OPINION: Yasiel Puig’s Future Far From Certain, Career Far From Over
He stands 6-foot-2, tipping the scales at 240 pounds of solid, muscular, athleticism.
But at the moment, Yasiel Puig is probably feeling the weight of the world.
A former catalyst to a surging Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, Puig has been relegated to the minors after performance, behavioral problems and lack of interest, prevented teams from striking a deal with L.A. prior to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline Aug. 1.
OPINION: Yasiel Puig’s Future Far From Certain, Career Far From Over
And with the move came the claims that Puig’s career has reached its end. With no one interested in dealing for him and the Dodgers sick of dealing with him, Puig’s demotion has sparked baseball insiders to declare his legacy in baseball demolished.
“Whatever course he takes, the gates at Dodger Stadium will almost certainly remain locked to him,” Los Angeles Times Columnist Dylan Hernandez wrote Aug. 2. “Every indication is that Puig won’t play again for the Dodgers.”
Sadly, Hernandez is one in a myriad of respected baseball writers whom have written off the mercurial, Cuban outfielder.
Scoopman Ken Rosenthal, of Fox Sports, erroneously reported that Puig “stormed out” on the Dodgers prior to their trip to Colorado, fueling the flames of disappointment, despite the fact that Puig was told not to attend.
“I’m told he never went to the park,” Puig’s agent Adam Katz said Monday. “The club informed me and the player understood clearly that they were making every effort to trade him and that if they were unable to come to terms with another club on a trade — and successful in acquiring another outfielder — that he likely would be demoted. My understanding is that transaction will happen tomorrow.”
To his credit Rosenthal apologized and Puig took it in stride, but that didn’t save him from demotion Tuesday.
— Yasiel Puig (@YasielPuig) August 2, 2016
As his star has tumbled from the far reaches of the galaxy to depths previously unknown, I’m here to tell you that Puig’s career is far from over.
In fact, he will be an All-Star once again, a few times over.
What this cluster of MLB pundits has failed to recognize is that Puig is only 25 years old. He hasn’t even reached his prime years (between age 28 and 33) and his ascension in the league was too fast to sustain.
In short, he got too big for his britches, became too famous too fast, and all of baseball is guilty of throwing him toward Cooperstown before properly receiving his ability.
Puig lit the world on fire in 2013.
L.A. made a splash with the signing of the Cuban defector on June 28, 2012 to a seven-year $42 million contract. Less than a year later he was making his MLB debut.
These were exciting times in Dodgerland.
Guggenheim Baseball Management, with NBA legend Magic Johnson serving as frontman, had just secured the purchase of the team May 1, and Puig was to be a posterchild for the future of franchise.
It all started off well.
Puig made his Dodger (and MLB) debut June 3, 2013, with already two months of the season gone by.
That made no difference.
The rookie made a seamless transition, clubbing 19 home runs, with 42 RBIs, in 104 games, all while batting .319.
And that was just his performance at the plate.
Puig showcased an uncanny athleticism in the outfield, making diving catches routine and revealing a rocket-launcher for an arm, accounting for eight outfield assists and several highlight reel throws.
YASIEL PUIG’S BEST THROWS
Shane Victorino led all right fielders with nine assists in 2013, in 18 more games played than Puig.
L.A.’s lightning rod right fielder finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to winner, and fellow Cuban, Jose Fernandez, whom, it is important to note, made his debut almost two full months before Puig first took the field.
In 2014, with the book out on him, Puig’s power numbers slipped slightly.
He still managed 16 homers and 69 RBIs, but pitchers adjusted to his meteoric rise, prompting 124 strikeouts in 558 at-bats. Puig managed to hit .296 despite the growing pains.
It was in 2015 that his career truly began to turn in the wrong direction.
Puig was plagued by hamstring issues throughout the year, limiting him to only 79 games in which he batted .255, with 11 homers and 38 RBIs. Not terrible, but not what people had come to expect.
This season was much of the same, but Puig’s ego had continued to swell since he burst into the big leagues, and with his numbers no longer matching his swagger, Dodgers management grew tired of the act.
An incident last December involving his sister at a Miami nightclub, didn’t help matters.
Initial reports suggested the Dodgers outfielder assaulted his sister in the heat of an argument, but MLB Commisioner Rob Manfred found “no evidence” to support any wrongdoing on Puig’s part.
But the damage was done. His image had already been tarnished by his perceived attitude and the specter of the alleged assault, however inaccurate, was a gash too deep for people to separate.
From “King of L.A.” to skid row in three years flat. That’s the story on Yasiel Puig that everyone else is writing.
We are talking about a five-tool player, who has belted 53 home runs and driven in 183 in only 412 career games.
YASIEL PUIG CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
That’s an average of about 21 homers and 72 RBIs for a full season, which Puig can only claim to have completed once.
So, he’s cocky. He’s arrogant and he’s misunderstood.
Sounds like a 25 year-old to me. No?
How about a 25-year old who had to make four defection attempts before actually reaching the Mexican border? Than piecing together one astonishing performance after another in his rookie year?
You think you wouldn’t feel like Superman after such a ride? Guess again.
Let’s just assume that none of that holds water. Let’s call Puig an overpriced crybaby, who can’t handle the bright lights in the big leagues, a flash in the pan, who burned out as fast as his star ignited.
He still has every motivation to make it back.
His contract is far from “big money” when viewed from MLB’s current financial lens. And of the $28 million he has already earned, around $4 million has already been passed to the “buscon”-types that helped him defect.
Throw in a house in the Hollywood Hills, a couple fancy rides and some jewelry and how much does he really have left?
If you won’t believe Puig has the inner drive to reemerge then just look at dollars driving him.
For love, talent, or money, Puig will reclaim his place, on that pedestal, as an elite outfielder in baseball.
Be it for a short-stretch or a career, he will be back.
Because talent like his only comes along every so often. Puig will power through these dark days and rise as an All-Star once again.
Perhaps he is a bust, or maybe, just maybe, he came up at a time when a franchise’s ownership was changing hands, prompting the Dodgers to prop him up higher than his development necessitated. Then, the same folks tore him down just as rapidly.
Someone who risked their life five times just for the opportunity to play isn’t going to just give up after two bad seasons of baseball.
Like Puig posted on Twitter Monday, you haven’t seen the last of him. More likely, Puig will “#seeyousoon.”