Yasiel Puig is more valuable than you think

With all these Yasiel Puig trade rumors, it’s hard to know exactly (or even approximately) how much trade value he actually has.

The reality is likely that he has more valuable to the Dodgers than any other team right now. The outfield, despite having many options, is thin in terms of production. Howie Kendrick, primarily a second baseman heading into this season, has picked it up of late and the Dodgers got a nice boost from Trayce Thompson until he hurt himself, but outside of Joc Pederson, there hasn’t been a consistent performer in the lot. And that’s saying something, seeing as Pederson is doing most of his work as a platoon player.

Puig is probably not the guy he was when he debuted in 2013 — 160 wRC+, .398 wOBA and a career-best .215 ISO. He’s closer to the 2014 version when he had a 147 wRC+, .379 wOBA and .185 ISO — but even that seems a little generous. Where he really lies is somewhere in between his 2014 and 2015 (111 wRC+, .328 wOBA, .181 ISO), as he’s certainly a better player than he has been this season (92 wRC+, .305 wOBA, .120 ISO), which he’s shown in his recent surge since coming off the disabled list (.300/.394/.413/.806).

What makes his situation particularly unique is his contract status, because he’s signed through the 2018 season at a team-friendly rate.

  • 2017: $6.5 million
  • 2018: $7.5 million

Any team would gladly pay that amount for even an average (2 WAR) MLB player, but there’s a clause in Puig’s contract that allows him to opt into arbitration when he is eligible for it. That would be this off-season. If he does, his current contract would be void and he’d go through the process as a second-year arbitration guy (Dodgers wouldn’t be able to earn an extra year of team control by starting him off as a first-year arbitration player).

Jon Weisman, when he still operated Dodger Thoughts, broke down the potential for Puig and arbitration.

(via Dodger Thoughts)
(via Dodger Thoughts)

Granted, this was written more than three years ago, and things have obviously changed. Despite that, Puig could still, conceivably, earn more money through the arbitration process — but not enough to deter teams from wanting to take on his contract for a couple seasons.

I’m not 100 percent sure regarding this particular (and potential) case involving Puig, but there are arbitration rules for how much a player can earn. A player cannot receive a pay cut of more than 20 percent in the process, but even if that applies and factoring in his diminished offensive production, Puig still plays good enough defense for that to not be an issue.

Most of the risk probably comes on his side, because if he were to opt-in and he falls flat on his face in 2017, the Dodgers (or whichever team he’s playing for) can non-tender him a deal, meaning he’d become a free agent and would have to sign a new deal with a team — a deal that would, in all likelihood, pay him much less than his $7.5 million salary for 2018. But that’s an extreme example.

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Either way, the Puig trade rumors will not go away, and we’re only 12 days from the trade deadline.

Eric Stephen wrote about them yesterday.

“Now is as good a time as any for a reminder to always fully read reports of trade rumors, at the very least for context. To me, the worst part of trade deadline season is the game of telephone that causes a very loose rumor to be picked up by a content aggregator, going only off of a headline, and by the time the rumor gets passed around enough it gets completely distorted.

In this case, Rosenthal is at the top of the heap among national reporters both in his accuracy and his connections within the industry, so there is little reason to doubt him. But even he reported that the Dodgers are open to trading Puig, which isn’t the same as the club actively shopping him.”

Exactly.

Stephen is responding to an article penned by Ken Rosenthal, saying that the Dodgers are open to trading Puig. Not exactly a news flash, as the team should be open to trading everyone except Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager. But as Eric said, that isn’t the same thing as the organization shopping him.

Just two years ago, Puig was ranked fifth in Dave Cameron’s annual trade value series.

“Assuming Puig keeps playing well, he could easily land $30 million in arbitration in those two years, so his total cost over the next four seasons is probably closer to $40 million than the $24 million he’s scheduled to make under his contract. But $24 million, $40 million, it’s all just peanuts compared to what Puig does on the field.”

Obviously he’s not the same player anymore, but current Puig still has value thanks to his contract and the potential of the player talked about in that quoted paragraph still exists. So while it makes sense the Dodgers are not opposed to moving him, with a banged up outfield and not a lot of consistent production, it might be best to “gamble” on Puig for the rest of the season and see how things pan out. Especially because it seems like trading him mid-season is a lot more complicated than if they tried to do so in the winter.

I’ll say this: If Puig does get traded, Cleveland would be the ideal landing spot for him (in my eyes). They need a lot of outfield help, despite some guys playing above their career norms (Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis), a standout rookie who strikes out a lot (Tyler Naquin) and an oft-injured stud (Michael Brantley). But the biggest reason Cleveland makes sense is because of its manager, Terry Francona.

Francona is one of the game’s best and has been for almost two decades. If he can’t get through to Puig and unlock the potential that was seen in his first two seasons, no one can. It’d be a worthwhile gamble for Cleveland, as I’m not sure they want to continue hoping Chisenhall and Davis don’t pumpkin.

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Overall, I’m highly skeptical Yasiel Puig will be traded before Aug. 1. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, as there would have to be a lot of moving parts for that to happen (Dodgers would have to trade for another outfielder). Instead, the Dodgers — unless they’re overwhelmed with an offer — should just stick with Puig and his plus-defense in right field and should still look to acquire an outfielder to play left field, because I’m also highly skeptical Andre Ethier is going to come back and give the Dodgers much of anything this season. Puig still has a lot of value, but the team he probably has the most value to right now is the Dodgers.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.