Yasiel Puig's Demotion May Mean He'll Never Again Wear Dodgers Uniform

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20:  Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

Yasiel Puig is a good baseball player.

With all the acrimony and controversy swirling around the Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder, it's easy to lose sight of that fact. But it's a fact, nonetheless.

And yet, it's been a while since results were consistently there for Puig.

Now, the mercurial Cuban's career in Dodger blue is on life support after the team optioned him to Triple-A on Tuesday, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

The move came after protracted trade speculation, as Gurnick outlined:

Puig's demotion culminates two weeks of drama and intrigue, beginning with a reported tight hamstring, followed by more than a week of limited playing time and trade rumors. According to his agent, Puig was told that he would be traded Monday, and if he wasn't and the Dodgers acquired an outfielder, Puig would be demoted.

The Dodgers acquired a right fielder at the trade deadline, landing Josh Reddick along with southpaw starter Rich Hill from the Oakland Athletics.

And sure enough, Puig was demoted.

It's a steep, vertigo-inducing fall for a guy who was one of the game's most exciting stars just a few seasons ago.

Puig's star has fallen precipitously since his 2013 debut.
Puig's star has fallen precipitously since his 2013 debut.Nick Wass/Associated Press
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Puig arrived with a bang in 2013, posting a .925 OPS in 104 games and finishing second in National League Rookie of the Year voting. The following year, he was an All-Star and top-20 NL MVP finisher.

In 2015, however, Puig appeared in just 79 games while dealing with injuries and inconsistency, posting a career-low .758 OPS.

His problems extended beyond normal growing pains. In December 2015, Bleacher Report's Scott Miller painted a picture of a player teetering on the brink:

Tucked somewhere among the salacious stories of [Zack] Greinke tossing Puig's suitcase off the bus and onto a street in Chicago, ace Clayton Kershaw allegedly advising the Dodgers front office this winter to dump the outfielder and third baseman Justin Turner almost getting into a fight with Puig last spring looms one of the biggest questions facing the Dodgers for 2016:

Is the relationship between Puig and his teammates inside the Dodgers' clubhouse irreparably broken?

Not everyone thought it was. Veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, for one, came to Puig's defense at the time.

But one former Dodger didn't mince words.

"He is the worst person I've ever seen in this game," the unnamed player said, per Miller. "Ever."

That may sound like hyperbole sparked by Puig's brash, bat-flipping antics. The old school clashing with the new school, with predictably cantankerous results.

But the preponderance of evidence leans toward Puig being a polarizing clubhouse presence.

That's fine when you're producing. When you're not? That's a different story.

So as Puig struggled with career lows in on-base percentage (.320) and slugging percentage (.386) in 2016, the ill will apparently festered.

And then, a 25-year-old preternatural athlete with five-tool potential found himself ticketed for bus rides in the minor leagues.

Before that, the Dodgers put Puig on the trading block, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, but didn't receive an acceptable offer.

So they sent him down, unceremoniously, despite the fact he hit .308 with an .830 OPS since returning from a hamstring injury in June.

Clearly, Los Angeles had reached the end of its rope with Puig.

Reddick is only a rental, yet the club seems prepared to cast aside a man who looked like a franchise building block a few short years ago—even, it's worth noting, in the midst of a tight divisional race with the archrival San Francisco Giants, when a few hot weeks from Puig could make all the difference.

One former teammate called Puig "the worst person I've ever seen in this game."
One former teammate called Puig "the worst person I've ever seen in this game."Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The next logical step is for the Dodgers to put Puig on waivers to see if they can move him before Aug. 31. Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe, among others, listed Puig as a leading waiver candidate. If that doesn't happen, look for Los Angeles to aggressively shop him over the winter amid a weak free-agent class.

It's easy to imagine a curious club taking a flier. Again, Puig is just 25. He's only recently removed from results that teased superstar possibilities. And he's locked into an affordable contract that pays him less than $20 million through 2018.

Plenty of players his age are figuring out the majors—forget lighting them on fire.

In a way, Puig is like a comet that burned fast and bright across the sky. The question is: Will he crash to Earth or streak across the heavens again?

Puig's tenure with the Dodgers is likely coming to an end one way or another.

But he's still a good baseball player. Surely that will be enough for someone, somewhere to give him a second chance.

    

All statistics accurate as of Aug. 2 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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