Yasiel Puig Could Be Yours If You Want Him

A little while ago I asked Dave to guess off the top of his head what Yasiel Puig might get if he were a free agent this winter. Now, I didn’t tell Dave this was going to be public, so if you disagree with his estimate let’s all be nice, but he landed on one year and $6 million. What Yasiel Puig actually has left on his commitment after this year is two years and something like $14 million, plus some arbitration eligibility in 2019. So while Puig is anything but extraordinarily expensive — in baseball terms — there really is some chance he could be moved in a waiver deal. As unlikely as it is, it’s incredible we’ve gotten here at all.

The Dodgers have been trying to trade Puig. They’ve been trying for months, and now that they have Josh Reddick, Puig, who remains, is going to the minors. In part, this is about performance, and in part, this is apparently about discipline, which is hardly anything new as Puig is concerned. The discipline issues are bad enough that the Dodgers are overlooking Puig’s recently acceptable numbers. The marriage there is very clearly ending, just a few years after Puig was anointed one of the faces of the franchise.

Let’s be real — everything about Puig is fascinating, and included within “everything” is his career trajectory. He performed like an MVP-level player in 2013. He did the same again in 2014. He wasn’t widely liked then, either, but the performance took care of everything else, and Puig was a 23-year-old cornerstone. Last season, between injuries, he managed a 1.5 WAR. This season, in an equivalent amount of playing time, he’s managed a 0.5 WAR. Yasiel Puig is the same age as Wil Myers and Marcell Ozuna, yet it feels like he’s past his prime.

There’s so much you’d think would be on his side. There’s so much you’d think would make him appealing to somebody else. This is a 25-year-old under team control who’s already averaged four wins per 600 plate appearances. He is still able to hit the ball hard, he’s still able to run, and he owns one of the strongest throwing arms in the game. So he can be difficult. How many people in their younger 20s aren’t? For so many reasons, Puig feels like an obvious buy-low candidate. It’s tempting to see him as exactly that.

But Puig has been available for a while. The Dodgers have actively marketed him, expressing a willingness to sell low, and there haven’t been enough bites. It’s important to see what the Dodgers see, and indeed what the other teams see too. Puig is difficult. That’s public knowledge. It also affects his commitment to improving. The numbers have obviously slipped, and Puig doesn’t have the same body he did in his first season. Among the reasons is that he’s been on the disabled list with hamstring problems three times since the start of last year. Durability is an issue, and attention is an issue. Going beyond that, this year, Puig has struggled to do much of anything with inside pitches. His batted-ball strength when he puts the ball in the air is only about league-average. You look at the player page and you see what Puig has already been able to do before. But this player isn’t that player. The Dodgers are skeptical that player can be recovered.

They’ve tried a few different approaches, trying to get Puig to center himself. He’s had a couple different managers, and he’s been involved in countless conversations. This is a new step — Puig hadn’t been demoted to the minors before. He’s returned to the minors for rehab only, and maybe this could provide a necessary jolt. You never know exactly when things might click, and maybe now Puig will realize how much harder he needs to focus. It could conceivably work. It could also just be the Dodgers sending Puig out of sight for a while. Personalities aren’t step functions.

So we’re going to see where this goes, but I’d still bet on Puig finding his way out of the organization. There is still too much there to completely ignore. A year ago there was talk that Marcell Ozuna was a difficult presence for the Marlins. Now he’s a huge reason why they’re shooting for the playoffs. Some of the worst things I’ve heard were said about a younger Yunel Escobar, who came off as borderline unemployable. It’s not a coincidence that Escobar sort of floated around, but here we are now and he’s an everyday player, having long since surpassed 20 career WAR. He’s not great, but he’s fine, and if he’s still a difficult prick, he keeps that under the surface. If Escobar could fix his career, Puig could do the same.

Not that it’s guaranteed. If it were guaranteed, either Puig would’ve been moved by now, or the Dodgers wouldn’t have been trying to move him in the first place. The personality is the personality, and both the numbers and the body have declined. Puig’s situation is obviously very different from Josh Hamilton’s, but just in general terms there are similarities, and Hamilton at this point is nothing. The Angels couldn’t wait to get rid of him, having figured he was well past his peak. Hamilton couldn’t physically do what he’d done. Puig’s own athleticism has been reduced, and he’s never taken a consistently disciplined eye to the plate.

Puig is not out of opportunities. That much is certain. He’s too young and too interesting. At some point, someone will offer the Dodgers enough, or the Dodgers will lower their own ask. There’s some slim chance he stays, but assuming he doesn’t, I’d be interested to see Puig on the A’s. They could use the press and they could use the potential, if they figure he wouldn’t be too damaging a presence. It would also be fascinating to see Puig on the Angels, if they wanted to take a chance on career rejuvenation. He’s already popular within the market, and there aren’t too many ways to turn the 2017 Angels into a team worth watching. There won’t be a free-agent equivalent. And as long as I’m here, I have to say, I would’ve rather the Braves trade for Puig than spend $32 million to get Matt Kemp. Puig would come with half the commitment and twice the ability, and even if it didn’t work, well, a lot of things aren’t going to work. It would’ve been a better experiment. Still would be, if they could find room. It’s not like you’d have to be stuck with Puig for five years.

Not even that long ago, any team would’ve loved to be stuck with Puig for five years. The Dodgers included. Puig now is on his way to the minors, and it probably won’t be long before he’s on his way somewhere else. It’s not often you get the chance to try to acquire a player in his mid-20s with a star-level track record. It says something that such a player could be acquired at all.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

I read this whole post thinking about the Braves taking on $32 million of risk (or whatever it actually was) and thinking that I’d rather take on Puig, even at that price. I guess the problem for them (and all teams with nothing really going for them) is that if Puig is a headache on a contender, what would he be on a rebuilding team? As for contenders, who wants to take that risk?

7 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

As a Braves fan, I would say Puig is definitely worth the risk for a rebuilding team. Whats the worst thing that happens, he destroys the clubhouse and helps you get the top pick?

7 years ago
Reply to  Simba19

You’re the most glass-half-full person I’ve run across today. Congratulations.

7 years ago
Reply to  Joser

Thank you. Although I am concerned he may transform into ManBearPuig.

The Duke
7 years ago
Reply to  Simba19

The worst thing that could happen would be that he beats up his girlfriend on a road trip to Washington DC and gets suspended forcing them to trade him for a bag of broken bats and eating millions in salary

Braves already took their flyer on a Cuban hothead. Won’t be happening again any time soon

7 years ago
Reply to  The Duke

Perhaps he could choke Bryce Harper while he’s at it.