on the trade market.
So while in a vacuum, trading Puig for someone more assured like Alex Rios , Ian Desmond or Billy Butler makes almost too much sense, in certain situations, it's the equivalent of looking a gift horse in the mouth.
The same would apply if you don't own Puig but have a chance to trade for him. I had such a chance with a similarly unproven Trout in the Podcast Listeners' League at this time last year when host/producer Adam Aizer, owner of the first-place team, marketed him for pitching.
Off to a miserable start at 3-7, I offered Matt Moore , who wasn't quite as established as he is now. In terms of risk-reward, he was something like this year's R.A. Dickey -- a pitcher whose big potential is shrouded in inconsistency. (It's not the cleanest comparison, but you get the idea.) Adam accepted.
I didn't know if Trout was the answer at the time, but I had a pretty a good idea Moore wasn't. I needed a miracle, so instead of clinging to my occasional ace just because he was one of the few commodities I had, I decided to put my faith in the 20-year-old wunderkind who, as little as he offered in the way of track record, at least came with the assurance that someday he's supposed to be good.
Of course, by then it was too late. In a league where only four teams advanced to the playoffs, I had dug myself into a deeper hole than even Trout could pull me out of. But at least I made a game out of it. With Trout, my team was immeasurably better.
And Adam? Well, he can't complain too much. He went on to win the league -- with some help from Moore, of course. That's not to say he wouldn't have won if he had held on to Trout, but because he accomplished his ultimate objective, I doubt he regrets the move.
Which says something about the way the other half should treat Puig.
Teams already in good shape shouldn't have to resort to miracles to claim the title. If you buy into the idea that Puig is more likely to emerge as an above-average-to-good mixed-league outfielder than a one-man wrecking crew as a rookie, then why take the chance of him being anything less? Instead, take this opportunity, while his value has peaked, to pawn him off to someone else in search of a miracle, getting back something far better than you could ever hope to find on waivers, like a Rios, Desmond or Butler.
What happens after then is inconsequential. If Puig continues to Hulk out on the rest of the league and the other guy ends up "winning" the deal, who cares? You probably locked up the title by making the trade, and keeping Puig wouldn't have accomplished more than that. It only would have exposed you to more risk.
It's sort of like a retirement plan. The closer you get to the goal, the less risk you want to take.
Puig is risk -- risk of regression, with risk of demotion attached to that regression. Because of that, he's more valuable to the teams with the least to lose and the most to gain.
What about those in between -- the owners of the 5-5 and 6-4 teams? Whether you're a seller or buyer of Puig ultimately comes down to the direction you think your team is headed, the alternatives you already have and, of course, what you'd be getting or giving in return. Risk or no risk, nobody's suggesting you dump Puig. Even the owner of an 8-2 team is looking to sell high on him, settling for nothing less than a player he can expect to start every week. Likewise, nobody's suggesting you offer up a Carlos Gonzalez or Prince Fielder for Puig, requiring him to meet the full extent of his potential just to recoup your losses.
Naturally, asking too little or giving too much for Puig isn't the answer, so if you're not comfortable with the direction your negotiations take, your best bet is to sit on him and wait.
Which brings us back to Kemp. He presents a high degree of risk himself, so I'm not sure I'd ever be comfortable acquiring him in a deal. I suppose I have more faith in him meeting his best-case scenario than Puig, but unless I was already running away with the league, I think I'd have more to lose than gain by pulling the trigger on this deal now.
Two weeks from now, we'll only have a better idea of Puig's true value, and two weeks from now, Kemp might still be hurt.
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