On the heels of Nick Markakis’ abrupt decision to sit out the impending 60-game 2020 campaign last week, the Braves supplemented their outfield depth by signing free agent Yasiel Puig on Tuesday. It may be impossible to replace Markakis’ contributions as a veteran leader and positive clubhouse presence, but Puig certainly has the talent to provide an offensive spark and play a capable corner outfield spot in his absence. With marquee free agent acquisition Marcell Ozuna likely ticketed to occupy the newly-formed designated hitter spot due to his defensive limitations, Puig should take over as the Braves’ primary right fielder moving forward. He also projects as a middle-of-the-order fixture behind Ozuna and Freddie Freeman. His ability to fill in at either corner outfield spot and handle both right-handed and left-handed pitchers makes him an excellent fit for a Braves roster that appears to be on the precipice of emerging as one of the perennial powerhouses in the National League moving forward.
From a raw fantasy perspective, Puig’s ability to hit for power and steal bases continues to make him an extremely valuable commodity. His triple-slash lines continue to underwhelm, but with stolen base sources evaporating at an alarming rate across the league, his willingness to run gives him an extremely wide range of outcomes and exponentially increases the likelihood that he finishes the 2020 season as a top-25 fantasy outfielder. By virtually any measure, Puig joins a loaded Braves lineup on the heels of his most productive all-around offensive campaign since 2014. He launched 24 homers -- the second most of his big-league career -- over 611 plate appearances between Cincinnati and Cleveland last season. However, it’s worth noting that 22 of those round-trippers were belted over a 100-game stretch in a Reds uniform. He also managed to swipe a career-high 19 bases. To put those numbers in context, Puig was one of only 10 major-league hitters to record 20-plus homers and at least 19 thefts last year. Despite wild in-season fluctuations, he’s remained remarkably consistent from an offensive standpoint, swatting 20-plus homers and swiping at least 15 bases in three consecutive seasons; a feat matched only by Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Tommy Pham during that span.
deGrom Decision Looming
There were plenty of reasons for concern when Mets’ ace Jacob deGrom exited his latest intrasquad appearance Tuesday after only one inning due to back tightness. According to multiple reports, an MRI on the 32-year-old right-hander’s back on Wednesday didn’t reveal anything concerning. He’s being considered day-to-day for now and it’s unclear when he will resume throwing again. Mets manager Luis Rojas told reporters on Wednesday that it’s too early to speculate about his status for Opening Day, but there’s a strong possibility that the back-to-back National League Cy Young Award winner won’t be stretched out enough to take the hill against the division-rival Braves on July 24. Fantasy managers should continue to monitor deGrom’s back issue closely, but there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be able to handle a full workload over the next two months once he resumes throwing and is stretched out fully.
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Rizzo Sidelined With Rib Issue
The Cubs announced on Wednesday that an MRI on first baseman Anthony Rizzo revealed rib inflammation in his left side, which has led to lower back spasms. The 30-year-old first baseman’s back stiffened up during batting practice last weekend and caused him to skip the team’s intrasquad game on Tuesday. Cubs manager David Ross told reporters on Wednesday that it’s “still a little too early” to determine whether Rizzo will require an injured list stint, but it seems unlikely that he will be ready to play everyday once the regular season kicks off next Friday. If the veteran slugger is forced to miss any time, it would likely be Victor Caratini that takes over at first base on an interim basis. While Rizzo seems extremely unlikely to ultimately land on the 10-day injured list, it’s a situation worth monitoring closely over the next few weeks.
Luzardo To Be Limited Early
Arguably the most electrifying left-handed pitching prospect on the planet, Athletics southpaw Jesus Luzardo may not be fully unleashed as a traditional starter to open the 2020 campaign. Athletics pitching coach Scott Emerson told reporters on Wednesday that Luzardo (COVID-19) could be limited upon his return to the mound. The 22-year-old left-hander tested positive for COVID-19 at the beginning of the month, and has been unable to join the Athletics in summer camp. Emerson mentioned that his availability could be based on pitch counts and match-ups, and while he could operate as a “starter,” he likely will have limited innings at least to begin the truncated season. Even in a limited role, Luzardo offers substantial mixed-league value to fantasy managers because of his ability to miss bats at an elite rate and provide a substantial ratio boost. However, it’s looking extremely likely that his workload will be monitored and tamped down by the organization over the next few months.
Astros Relief Ace Expected To Opt Out
According to multiple reports, the Astros will be without veteran reliever Joe Smith when the regular season kicks off next week. The 36-year-old righty, who previously cited “concerns about the health and safety of his family” as the reason for his absence from Astros summer camp, has officially been placed on the teams restricted list while the organization awaits his final decision. Smith, who re-signed with the Astros for two years and $8 million this offseason, recorded a pristine 1.80 ERA with a 22/5 K/BB ratio across 25 innings of work last year. Per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Smith “has not informed the team of his final intentions.” Yet, it appears almost certain that he will become the 14th notable major-league player to opt out of the 2020 campaign, joining Buster Posey, David Price, Nick Markakis, Felix Hernandez, Ian Desmond, Mike Leake, Michael Kopech, Jordan Hicks, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, Tyson Ross, Wellington Castillo and Hector Noesi.
American League Quick Hits: Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 hip flexor strain and is unlikely to be ready to return by Opening Day. According to Rangers manager Chris Woodward, utilityman Nick Solak will likely take over in left field while Calhoun is sidelined … Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Wednesday that Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu (COVID-19) is expected to return this week … Twins outfielder Byron Buxton (foot) said Wednesday that he will be ready for Opening Day next week. The 26-year-old centerfielder was carted off the field during an intrasquad game earlier this week, but has managed to avoid a serious injury … Mariners outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez suffered an apparent wrist injury during a base running/situation play drill Wednesday … Astros right-hander Justin Verlander, who recently overhauled his delivery in an effort to minimize injury risk after dealing with groin and lat issues earlier this offseason, has been named the team’s Opening Day starter … Yankees’ left-hander James Paxton said Wednesday that the team has not approached him about a possible contract extension. The 31-year-old southpaw is slated to become a free agent next offseason … Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke indicated Wednesday that Jose Peraza will be the team’s primary starter at second base … Rangers manager Chris Woodward said Wednesday that Isiah Kiner-Falefa has the “edge” to being named the team’s starting third baseman … Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (COVID-19) has been cleared to join the team’s summer camp … Angels infielder Luis Rengifo (undisclosed) has reported to the team’s summer camp, but has not been activated from the 10-day injured list … Red Sox placed LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP Darwinzon Hernandez and LHP Josh Taylor on the 10-day injured list … Royals placed RHP Brad Keller (COVID-19) and 1B Ryan O’Hearn (COVID-19) on the 10-day injured list.
National League Quick Hits: Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura was scratched from the team’s intrasquad lineup Wednesday as a precaution due to right arm fatigue … Rockies placed outfielder Charlie Blackmon (COVID-19) on the 10-day injured list … Cubs’ lefty Jose Quintana has had the stitches removed from his left thumb and is slated to play catch Thursday … Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters on Wednesday that outfield prospect Cristian Pache is dealing with a grade-2 ankle sprain … Giants named right-hander Johnny Cueto their Opening Day starter … Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco has not been present at the team’s workouts the last two days.