On Friday, after I had packed it in and decided to stop paying attention to stupid for the week, Bill Plaschke stumbled, presumably drunk, into his local Los Angeles Times bar and proudly bellowed that the Dodgers were better off without Yasiel Puig, and anybody who thought differently should fight him out back:
"The Dodgers might not seem as fun without Puig, but they have morphed into a well-prepared, professional-hitting, steady-clubhouse team since he left....Cool things are happening at Chavez Ravine, and all without the team's coolest player, and now the question isn't about what how everyone survives when Puig is gone, but, goodness, what happens when he comes back?"
In addition to being a disappointment on the field, Plaschke argues, the current problem is that Puig didn't trust his medical staff and rushed to come back before he was recovered. Now, with his latest setback, he will be off the field for at least another couple of weeks.
Obviously, that's not ideal, but Puig here is in an impossible place. Given the reputation cultivated by Plaschke in particular, but also other members of the Los Angeles media, if he hadn't rushed Puig would be portrayed as lazy, selfish, and not doing everything he can for good of his team. When he tries to get back on the field as soon as possible, a problem endemic to something like 90 percent of the players in the game, he is still ripped for it.
At least Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman put his public relations pants on when he spoke, telling reporters, "I don't really fault him. I'd rather him be 100% honest, but he's a really good competitor. I much prefer this mentality than one where you put your feet up and say I'm out for six weeks no matter what, and then I'll come back. If anything, he was trying too hard....If this is the biggest problem we have, this is a good problem.
Not that his manager agrees. Don Mattingly told the assembled media that Puig's job is in jeopardy, saying "I hate to say it coldheartedly, but it's kind of next man up. One guy gets hurt, it's an opportunity for someone else, and if they tear the door down...it's kind of the way the game keeps going." Gosh, with that kind of support, it's no wonder Puig was trying to get back as quickly as possible.
All of this is idiocy, as is most of the "controversies" surrounding Yasiel Puig. Puig's job isn't in jeopardy, for one thing. He's a 24 year old with a carer OPS+ of 149 who was hitting .279/.380/.465 when he went down. With Juan Uribe gone, the Dodgers have plenty of plate appearances for both Alex Guerrero and the inexplicably hot Justin Turner now until one of them comes down to Earth, and Scott Van Slyke is hitting well enough to prove he should probably remain a fourth outfielder. Even if Andre Ethier continues to defy his own history and Joc Pederson remains the second most exciting 23 year old in the National League (Bryce Harper is still only 22, by the way), Puig's return will be welcomed by the Dodgers team he helped to a 94 win season last year.
It does, however, highlight the importance of strong communication with players about the importance of being honest about their injuries and, as Friedman suggested, a learning experience for everyone involved. Playing hurt is almost always an awful idea. Not only does it lead to further and more catastrophic injury, but it hurts both the player's and the team's performance. Even if a club isn't as deep, and as well set up to weather the absence, as the Dodgers, it's almost always the right call to step aside and get back on the field at 100 percent sooner. But, of course, that's far too nuanced a lesson to yell out from whatever bar stool that Plaschke holds court.