Do you think they have a big party each July, these “major league sources”? Maybe one like the orchid-mud-pit scene at the end of the Anaconda sequel? (This movie is great, bury me with the DVD, do not @ me, thank you.)
Well. Tuesday brings rumors — naturally, from “major league sources” — that the injury-plagued Dodgers are dangling Yasiel Puig for a possible trade. This isn’t the first time the right fielder has popped up in trade speculation: Last November, there were murmurs that ace Clayton Kershaw, whose opinion it’s reasonable to assume the Dodgers brass values, was agitating for Puig to go. Nothing happened, of course, but there’s something more serious-sounding to the rumors this time around. Puig is mired in a slump so enduring, so snoozily and unspectacularly mediocre, that it has ceased to be referred to as a slump at all: With a .257/.321/.379 line, just seven home runs for the year, and an uncharacteristic predictability at the plate, one of the loudest bats — and loudest personalities — in baseball has been, well, quiet.
The truth is the 25-year-old has yet to mature into the type of superstar Los Angeles envisioned when it signed him to a seven-year, $42 million contract in 2012. Puig, who defected from Cuba in the company of a boxer, a pinup girl, and a Santería priest (does this sound like a good movie to you? don’t you think it should have a happy ending?), entered the league not long after Angels phenom Mike Trout, and was billed as one half of the kindling for a revived crosstown rivalry. Instead, after a fiery debut 2013 season in which he hit .319 with 19 home runs, Puig has mostly been just … fine. He’s been unlucky with injuries, missing 83 regular-season games in 2015 and spending most of last month on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. And he has sometimes proven fractious in the clubhouse, earning contempt from teammates and being dubbed “the worst person I’ve ever seen in this game” by a former Dodger during the offseason.
None of this has stopped the outfielder from becoming a fan favorite in Los Angeles, where he easily ranks among the team’s most beloved players. And talk of clubhouse divisiveness has recently quieted, suggesting Puig, in the midst of the bleakest stretch of his young career, may have finally found a way to get along with his teammates. He remains endlessly charming on social media, a one-man argument for the existence of hashtags: #PuigNotScared, #PuigYourFriend, #PuigNoPitch, #PuigHungry, and the expertly timed, ever-so-slightly menacing #PuigYourFriend–#PuigNotLate combo. He has even buddied up with Vin Scully, a relationship that bears extra significance in what the 88-year-old broadcaster has said will be his final season.
But now the Dodgers, who sit 5.5 games back of the Giants in the NL West, seem to be contemplating dealing him away. Puig was once meant to be the centerpiece of the team that would return to the World Series for the first time since 1988, but for all the fanfare — sorry, did I say fanfare? I meant millions and millions of dollars, and then millions more in luxury tax; heaps, piles, mountains of Series-seeking currency — it just hasn’t happened. Zapping Puig and his attendant troubles, plus acquiring a reliable relief pitcher or some consistent offensive production in the outfield, could be a tempting way for Los Angeles to wash its hands of the failed promise of that epoque.
The Dodgers are impatient. Of course they are. But they’d be wrong to give up on Puig: For all his struggles, he’s still just 25, and has tremendous upside, to say nothing of his routine missiles from deep right. He still has the potential to become a Dodgers icon, at a level that few have reached over the years. So, come on, Los Angeles, and say it with me: #PuigNotDone.