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Tampa Bay is the perfect place for Yasiel Puig if he wants to win

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The conventional wisdom of chasing the guaranteed at-bats may not be the best strategy in our modern game.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Today, Jon Heyman reported that the Rays have been circling on everybody’s friend: Yasiel Puig.

You might have read right here on DRaysBay dot com that Puig makes for an interesting target for the Rays.

Puig is a good player, hits right-handed, and could have a solid spot in the corner OF for the Rays. Having more good players can be tricky to balance, but that’s one of those high class problems. And while Puig is not everybody’s cup of Primos Cafecito, the Rays have been able to build a strong clubhouse culture under veteran manager Kevin Cash that players of all personalities have thrived in.

I am a Puig fan. I enjoy watching him play. I enjoy his larger than life on field personality. I have been on board the Puig to Tampa Bay train early on. But I have been a bit pessimistic of the fit as the off-season went on. Puig made a lot of sense to play the Avisaíl García role this year, but that was before Yoshi Tsutsugo, Hunter Renfroe and Randy Arozarena arrived. Now with the Rays OF rather packed, it seemed unlikely the Rays would have a chance to convince Puig to pick the Rays. But that got me thinking: maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong.

2019 ALDS Game 4 - Houston Astros v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The conventional wisdom for players looking for a pillow contract — a 1-year deal where the player gets to rebuild value before re-entering the market — is you pick a team that will give you as much playing time as possible. “Pillow” deals aren’t for chasing rings, they are for getting 500+ PA and preparing for a better go at FA the following year.

But is that too old school, and has the modern landscape of analytics changed that thinking?

Avisail Garcia turned a part time pillow contract into a $30 million contract, with $20 million guaranteed. More on that in a moment.

What the Rays can offer

Yasiel Puig’s hope of a longer term big money deal has not developed as of yet, and as a result he might be more inclined to reset and try again next year. Places that are offering a 1-year deal for a Puig-type corner OF can offer one of two things: guaranteed playing time or a winning club.

The Rays OF situation is crowded and murky, particularly as it bleeds into the infield corners due to playing time needs. It’s not impossible to crack into the lineup, and Kevin Cash has been very good at balancing playing time throughout the roster, but from the outside looking in the guaranteed playing time and at-bats are not obvious.

However, what the Rays can offer is being a part of a winning club: Playing meaningful baseball in September; being a part of a club that has a chance to go deep into October.

In years past, an agent might go nuts having a player like Puig choose a 1-year deal as part of a role or rotation on a playoff team rather than going to a spot like Detroit or Miami where he can rack up at-bats and stats. But in our modern analytically minded game, we can get a good sense of how good a player’s season was even in less than full-time role. Is a 2 win player with 300 PA on a playoff team who has a few big moments in October might be better positioned in FA than a 3-4 win player in a full time role on a bad team going nowhere but the tank? Or is there really a meaningful difference at all in the eyes of potential suitors in free agency?

And really, if there is no difference, why wouldn’t you rather choose to play for something on a team that is especially good at putting players in the best chance to succeed?

The Rays in particular can make their pitch to Puig by pointing directly to Avisaíl García.

Last year, García’s market was not hot, and he faced a similar choice to Puig: a guy who once flashed so bright, but coming off some disappointing performances looking to rebuild their value.

García faced a similar choice too: take the guaranteed bigger role on a bad team, or roll the dice as being part of the winning team? García opted for the latter and signed a 1 year $6 million deal with the Rays ($3.5 million guaranteed). García worked his way into an integral role on the team, and eventually found his way to 500+ PA anyway. He even got a big national moment smashing a mega 2-run bomb to dead center in the Wild Card game.

All that helped García earn that 2-year, $20 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason with a third year option.

That’s the pitch for Puig. How does he fit on the team right now? I can speculate, but that’s up to Cash and his coaches to figure out. The Rays can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t guarantee that Puig will start all the time, that if he struggles that he will play over the likes of Renfroe or Yoshi. He just won’t have those guarantees. What he will have is the chance to win. He will have every opportunity to earn that same García role, to become an integral part of one of the most exciting clubs in baseball.

Perhaps that pitch is enough to convince Puig that it’s time to make some new friends here in St. Pete.