I don’t know that any franchise this off-season appeared to be more unsure of its direction than the Cincinnati Reds. I mean seriously this team went from waiving Billy Hamilton in November, to trading for a pair of former All-Stars and remaining engaged with tons of free agents as well as other teams barreling into the New Year. Clearly this franchise saw something that made them believe they could contend in a stacked NL Central.
For what its worth, I believe that the NL Central will be baseball’s premier division from a competitive standpoint in 2019. The Brewers, who won the division, got better. The Cubs, who earned a Wild Card berth, got healthier. The Cardinals, who narrowly missed the playoffs, got Goldschmidt. Even the Pirates, slated to bottom out the division this summer, return a roster who surprised many in 2018 by briefly staking a claim to contention.
With Cincinnati we see a ton of veteran talent, and some youngsters sprinkled around the edges who could very well prove to be break out stars in 2019. Guys like Luis Castillo, Jessie Winker, and Jose Peraza have all shown flashes of brilliance thus far and could show out with more opportunities slated for them in the coming campaign. But it is with Cincy that I see our first former-star potentially reaching a new height…
Hailing from Cuba, via trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Yasiel Puig has touched down in arguably the most uninspiring baseball city there is: Cincinnati. No disrespect to a franchise that proudly dawns the moniker of Major League Baseball’s inaugural team, but for a hot-blooded Cuban ball player who just spent the first six seasons of his career in the glitz and glam of Hollywood, this is hardly an exciting situation.
Puig broke on to the baseball scene with a phenomenal rookie campaign in 2013 that saw him terrorize opposing arms and tantalize fans around the country. His flashy style and over the top personality vilified him in the eyes of baseball purists but made the casual fan enamored by his ability to entertain and captivate with his antics. In every sense of the word, Yasiel Puig has proven to be baseball’s premier showman. His actions so mesmerizing and memorable that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that injuries have caused him to only play in 140 or more games twice in his career.
Still though, at age 28 he is just entering his prime as a ball player. And there’s something new at stake for the legitimate five-tool right field talent: his pride. He just got forced out of Los Angeles for minimal returns, and a chance of enticing Bryce Harper to fill his spot. If that isn’t enough of an incentive for a man nicknamed the “Wild Horse”, how about adding in the fact that for the first time in years, his playoff hopes rest squarely on his own shoulders. This isn’t a team loaded with plug-and-play superstars like the Dodgers have been for much of Puig’s tenure there. These Reds have been valiantly led, to no avail, by the sustained excellence of Joey Votto. If Puig wants to be a part of greatness, he now has to put forth the kind of stats we saw he was capable of when he exploded onto the scene 6 years ago.
If that still isn’t enough…well add in the fact that this is a contract year for him, so it’s his chance to prove he belongs in a big city on a big deal…