LOS ANGELES -- This won’t be popular with Dodgers fans who got caught up in Puig-mania, particularly the people who dropped some cash on No. 66 jerseys, but it might be time for the Dodgers at least to consider trading Yasiel Puig.
Not that it’s going to happen. Puig sells tickets and moves merchandise like nobody else in a Dodgers uniform. He might be the second-most popular Dodger employee after Vin Scully these days.
But if they can get superstar young talent in return, it could make sense for their baseball team. Matt Vasgersian of the MLB Network was among the first to broach the topic recently, suggesting the Dodgers should package Puig and “anyone not named Clayton Kershaw,” for the Miami Marlins’ young slugger, Giancarlo Stanton. Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons jumped on board, via Twitter, saying, “Puig=tickets, Stanton=World Series.”
Maybe, you think, Stanton isn’t the guy. Maybe you think he’s proven too fragile, that the last thing the Dodgers need is another injury-prone outfielder. And Stanton, 24, only has the edge over Puig in one of the five baseball tools -- power.
But the Dodgers could use younger starting pitching. They could use a better option than aging Juan Uribe at third base. Even better, they could use a good, young shortstop who would allow them to move Hanley Ramirez back to third, where he is less of a defensive liability.
They have three above-average major-league outfielders even without Puig and, if things go well, they could have three All-Star caliber outfielders. The Dodgers owe Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier more than $282 million in coming years, so they’re certainly not giving up on any of those guys any time soon. Nor should they. Each is capable of being above-average at their positions for years to come.
One of the Dodgers' favorite prospects, center fielder Joc Pederson, is viewed internally as ready for 2014. Moving Ethier or Kemp, who are either too well-paid or too injury-prone to draw much interest from other teams, won’t be easy.
The Dodgers have to find a way to move Kemp out of center field and into a corner spot to preserve his health. The Dodgers clearly don’t trust Puig in center field or they would have used him there in the playoffs.
Moving Puig, who is coming off a .925 OPS, 5-WAR season (despite coming up in June) and doesn’t turn 23 until early December, could prove both easy and rewarding in terms of the return on talent. Plenty of mid-market teams would line up for a chance at a player this talented and attention-getting who is heading into the third year of a perfectly reasonable seven-year, $42 million deal.
Do the Dodgers’ owners have enough belief in the business momentum they generated last season to make such a move, and snatch their shiniest object from a fan base that soaked up Puig’s style of play? Puig came up in June and, after the All-Star break, fans gobbled up more of his jerseys than all but two major-league players, New York stars Mariano Rivera and Matt Harvey.
Let’s leave aside non-measurable qualities, such as a sometimes reckless approach to baseball basics, or suggestions there is internal dissension over how to handle Puig. All of that is relevant, of course, to whether the Dodgers should consider Puig a franchise cornerstone, but it’s too vague to build much of an argument around now. They claim he isn’t a problem, so -- for now -- let’s believe them.
The question isn’t whether Puig is a good player. He’s at least a good player and maybe a great one. It’s just that there aren’t many signs he is the kind of player who will improve over time, that he will make the necessary changes to his game that all players inevitably are forced to make as their bodies change. There’s also the matter of his head-long style and whether that will subject him to undue injury risk over time. Everybody loved watching Jim Edmonds make those diving catches when he was in his 20’s, but how did that work out for him in his mid-30’s?
Puig’s best month (.436, 1.180 OPS) was June, when he jolted a team and energized a fan base. His worst month was September (.214, .786). He had a bunch of singles in the Dodgers’ first-round playoff series, hitting .471, in fact, but he looked lost in the NLCS against some of the best young power pitchers in the game. He struck out in 10 of his 22 at-bats against the St. Louis Cardinals. He drew the wrath of the umpires, who probably would have thrown him out of regular season games for arguing balls and strikes.
The bottom line is this: His value might never be higher. It might be considerably lower in a year or two, if there are injuries or underperformance.
Puig would be a strong draw in Miami, with its extensive Cuban fan base. The Marlins drew more than 27,000 fans when Puig was matched up against Cuban-American pitcher Jose Fernandez. The day the Dodgers left town, the Marlins drew about 19,000, their season average at a nice new ballpark. Stanton is from the San Fernando Valley. He went to school at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks. He’d probably thrive if he came home and with his strength -- he probably has the most isolated power in the major leagues -- he can hit the ball out of any ballpark, even Dodger Stadium on a cool, foggy April night.
The Texas Rangers were thin in the outfield going into this off-season and they could lose Nelson Cruz to free agency. Maybe the sides could work out a deal in which the Dodgers would land Elvis Andrus and one of the many good young power arms in the Texas system.
You can come up with endless scenarios and, with trade bait as appealing as Puig, there aren't many major-league players who would be completely out of the Dodgers' reach. It might be time to open the dialog or at least field some phone calls before next month's winter meetings. What can it hurt?
If you’re still bathed in the light of Puig’s magical impact on the Dodger season, just remember: No moment lasts forever.