Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Dodgers were talking about trading Yasiel Puig, and my colleague Chris Cotillo discussed it this morning. It’s a shocking development for a guy who was once considered one of the bright young stars in the game, but who has struggled with injuries, ineffectiveness, and his approach to the game over the last few seasons.
There is no doubting Puig’s talent. As a 22 year old with just 63 games under his belt in the minors, he blew the doors off of Dodger Stadium in 2013, hitting .319/.391/.534 with 19 homers. He sustained that excellent performance in 2014, hitting .296/.382/.480 with 16 dingers. But there were stories about Puig’s regular tardiness, immaturity, and about the divide he was causing in the clubhouse with his teammates. Those have been relatively quiet this season.
He missed almost half of last season with hamstring strains, which flared up again in 2016, and his overall production has taken a serious dip. Overall, he’s hit just .256/.319/.386 (91 OPS+) while playing right field.
At 51-40, the Dodgers are atop the NL Wild Card race, but they have a glut of outfielders, while their starting pitching has been almost comically banged up. So on several fronts, dealing the underachieving Puig makes sense. But on others it doesn’t. Let’s break it down:
Here’s why it makes sense
Puig’s development, as I discussed above, has stalled out. He remains a puzzling hitter with injury issues that threaten to sap his mobility when he’s already limited to an outfield corner. However, Puig is not that far removed from his previous exploits, and teams would presumably be willing to bet on a 25 year old bouncing back from his issues to become the guy who was worth nine wins between 2013 and 2014.
Moreover, the Dodgers have a ton of outfielders. Howie Kendrick, Trayce Thompson, Kiké Hernandez, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, and Joc Pederson are all on the 40 man roster, meaning the Dodgers can mix and match to take advantage of matchups.
And they’re fairly desperate for starters at this point. Clayton Kershaw is out for God knows how long with a back injury. So is Brett Anderson. Alex Wood is out for at least two months with elbow problems. Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu are just off of the disabled list. Ross Stripling and Julio Urias have struggled in limited work, and Mike Bolsinger has been a disaster. The Dodgers have traded for Bud Norris, who has helped, but who should also not be expected to carry the staff down the stretch. And Scott Kazmir has been bad.
If a deal for Puig can help bring back a front-line starting pitcher to for a big three with Kershaw and Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles would have to consider it.
Here’s why it doesn’t make sense
A bunch of those outfielders we talked about above aren’t actually any good. Thompson has great power and a good eye, but is hitting just .225. Kendrick is hitting just .254/.311/.359, even worse than Puig. Hernandez has been hurt and ineffective, as has Van Slyke.
Ethier had a resurgent 2015, but won’t return until at least August, and may require more time to build up the strength in his broken tibia. And Pederson has still not been cleared to begin swinging a bad after a shoulder injury sent him onto the DL. The simple truth is that, as much as they could mix and match in the outfield, Puig is probably better than all of their other options, and dealing him would weaken the club if they don’t get an outfielder back in return.
This is especially true now that Puig is playing better. Since coming off of the DL on June 21, Puig has appeared in all 19 games, hitting .317/.417/.467 with two homers, and eight walks in 72 plate appearances, against 10 strikeouts. It’s a small sample, but it may indicate that, when healthy, Puig can still turn it on. Trading that while he is at a relative trough, value-wise, is exactly the kind of move you wouldn’t expect the very smart Los Angeles front office to make, especially when they have two more years of control at less than $10 million to move him.
Also, the questions about the starting rotation really are a little overblown at this point. Maeda has proven to be a good number two starter, and McCarthy has come back looking strong in his first two starts. Norris’s deal with the devil still hasn’t expired, and Kazmir is locked into the rotation.
Assuming that Kershaw comes back before the end of July, the Dodgers still should be at or near the top of the Wild Card race at the stretch run, and the rotation will be stuffed yet again, with no room for whichever of Norris, McCarthy, or Ryu doesn’t have their act together. And that’s without even really talking about Urias, who has demonstrated he deserves an extended shot, even if he’s unlikely to get it in a wild card race.
Honestly, I don’t expect Puig to get moved during the season. The Dodgers may not like Puig. They may want him gone. But dealing him now without getting a truly dominant player in return is simply too close to the Dodgers cutting off their nose to spite their face. There simply isn’t another outfielder on the roster, or perhaps on the market, with the ability to make the leap Puig can.
And while Rosenthal is probably right that they’ll entertain offers, those offers simply aren’t likely to provide enough return. The Braves aren’t going to trade Julio Teheran and the Rays aren’t going to trade Chris Archer. And guys like Sonny Gray and Hector Santiago are a step below what it should take to pry a guy with Puig’s ceiling away. The kind of ace the Dodgers would crave simply isn’t on the market right now, and is unlikely to be before the offseason.