It's Time for Dodgers to Officially End the Volatile Yasiel Puig Era

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2018

MIAMI, FL - MAY 17:  Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in action against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on May 17, 2018 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

To say Yasiel Puig's tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers has been mercurial is like saying traffic in Southern California is slightly congested.

At various times, Puig has been a phenom, a lightning rod, a revelation and a headache. Now, he's a piece of baggage-laden, underperforming flotsam the Dodgers should jettison.

In 2013, Puig took the league by storm, hitting .319 with a .925 OPS in 104 games for L.A. He made his first All-Star team the following year, though his average (.296) and OPS (.863) dipped.

In 2015, he battled injuries and inconsistency and posted a .758 OPS in 79 games. His issues were greater than mere growing pains.

In December 2015, Bleacher Report's Scott Miller described a player on the brink of a seismic collapse. "He is the worst person I've ever seen in this game," an ex-Dodger said at the time, per Miller. "Ever."

To his credit, Puig rose from those ashes.

After a so-so 2016, he set career bests in home runs (28), RBI (74) and stolen bases (15) in 2017 as the Dodgers marched to Game 7 of the World Series.

"The crowd still gets excited with what I do out on the field," Puig said in September 2017, per Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer. "They're happy with the plays I make, the home runs, and even all the crazy things I do."

That last part is debatable. Yes, when he's putting up numbers, some Dodgers fans doubtless love his crass showmanship. For example: In June 2017, Puig hit a home run and flashed a pair of middle fingers to the hometown Cleveland Indians contingent, as Chavez Ravine Fiends documented:

Those immature tendencies might seem fun to the L.A. faithful when he's producing. When he's not? Not so much.

So we arrive at Puig's 2018 slash line entering play Sunday: .214/.279/.342. Each mark is a career worst. Each is wholly unacceptable for a corner outfielder on a club with title aspirations.

Puig's soft-contact rate is 27.8 percent compared to a career average of 18.5 percent. His strikeout rate has risen from 17.5 percent in 2017 to 21.7 percent. 

There is some good news: After missing 10 games with a bruised left hip and foot, Puig has hit .276 in 10 May contests with three home runs in his last six games.

Maybe he's back. More probably, this is more fool's gold from a player who can never sustain success or get out of his own way.

The Dodgers are floundering in fourth place in the NL West at 19-26. Changes must be made. 

Los Angeles' outfield depth chart consists of resurgent veteran Matt Kemp, powerful but also underperforming Joc Pederson, scuffling 2017 breakout Chris Taylor and versatile Enrique Hernandez. 

Top position prospect Alex Verdugo was called up during Puig's DL stint but returned to Triple-A, where he's tallied four homers and four doubles in 24 games and dazzled with highlight-reel plays in center field. 

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

The 22-year-old could soon join Kemp and some combination of Pederson, Taylor and Hernandez to fill out L.A.'s outfield and make Puig expendable. The Dodgers should also be in hot pursuit of superstar Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, who could fill the crater left by Corey Seager's season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Puig will be eligible for arbitration in 2019 and would hit free agency in 2020. He wouldn't be a straight rental and thus should interest multiple suitors banking on a change-of-scenery boost.

The New York Mets may need a stand-in for oft-injured slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The Arizona Diamondbacks, too, could use help in the offense and outfield after losing A.J. Pollock for 4-8 weeks with a fractured thumb.

It's unclear what the Dodgers could get for Puig, but pitching reinforcements should be a priority in light of ace Clayton Kershaw's biceps injury.

Puig's mini-power surge might make Dodgers fans dream of a hot streak. Look at his track record, though. Check out his 2018 line. And ask yourself: Is he on the brink of carrying an offense that ranks 21st in baseball with a .712 OPS?

To give credit where it's due, Puig has grown as a ballplayer and a person since the stories Miller outlined in 2015, including a near-fight with third baseman Justin Turner and an incident where then-Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke tossed Puig's suitcase off the bus in Chicago. 

MIAMI, FL - MAY 17:  Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on in the dugout against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on May 17, 2018 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Over the past two seasons, Puig has minimized his antics. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, his production has plummeted. 

How many chances will the Dodgers give him before they put him on the trading block and make him someone else's issue?

They've made allowances. They've exercised patience. They've waited for the attitude to morph into excellence. 

L.A. went from the doorstep of a Commissioner's Trophy in November 2017 to fourth place in May 2018. That's mercurial enough. 

They don't need any more help from Puig.

    

All statistics and contract information current as of Sunday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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