Before the season, Yasiel Puig said he was playing for his next contract. Now, he's putting his bat where his mouth is and setting himself up for an offseason payday.
He's also among the most intriguing high-risk, high-reward trade commodities in MLB as the July 31 deadline approaches.
"The last couple years, I didn't work hard because I still have a contract to go," Puig said in February, per Alden Gonzalez of ESPN. "Now I think I'll work hard more than any year in my life."
That admission undoubtedly rankled Los Angeles. The Dodgers experienced the highs and lows of the Puig roller coaster—beginning with his impressive debut in 2013, when he posted a .925 OPS in 104 games—before ultimately shipping him to Ohio.
Probably they were smiling smugly when he started the 2019 season ice cold. Puig hit .207 in April with a .615 OPS and often looked lost at the plate.
He hit .245 in May but launched six home runs. He followed that with a .287 average and seven homers in June. So far in July, he's hitting .358 with a 1.054 OPS.
The ice in his lumber has become fire.
Overall, his 37.6 percent hard-contact rate is above his career average of 34.9 percent, while his .281 batting average on balls in play is well below his career .313 BABIP. Translation: His numbers could be even better.
"It's been impressive," Reds manager David Bell told reporters. "It doesn't really feel like it's going away."
Another thing that isn't going away? Puig's showboating tendencies. He licks and flips bats with equal zeal. He photobombs teammates during postgame interviews. He's brash, he's unconventional, he thumbs his nose at the game's unwritten rules.
When he's hitting, it's arguably charming. When he's not hitting? Not so much.
In 2016, his antics collided with injury and underperformance, and the Dodgers demoted him to the minors. His once-promising career was in jeopardy.
"He is the worst person I've ever seen in this game," an unnamed former Dodger told Bleacher Report's Scott Miller in December 2015. "Ever."
When I interviewed former Cuban prospect Maikel Jova in 2016 and asked him about Puig, here was his response: "He's a great player. But..." Then he tapped two fingers on the side of his head.
Puig is a polarizing player. But he's also hyper-talented and could undeniably energize a buyer in need of outfield help.
The Reds are 46-54, eight games back in the NL Central and 7.5 games off the wild-card pace.
Puig is their most obvious and alluring trade chip. He's "a particularly strong candidate to be moved," per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
The Cleveland Indians, whose outfield has largely been an offensive graveyard, are an obvious fit. The Philadelphia Phillies could make a play with Jay Bruce nursing a strained oblique and Andrew McCutchen lost for the season to a torn ACL. Who doesn't want to see Puig and Bryce Harper in the same lineup? The bats would almost flip themselves.
Small-market contenders such as the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays may also kick the tires on a relatively affordable rental as they push for the playoffs. Puig is earning a reasonable $9.7 million in 2019, and any club that acquires him would only be on the hook for the prorated amount, barring cash considerations.
Puig has had his ups and downs in the postseason. But in 202 career plate appearances on the October stage, he owns a solid .280/.351/.429 slash line. And no one would argue he's afraid of the bright lights.
Set aside the questionable quotes, divisive behavior and past slumps and injuries. Puig is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. He's also an athletic outfielder with a howitzer arm who's stolen 13 bases. He's 28 years old. The Reds need to sell.
Puig might be playing for his next contract, but he should soon be doing so in different laundry.