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We’ve Never Seen Anything Like Yasiel Puig

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Welcome to The Lineup! This is a weekly column that will examine — you guessed it — nine topics from the world of baseball in numbered order.

1 Skeeter lost the trade deadline.

Skeeter is Matt Duffy’s big-ass cat, and he’s gained enough notoriety for the Rays’ new third baseman to give the 30-pound beast his own Instagram account.

But as it turns out, Skeeter won’t be making the trip to Florida with Duffy, who says that the heat and humidity in Tampa wouldn’t be good for a big-ass cat like Skeeter, who will go to live with Duffy’s parents. It’s a blow not only for Skeeter, but also for Duffy and the Rays, whose trade return for Matt Moore now turns out to be lighter than expected.

2 Looks like the Dodgers are done with Yasiel Puig.

Like history, baseball repeats itself. Just short of 19,000 men have played top-level professional baseball over the past 140-plus years, and you’d think that with that much history, everything and everyone in the modern game would resemble something that came before.

Which is what made Yasiel Puig so special — he really did feel unique. We’d seen components of Puig before: Ichiro’s fascinating foreignness; Bo Jackson’s brutal, showstopping athleticism; Ken Griffey Jr.’s joie de vivre. But wrapped into one package and clothed in those gleaming Dodgers home whites, he looked like a demigod.

For two years, he played like one, too: .305/.386/.502 over his first two seasons, for 10.3 WAR. Two years after that, the Dodgers left him off the team charter to Denver after going out of their way to replace him at the trade deadline, and they optioned him to Triple-A.

So few people are good enough to play professional baseball that big league teams tolerate behavioral excesses that no normal workplace would. You almost have to be deluded on some level to put in the work required to become a big leaguer anyway — otherwise you wouldn’t be able to motivate yourself to treat winning a game with such importance. If you’re weird, or rude, or abrasive, or even criminal, there’s a place for you in a big league clubhouse if you can play.

Puig became a folk hero because he played baseball like it was supposed to be fun. His go-big-or-go-home approach to the game made him a lightning rod for criticism, which only enhanced his reputation among people who like to see defenders of orthodoxy get their noses put out of joint. But while offending the sports media old guard isn’t a clubhouse sin, offending one’s teammates is. And as Puig battled injuries and slumps throughout the past two seasons, his reputation went in the gutter. And even though he hit .308/.390/.440 since ending his last DL stint six weeks ago, the Dodgers appear to have had enough.

A baseball clubhouse isn’t a normal workplace, but it’s still a workplace. And if your coworkers dislike you so much that it affects their performance, you have to be really good at your job to overcome it. At 25, Puig is still young enough and talented enough that he ought to land somewhere else, whether in a post-non-waiver deadline deal this month or in the offseason, but his career in Los Angeles looks like it’s practically over.

It’s weird that “couldn’t play well with others” is what ultimately brought Puig down, but maybe it’s appropriate that someone who does so many difficult and spectacular things well was brought down by something most people have to do in order to just get by.

3 Travis Wood has hidden value as a left fielder.

On July 22, 1986, the Mets won a 14-inning game against the Reds in which manager Davey Johnson kept two relievers in the game from the 10th inning on, shuttling Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco back and forth from the mound to the outfield until Howard Johnson’s three-run home run won the game.

Perhaps in tribute to the 30th anniversary of that moment, Cubs manager Joe Maddon used pitcher Travis Wood as a left fielder between two relief stints in Sunday’s 7–6 win over the Mariners. Wood stayed out there for 1.2 innings before Maddon brought him back to the mound to face Leonys Martín in the eighth. And since he was out in left field, Wood figured he might as well make himself useful.

From a strictly tactical perspective, Maddon was probably outsmarting himself: Wood’s a very good athlete for a pitcher, but he easily could have misplayed that ball, and since he slammed into a brick wall, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could’ve been injured on the play. But since the Cubs were losing 6–2, and had a win probability of only 5 percent when Wood went out to left field, Maddon probably didn’t expect his team to eventually come back and win on a two-strike suicide squeeze by pinch hitter Jon Lester, which is what ultimately happened.

Playing Wood in left field broke up the routine of late-July baseball for a team that’s more or less got the division title in the bag, and judging by the reaction from the dugout, the team enjoyed it. Going back to the idea of baseball as a workplace, managers in all industries have to strike a balance between productivity and morale. Sometimes managers take their foot off the gas in less important moments in order to make their employees (or players) more relaxed and eager to get to work when crunch time comes.

4 What about Milwaukee’s deadline haul?

The Brewers came into trade deadline season with three big pieces to move: catcher Jonathan Lucroy and relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith. And while much of the focus has been on how those moves affect the Giants’ and Rangers’ playoff chances — and rightly so — it’s time to check in on how the Brewers did.

Not bad, as it turns out. The Brewers got outfielder Lewis Brinson, pitcher Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named later from the Rangers, along with catcher Andrew Susac and pitcher Phil Bickford from the Giants.

It would’ve been nice to get one of Nomar Mazara or Joey Gallo for Lucroy, but Brinson and Ortiz were no. 22 and no. 48 respectively on Baseball Prospectus’s midseason top 50, so the alternative is still pretty good. Brinson, a center fielder with great athleticism and power potential but a hit-and-miss hit tool, might even be the best prospect traded at the deadline. At worst, he’s in the same class as fellow outfielder Clint Frazier, who went to the Yankees in the Andrew Miller deal. This isn’t the Herschel Walker trade, but factor in Ortiz and whoever the PTBNL winds up being, and the Brewers got a pretty nice return for Lucroy. It’s almost certainly a better deal than the Brewers would’ve gotten from Cleveland had Lucroy not invoked his no-trade clause.

(I don’t know if that’s pure dumb luck on Milwaukee’s part, but it’s a little curious that negotiations got that far and that public without some sort of understanding about what would happen if Lucroy wanted his option year voided as a condition of the trade. It’s not like nobody could’ve seen that coming.)

But the really interesting return is what Milwaukee got for Smith: a 26-year-old catcher who can step into Lucroy’s shoes now and a two-time first-round pick for a pretty good reliever. Bickford turned down first-round money from the Blue Jays out of high school in 2013, spent a season at Cal State Fullerton, then transferred to the College of Southern Nevada to become draft-eligible again in 2015, when he was taken by the Giants with the no. 18 pick. He has flummoxed evaluators at every step as his stuff has come and gone. That the Brewers picked up Bickford and Susac for Will Smith should make up for any disappointment over not getting more for Lucroy and Jeffress.

All in all, it was a pretty good day for the Brewers.

5 The WPA Graph of the Week Goes to the Tigers and Astros.

I imagine the ninth inning of this graph making some kind of slide-whistle noise.

FanGraphs
FanGraphs

After the Astros came back against Justin Verlander in the top of the ninth, All-Star reliever Will Harris got two quick outs, then allowed four straight baserunners to suffer his second blown save since the break. In related news: The Astros just announced that Ken Giles will become the team’s third closer this year.

6 Dylan Bundy is back.

I almost don’t want to write about this for fear of jinxing it, but Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy has been pretty good since returning to the Orioles’ rotation. He’s struck out 24 in 21 innings and allowed only five walks, 13 hits, and seven earned runs in that span. Tuesday night, he stomped all over Lucroy and Carlos Beltrán’s Rangers debut, striking out seven over seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and one walk on 88 pitches.

Bundy was the no. 4 overall pick in 2011, and he reached the majors briefly a year later at age 19. Since then, his career has been a tragic comedy: First, the Orioles had him scrap his signature cut fastball out of concerns that the cutter puts undue stress on pitchers’ elbows, which might or might not be true. Then in 2013 — maybe because of the cutter, maybe not — Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery, and he has only recently returned to anything resembling the form that made him a leaguewide top-five prospect before his injury. If he continues to pitch like he did against the Rangers, he’ll be a huge weapon for Baltimore down the stretch and probably in the playoffs as well.

7 It’s been a big week for the Germans.

Last Thursday, Aaron Altherr of the Phillies and Max Kepler of the Twins made history, becoming the first German-born players to hit home runs on the same day. Then Tuesday night, they did it again. Oh, and on Monday, Kepler took Cleveland pitchers deep three times, becoming the first Twin since Justin Morneau in 2007 to hit a trio of home runs in a game.

With baseball already so popular in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, and Asia, the next frontier is Europe. In particular, Kepler represents an important step in growing the game there, as he was not only born in Germany, but raised and trained there, too. If Kepler, who’s hitting .259/.342/.561 with the Twins after Baseball America ranked him as the game’s no. 30 prospect this past offseason, can generate publicity back across the Atlantic and inspire kids to pick up the game, he could play a huge part in developing a European baseball community.

8 Elvis Andrus almost got punched.

If he keeps this up, Elvis Andrus is going to get himself hurt.

Adrián Beltré hasn’t killed Andrus yet, so the Texas shortstop decided to tempt fate by putting on a mask from Saw and popping out at Michael Young before Saturday’s game. Young was taking a victory lap to commemorate his induction to the Rangers’ Hall of Fame, and, it turns out, he is terrified of clowns.

Every time I see someone pull the “jump out in a scary mask” prank, I think of this:

Not that Andrus deserved to get hit in the face, but he’s lucky Young was able to stop himself.

9 Balkin’ Bob strikes back.

Umpires, like surgeons and air traffic controllers, usually only get noticed when they screw up. By and large, big league umpires do a good job, but some of them also seem to want to get their names in the paper.

Therefore, let’s oblige Bob Davidson, who returned Tuesday night to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, site of the “Fuck You, Charlie” incident that got him suspended in 2012. This time, Davidson ejected a fan for heckling him. Hecklers are annoying, and this one certainly didn’t have very nice things to say, but umpires are supposed to be above the fray. They’re not supposed to respond to external pressure, pick fights with managers or players, or grow rabbit ears and go after fans in the stands. Davidson’s one of the most (to put it delicately) proactive umpires in the majors, and his thin skin and hair-trigger temper undermine his credibility as an umpire.