If there was a leaderboard for most mentions in trade rumors without actually being traded, Yasiel Puig would likely be number one (possibly followed by Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and the entire Miami Marlins roster). The fact is, Puig is one of the most polarizing players in the major leagues. He has elite tools, but a spotty track record and off the field issues. He’s a player that can change a franchise for the better, or burn them if things don’t work out. The upside is immense, and the downside is frightening. There’s a staggering amount of risk involved, but the reward is sky-high.
Puig’s still 25, and has plenty of time to set his career on the right track, with the ability to be a true superstar in the game. Then again, he’s already 25 and his makeup concerns have persisted. At this point, Puig could become a bust. Clearly Puig’s profile is full of questions, contradictions, and confusion. Every team would love to have the good version of Puig, but the bad version is a clear liability to the team, not only on the field, but off the field. Still, there’s not a more talented player on the trade block, and if there’s a way for a team to buy-low on an MVP-caliber player, it’s a no-brainer, right?
Well, as with most decisions in professional sports, it’s not that easy.
The first thing to address with Puig is Yasiel Puig, the player. From a talent standpoint, he is nearly unmatched. People often forget that Puig is still young, and despite his success in the Majors, that doesn’t mean he’s hit his upside and maxed out his tools. There’s still projection left for him, which is scary. Puig’s best season was probably 2013, his first. If you prorate the 104-game performance to a full season, Puig’s best year so far was 30 home runs, 17 stolen bases, and a .319/.391/.534 slash line. How many players have matched or exceeded those numbers in the history of the game? The answer is 17.
These days, the term generational talent may be thrown around a bit, but Puig is fully deserving of that title. If you look past the numbers Puig has put up, and purely at his tools, he is just as impressive. Ex-Fangraphs prospect analyst and current Braves Assistant Director of Baseball Operations, Kiley McDaniel, graded out Puig’s tools as 70 hit, 55 game power, 65 raw power, 70 speed, 55 glove, and 80 arm, with a future value of 75 out of 80. Granted, this was in March of 2015, but not much has changed with Puig’s actual talent. Putting those grades into numbers, McDaniel believes Puig can hit .300 with up to 30 home runs, 20+ steals, and near elite defense. To McDaniel, he could be a “top 2-3 hitter” in the league.
Puig is not just an unproven but talented player. In 104 games as a rookie, Puig shocked the baseball world with 4.1 WAR. He proved that number was sustainable with a 5.3 WAR in 2014. While his 2015 was a big disappointment, much of his struggles can be attributed to serious and persisting hamstring troubles that hurt his speed and overall production. Interestingly, Puig has been a negative contributor on defense in his career, but his talent suggests that he could put up an above-average performance in the outfield with some work. This is especially noteworthy because it highlights just how special his offensive performances are — that he put up such high WAR despite a negative impact on the field. You can probably tell where I’m going from there…just imagine what Puig can do once his offensive and defensive capabilities are maximized.
Based on the last two paragraphs, it’s pretty clear that Puig is a rare breed of ballplayer, a once-in-a-lifetime talent, who also happens to be under team control for just $8.214 million AAV until he hits free agency in 2020. This is all great news to other major-league organizations, as Puig is available in a trade. That’s not an opportunity that comes along often, so general managers should be throwing their best players and prospects at the Dodgers for Puig. After all, that should be the only way they could get a player of his caliber, and in a vacuum it seems perfectly worth it. Well, that’s the problem we run into in Puig’s case. We aren’t in a vacuum, and his off the field problems can’t be ignored.
The most apparent of Puig’s issues are his legal troubles. In November, reports emerged of Puig getting into a bar fight with a bouncer. While legal action was not pursued, he could be disciplined by the league. This isn’t the first example of Puig getting into legal trouble, though. If you’ll remember, Puig was arrested for going 110 mph in a 70-mph zone in 2013. Puig is a liability to get into more trouble, resulting in not only in consequences for Puig, but for his team as well. Puig has also caused trouble in the clubhouse, and this is just as concerning for teams as his run-ins with the law.
Accounts of Puig in the clubhouse are not pleasant, to put it lightly. Andy Van Slyke said that the Dodgers’ highest-paid player, which by all accounts is Clayton Kershaw, went to Dodgers’ GM Farhan Zaidi and said, “the first thing you need to do is get rid of Puig.” Puig has also gotten into incidents with teammates, an example of which is an infamous altercation with Zack Greinke on the team bus. Even worse, an ex-Dodger said of Puig, “He is the worst person I’ve ever seen in this game. Ever.”
As great as Puig is on the field, there are some risks that need to be addressed. Puig’s 2015 was shortened to just 79 games due to a severe hamstring injury, and while that certainly didn’t help his performance, you can’t ignore a meager .255 batting average and disappointing 1.5 WAR. Puig’s also shown a lack of maturity in his decision-making as a defender and on the base paths, which has continually frustrated the Dodgers and led to his benching on several occasions. While 2015 can probably be written off as an anomaly because of the hamstring injury (but he did make a “miraculous” recovery to be back just in time for the playoff — if you’ve ever had a hamstring injury, you’re well aware recovery is not often drastic and shockingly quick), does a team looking to trade a significant value for Puig really want to acquire him after a career-worst season? That’s the central issue around Puig — trading him, or trading for him, is next to impossible, despite his availability in a trade.
To land a player like Puig, it would take a significant return. Not many players with this talent and this contract have been traded. It would probably take an ace or multiple top prospects to land Puig. Does a team really want to invest that much in such a volatile player? It’s hard to imagine a team taking such a monumental risk—trading valuable assets for a player that could fail spectacularly. At the same time, there’s no chance the Dodgers trade Puig at a discount. Despite his problems, the talent is still there for MVP performances in the future.
The Dodgers could look downright foolish for selling low on Puig if he even comes close to his astronomical upside. It’s hard to imagine the Dodgers giving up Puig for a discount, and it’s also hard to imagine a team paying full-price for Puig. There’s almost no middle ground here, due to the massive contrast between his floor and his ceiling. The Dodgers might end up looking naive for holding onto Puig if he fails, but they’d also look terrible for shipping him off at half price if he can put it all together.
It’s an impossible situation for the club at the moment, and it is just as challenging for a potential trading partner. Puig should be a prime candidate to get moved this offseason, but the odds of it happening are next to none at this point. Both teams would have to take incredibly high risks, and that’s not a good situation to get involved in.