It didn't take long for Yasiel Puig to overshadow that news, though. In fact, he made it completely irrelevant.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times tweeted that Puig thought he had to be at the stadium at 10 a.m. PT, but the team took the field for stretching exercises at 9:40 a.m. PT. By showing up late, the controversial outfielder was benched, handing over his place in the lineup to Kemp—despite earlier comments from manager Don Mattingly, who said he didn't want to "throw him into the fire."
Puig had successfully re-directed the focus to yet another one of his antics.
After the team's two-game sweep over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia on March 22-23, Mattingly openly questioned whether Puig was really injured after he pulled himself out of the game following his strikeout in the top of the ninth inning.
Interestingly enough, Mattingly told reporters prior to the game that the 23-year-old outfielder "grabs something every time he takes a swing and misses."
When asked about Puig postgame, Mattingly answered sarcastically, "Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I'm not sure if they're going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday, maybe. I'm not quite sure what we'll do. We may not do anything. I'm not sure."
The following Tuesday, Mattingly held a team meeting to clear the air and allow the young superstar a chance to address his teammates and vice versa (via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com).
"I asked them to please keep helping me," Puig said. "Specifically with baserunning and hitting my cutoff man. I want them to help me with everything they can."
Puig's veteran teammates and the Dodgers' coaching staff undoubtedly have no problem helping him improve as a baseball player. It's doubtful, though, that they want to be in charge of making sure he shows up on time, drives closer to the posted speed limit or keeps his weight in check during the offseason.
The problem with Puig may be that he's too talented for his own good. He does things like this too often...
When it comes down to it, the punishment that might ultimately humble him and turn him into the disciplined and mature ballplayer the Dodgers want him to be could also hurt their chances to win in 2014.
Benching him for a game is not enough. Big leaguers take occasional days off during the 162-game season. Benching Puig for more than a few games is not possible. He'll be needed as a pinch hitter and will have a chance to become a hero once again. Game-winning pinch-hit homers will not likely result in a lesson being learned.
How about sending him to the minors where Mattingly won't be tempted to put him in the lineup and where he won't be nearly as revered by Dodgers fans as when he's on a major league baseball field? Now we're getting somewhere.
For how long? Officially, it should be for an "unspecified amount of time." In reality, it should be for however long the Dodgers feel is necessary for Puig to grow up.
And now that I've revealed the probable solution, it's time for a reality check.
We all know that the Dodgers cannot afford to send one of the most talented players in the game to the minors. They're already without ace Clayton Kershaw (back injury) for at least the next month. That's enough adversity to try and overcome. They'll be an inferior team without Puig in their lineup.
In the 104 regular-season games Puig played in last season, the Dodgers were 66-38. Puig had a .319/.391/.534 slash line with 19 homers and 42 runs batted in. They were 26-32 without him in the lineup.
The Dodgers' impressive run after a poor start wasn't all Puig's doing. But his arrival in the majors in early June provided the necessary spark for a lifeless team that finished the year as one of the best squads in the majors.
They're not interested in finding out how much of a spark they'll lose without him.
For at least this season, the Dodgers will continue to deal with "Puig being Puig" because they have no other choice. They want to bring a World Series title to Los Angeles, and it's hard to see them doing that without Puig's bat in the lineup.
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