Crawford/Puig looks like an either/or thing

March, 25, 2013
3/25/13
2:49
PM PT
Carl Crawford is coming on fast.

Three weeks ago, when he had to be shut down for a week because of an irritated nerve in his rebuilt elbow, he was gliding toward the Opening Day disabled list.

Now, it looks like he'll be standing under the fancy new videoboard in left field at Dodger Stadium next Monday. Crawford started getting into Cactus League games last week. He has played the last couple in left field. Sunday he made some good throws and hit a home run.

Manager Don Mattingly played catch with him. Afterward, he told reporters that was when he knew Crawford was going to "be fine."

This hardly qualifies as bad news for the Dodgers. It's time Crawford had a chance to prove he can be a different guy in a new atmosphere and with a healthier arm. It's time for the Dodgers to find out what they're going to get over the next five years for the $100 million or so they're going to be paying him.

But Crawford's comeback is pushing the biggest story in camp into limbo land. Everybody this spring wants to talk about Yasiel Puig, the Cuban defector who was surrounded by an aura of mystery until he batted .527 and slugged .855 in his first 55 spring training at-bats.

ESPN's Buster Olney weighs in on Puig in his latest insiders-only blog post. Olney writes that Puig has been the best player in spring training, Florida or Arizona. He quotes a veteran scout comparing the buzz around Puig to that around Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in the 1980s.

There is, of course, nowhere for Puig to play if Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are healthy when they get back to town later this week. They won't keep him on the bench as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon for Ethier against tough left-handed pitchers. He needs to keep polishing his raw talent, which means playing as much as possible.

"It's very hard to imagine the Dodgers would simply bench one of those players based on about 60 plate appearances in March," Olney wrote.

Which is why nothing really changes. Puig could go out tonight and pick up three more hits, then mash two home runs the following game, and nothing would change. He could even do something he hasn't done all spring -- draw a walk -- and it wouldn't matter.

Barring something unforeseen, like a trade, Puig will begin the season in the minor leagues. Perhaps they now will allow him to skip Double-A and go directly to Albuquerque. Desert air apparently agrees with him. The dilemma -- if you can call it that -- truly becomes one if Puig is batting .400 after a month in the minors.

Then, the Dodgers have to start asking themselves whether they're better off with their most talented players on the field or with the players they owe the most money. So, if you're dying to get a look at Puig, buy a ticket to one of the local exhibition games that start Thursday.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.307 12 50 51
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 14
RBIA. Gonzalez 58
RY. Puig 51
OPSY. Puig .912
WZ. Greinke 11
ERAJ. Beckett 2.26
SOZ. Greinke 127