Historically speaking, a 24-year old outfielder who can hit for power, run the bases, and is a highly-regarded defender, would be considered a franchise player. A player who posts a 4.1 WAR rookie season and a 5.3 WAR sophomore campaign is typically an untouchable asset. In the case of Yasiel Puig however, that may not be what the future holds. After reports about Puig’s ongoing issues within the Los Angeles Dodgers’ locker room, the tantalizingly talented yet often erratic Cuban may be on the trade block. This report, in addition to his well-known antics on the field that have annoyed fans and players both outside and inside the Dodgers’ organization could be the last straw in the Puig era for LA.
The Dodgers are currently in first place in the National League West with a record of 51-39. They sit 4 1/2 games in front of the rival San Francisco Giants, but with a MLB high payroll of $266 million, that’s not overwhelmingly impressive. While Puig’s salary this season of $6.2 million is diminutive in comparison to fellow underperforming outfielders Carl Crawford ($21.5 million) and Andre Ethier ($18 million), his play this season warrants concern.
Never mind the fact that Puig has missed 47 games this season due to a lingering hamstring issue, that’s the lesser of the issues with his body. After putting on a gargantuan amount of weight between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Puig appears to have put on a few more pounds this season. Seriously, go take a look at pictures of him from 2013 vs. now. He looks like he put on the freshman 15 except he’s not a freshman and instead of 15 pounds it looks more like 30. And let’s put it this way, that weight isn’t in his quads or biceps. Need proof of this? Puig has only attempted three steals thus far this season (and has converted only once) and his infield hit percentage is down to 5.6%, well below the 11.6% he posted in his previous two campaigns.
But before we get too deep into Puig’s declining numbers, let’s go back to that little tidbit mentioned earlier about his locker room issues. The story in questions is in regards to an incident back in 2013 where Zach Greinke and Puig got into it over who was and wasn’t allowed on a team flight home. There was another incident thrown in there at some point as well, but long story short, the two still haven’t really worked out their issues. That’s a problem for the Dodgers.
Take this play for example. This play, which occurred just three days before this All-Star break is perhaps Puig’s best defensive play of the season. He throws an absolute dart to second base to nail an unsuspecting Aramis Ramirez on what appeared to be an easy double. What this replay does not show however is that after the inning ended, every single Dodger player greeted Puig at the dugout entrance with a fist-bump, high-five, shaka, or whatever it is they do out there in LA. The lone exception however? Greinke, who did not move a muscle from his spot on the bench or even glance in Puig’s direction to congratulate him.
For LA fans who still reminisce on the Shaq-Kobe Laker days, this is much different. Baseball is nowhere near the star-driven sport that basketball is. Sure Shaq and Kobe were able to coexist for three titles’ worth of highlight reel basketball, but the divide in the Dodger locker room created by Puig and Greinke resembles that of the San Andreas fault line.
So we’ve covered Puig’s physical and locker room issues, leaving his detrimental play to round out this column.
To be fair, Puig has encountered some bad luck this season. Beyond just his bothersome left hamstring, the ball just hasn’t quite been falling for Puig the same way it did in his first two seasons. Puig’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is at .313, well below his .358 career average in that category. This, in spite of the fact that his line drive rate (LD%) is actually up to 22.4% this season, well above the 14.8% he posted in a stellar 2014.
That’s where the problems begin for Puig however. Despite hitting more line drives, Puig’s softly hit ball percentage has soared to 20.0%. Directly correlated to that is Puig’s career-low ISO of .168. Throw in the fact that he is striking out more and walking less and he has become something of a liability when he plays. Heading into the second half, Puig has an fWAR of 0.9. Again, he’s only played 43 games, but by comparison to his first two seasons, that’s an abysmal start for a guy the Dodgers once viewed as cornerstone.
“But wait!” you might say, “at least Puig still has a rocket launcher of an arm! He’s still producing as a plus defensive outfielder!”. Unfortunately that too would be incorrect. He’s been worth -2 runs thus far this season in right field despite having not made an error. While his lack of errors does display that perhaps he is becoming a more disciplined, diligent fielder, he has still provided negative contributions as a defender suggesting his skill set has weakened this season.
Puig is still a potential superstar. His rare combination of skills make him must see television whenever he is on the field. But his 2015 has been one to forget to say the least. The Dodgers are in win-now mode, and have been for the past four seasons. While Puig’s electrifying play and swagger reignited the Dodgers’ championship hopes and dormant fan base, his baggage has become too much for the team to handle. The Dodgers could still land a kings’ ransom for him should they decide to trade him, all the while taking a burden off of Don Mattingly’s shoulders and easing any locker room tension. The Dodgers really only have two choices with Puig: let him loose, or let him go. It may seem unfathomable to trade a potential franchise player before his prime years, but the Dodgers need to finally let go of the wild horse.