In 1939 Winston Churchill described Russia’s actions as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” The Dodgers could probably describe Yasiel Puig in a similar fashion. The outfielder has been a star on the field and a headache off of it. An MVP contender and a guy who seems over-matched. Oh, and he’s still just 25.
Entering this season it was a priority of new manager Dave Roberts to get Puig back on track. Make him part of the team. Molly Knight’s The Best Team Money Can Buy described some of Puig’s issues with his Dodgers teammates. Puig was often late, traveled with an entourage, and once had his suitcase thrown into the road by Zack Greinke. A player for whom the sky was the limit couldn’t help but find himself the eye of the storm.
Despite earning a trip to the minors in 2016, Puig entered the big leagues with little minor league seasoning. At 22, less than a year after signing, he made his debut for the Dodgers. He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to José Fernández. In 104 games Puig would launch 19 home runs while hitting .319/.391/.534. This was a superstar who had emerged.
In his first full season Puig hit .296/.382/.480 and although the home run power was down—only 16 total—he was still a force at the plate. But an injury shortened 2015 and a down 2016 saw Puig hit just .258/.321/.411 over a combined 160 games. He still had home run power—18—but not the dominant skills he showed off during his first two years in Los Angeles.
As spring training was kicking off, Puig threw a wrench into the plans of Dave Roberts by suggesting that he would use a helicopter to avoid LA traffic.
Can’t do it… too “crowded”! —> The law won’t let Yasiel Puig fly to Dodger Stadium in a helicopter http://t.co/JorOnEo6D9
— Curt Deppert (@cubfancurt) February 27, 2016
An erroneous report from Ken Rosenthal about Puig being dealt at the deadline led to this moment of maturity:
— Yasiel Puig (@YasielPuig) August 2, 2016
But it was not enough. 81 games into his fourth major league season, he was headed—like the third Major League movie—back to the minors. In 14 games at Triple-A he’s hitting almost .400, has five walks and five strikeouts, and seven extra base hits out of 21. While Josh Reddick, who the Dodgers did trade for at the deadline, is having one of his worst months as a big leaguer, Puig is riding buses in the Pacific Coast League rather than flying in the team plane.
Surely a promotion must be in the cards? Not so fast. In addition to shipping the outfielder to the minors the Dodgers shipped Puig merchandise out of Dodger Stadium.
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) August 10, 2016
It’s as if the Dodgers already made their decision: If they cannot trade him now they’ll move him in the offseason.
Where could Puig land? Miami might make sense. In addition to being geographically and culturally close to Cuba, the Marlins have both Puig’s former manager Don Mattingly and a hitting coach who knows a thing or two about swinging the bat in Barry Bonds. Heck, Bonds could share stories with Puig about being the villain but getting his job done regardless. With Giancarlo Stanton out for the season—and seemingly always dealing with an unpredictable injury—Puig could provide another source of pop. Although when Jeff Francoeur is available, you probably have to jump on that deal. At least, that’s how the Marlins, trying to hang in the playoff race, looked at their situation.
Or how about the Cleveland Indians? The key here: the manager. What about Tito’s track record with big personalities? From Manny Ramirez, Kevin Millar, and David Ortiz during his time in Boston, or even players in Cleveland like Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco—who was called a “headcase” several times along the way. That’s a difficult case to argue against.
The price, however, would have to be right. That’s the tricky part. Is it possible Puig would clear waivers and become available for nothing but the remainder of this contract? With two years and less than $20 million remaining, Puig is a bargain if he plays like he did during his first couple big league seasons.
Is #puigyourfriend dependable? Is he a player that is-who-he-is and any team that wants the talent must take his unpredictable nature both on and off the field? Can he convince the Dodgers to give him one more chance? The only thing that’s clear: he belongs in the majors and the Dodgers are denying themselves help—either through a trade or simply promoting him by giving their Triple A team one more outfielder.