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This morning Yasiel Puig did his bit for Dodgers P.R. by serving up lattes and cappuccinos at a Hollywood coffee shop. He also made a personal P.R. mark by declaring (per Andy McCulloh/LA Times),
“I want to be a starter again, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”
It’s a common theme among ball players; everybody wants to start. But it’s the tag-on line of playing in Los Angeles “or somewhere else” that raises eyebrows.It’s the kind of statement that not only puts the player on the spot, but team management as well.
Matt Kemp said “play me or trade me” one too many times. Once the Dodgers were sure Kemp’s talent was spent enough that he wouldn’t come back to haunt them, they traded him to their division-rivals,the San Diego Padres, who were betting on Kemp’s name to increase ticket sales.
Most recently Andre Ethier sang the play me or trade me tune. New manager Dave Roberts showed early faith in Ethier, declaring him to be his starting right fielder and lead off batter. Ethier’s unfortunate broken leg derailed that scenario, and now Captain Clutch finds himself coming into 2017 as just another guy battling for a starting position.
I doubt Puig meant his statement to be a true ultimatum to the Dodgers, but many will see it that way, including those in the front office who hold the power to trade him, and have spent at least a year trying to do exactly that.
Puig’s 2016 season was exactly what Dodgers fans have grown accustomed to, and more. Puig thrilled us with awe-inspiring catches and unbelievable right field-to-third base assists. The trouble was (once again), Puig’s inconsistency. He was demoted midseason to the farms until he raised his batting numbers and maturity quotient. Puig was a good soldier, followed orders, and did pretty well upon his return to the big club. He batted .281/.338/.561 on his return, and that was all well and good until the Dodgers hit Puig’s achilles heel – the playoffs.
In four years of postseason experience with the Dodgers, Puig has come to bat 76 times. From those chances, he’s acquired a grand total of one double, two triples, no home runs and only five RBIs. His career postseason slash line of .263/.325/.329 is not the kind of stuff that legends are made of.
On one hand, I love Yasiel Puig as a Dodger, and I hope he busts out in 2017, delivering on the promise we’ve long been awaiting. On the other hand, he hasn’t shown me anything but shrivel under the brightest of spotlights. I’m pretty sure the Dodgers brass recognizes that reality as well.
Yasiel Puig has once again put on his good teammate face and in the offseason he’s shed weight the Dodgers asked him too, and spent time working on his batting skills with former Yankee, Robinson Cano. Will it be enough? Will we finally see the day in-day out consistency (and health) that one must provide in order to justify being a starter, and remaining in the LA home whites?
Whether he intended to or not, Yasiel Puig has declared “play me or trade me”. My guess is if Puig comes into the next season playing like gangbusters – and only then – he will remain in Dodger blue. Anything less, such as more of his typically erratic performances, and the Dodgers will oblige him and send him packing.