Can Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez Catapult the Dodgers Back into NL West Race?

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIJune 5, 2013

Yasiel Puig is off to a hot start for the Dodgers.
Yasiel Puig is off to a hot start for the Dodgers.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Yasiel Puig is off to a hot start, giving Los Angeles Dodgers fans hope as the season is now in its third month.

Couple that with Hanley Ramirez returning from the disabled list Tuesday from a shoulder injury, and fans are beginning to wonder about this team.

Puig has started his MLB career going 5-for-8 with two home runs and five RBI. He's picked up right where he left off in spring training when he hit .517 with three home runs and 11 RBI.

Can the Dodgers make up the 7.5-game deficit in the National League West and contend for the division title with both in the lineup?

Well, that depends.

Which Han-Ram Will We See?

The biggest question surrounding Ramirez is which version of him will we see? Will we continue to see him riddled with injuries a la this season and 2011? Or will we see a healthy version of Han-Ram, one who struggled before being traded from the Miami Marlins?

Dodgers fans are hoping neither, as they'd like to see the same player the Marlins had in 2009 (.342 BA, 24 HR, 106 RBI, 27 SB) and the Dodgers had in the second half of last year (.271 BA, 10 HR, 44 RBI).

The instincts of most believe it would be an injured Ramirez until he proves otherwise.

Once a player gets the stigma of being injured a lot, it's hard to shake.

However, if he can stay healthy the rest of the season, that stigma will quickly changed.

If it is the latter like most Dodger fans are hoping, Ramirez (along with Puig) could easily bring the Dodgers back in the division race.

Puig's Bringing Excitement

It would be a massive understatement to say Puig hasn't brought excitement to the Dodgers fanbase.

His two home runs were big, but so was his throw from the outfield that nailed Chris Denorfia at first base on a fly-ball out.

Fans and reporters alike are amazed at what this kid can do.

In case you were wondering, it took one game for Yasiel Puig to demonstrate a rocket arm.…

— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 4, 2013

im just hype to see what Yasiel Puig is gonna do again tonight. That dude is really something Goooooooooooooo @dodgers!!!!!!!

— Graham H Daniels (@itsgcracka_jack) June 5, 2013

But alas, there is one other thing to consider.

The Andre Ethier Effect?

Regardless if anyone wants to admit it or not, Ethier is going to be a huge piece in this puzzle.

With Puig now in the big leagues and doing well (so far), questions are going to linger about Ethier.

Ethier is hitting .234 with four home runs and 15 RBI. He was even benched by manager Don Mattingly, who questioned his competitiveness.

Carl Crawford (hamstring) and Matt Kemp (hamstring) are currently on the disabled list, but won't be for too much longer.

What happens when they both return?

Crawford seems to have gotten things back on track thus far with a .301 average and .358 on-base percentage.

And Kemp isn't going anywhere because he is one of the faces of the franchise (along with Clayton Kershaw).

So that leaves Ethier and his five-year, $85-million extension he signed last year.

If the Dodgers were to move Ethier, one baseball general manager told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, they'd likely have to eat half of his contract.

Significant dollars would have to come back, one rival general manager said.

It would have to be a bad contract for a bad contract, another GM said.

Just how much? And how bad?

No one's untradeable if the team eats enough of the money,' a third rival GM said. I bet they'd have to eat half.

It's a problem the Dodgers are now facing with the big contract they gave Ethier. If the team is going to succeed, it's looking as if Puig is going to have to be the guy in right field.

How it Should End

If Ramirez returns to form and Puig continues to produce, there's no question the Dodgers will be in the division race come September.

Again, Ethier's situation is going to have a lot to say about where the Dodgers are.

Obviously, money is no object to ownership, so it shouldn't be in a potential trade.

Trading Ethier would be the best thing for the Dodgers, and they can chalk up the Ethier extension to a bad decision. The New York Yankees made many of them and ate bloated contracts after trading guys away. The Dodgers could as well.

Should all three things happen, don't be surprised to see the Dodgers in the playoffs this year. After all, they're only 7.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Ramirez and Puig can take care of their end. Now, general manager Ned Colletti (with the blessings of ownership) has to take care of the third end.

If he does, Dodger fans will be celebrating a lot this year.


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