Yasiel Puig’s demotion was deserved but mishandled by the front office

Based on everything we know so far– and it isn’t the entire story, I’m sure — the way the Dodgers’ front office has handled this Yasiel Puig situation leaves a lot to be desired. We all know by now Puig isn’t 100 percent innocent in this situation, and hasn’t been since turning pro, but even if one believes the reason behind his demotion was valid, it doesn’t change the fact that a whole lot of mess could’ve been avoided.

It was first reported by Ken Rosenthal that Puig “stormed out of the clubhouse” when he was told he was either going to be demoted to Triple-A on Tuesday or traded before the non-waiver trade deadline. That was wrong. Chad did his best to chronicle the situation and try to get word out of what actually happened, but we all know no one will actually remember that … a retraction or correction isn’t nearly as juicy as Puig flipping out. What actually happened that day is Puig was told to not come to the ballpark or accompany the team on the way to Colorado. He complied. That’s it. I’m sure he wasn’t happy, but he absolutely did not “storm out of the clubhouse.”

This is a problem. Whoever Rosenthal’s source is — and it isn’t Puig’s agent — burned Ken appears to have intentionally tried to smear Puig.

Hard to argue that point. We’ll likely never know (and not from Rosenthal) who that source was — and I’m not going to speculate as to who it may or may not have been, but if it was someone within the organization — player, front office, executive, custodian, the Rally Bear — then that’s a huge, huge problem.

Jon Heyman piled on with a borderline irresponsible article about the situation on Tuesday.

“Controversial Dodgers talent Yasiel Puig’s coming demotion isn’t all about his performance, but also his demeanor/behavior, people close to the situation say.

If he was a clubhouse delight with a slightly-below-average 93 OPS+, the Dodgers may not have been so anxious to get him out of there. But as it was, they told him they’d demote him to the minors if they were unable to trade him, and are expected to do so Tuesday.

“His performance and his act through the year led (the Dodgers) to this point,” one person familiar with the situation said.”

“While comments from Dodgers players are hard to come by, it’s been fairly well-documented how uneasy Puig’s relationships with teammates have been. Former outfield star Andy Van Slyke, whose son Scott is a Dodgers outfielder, said on a radio show several months ago that no less than pitching great Clayton Kershaw wanted Puig off the team, an insinuation Kershaw hasn’t directly denied.”

Barely sourced, rehashing old gossip that Kershaw — who was unfairly dragged into all this — refuted, more of the same from the lazy national media.

Puig’s antics have been well-documented — from the late arrivals, to driving really fast, to teammates throwing his bags off the team bus — but he didn’t deserve to be treated this way by the team or the source. The team has been complicit in enabling Puig because he helped them line their pockets and sell the new ownership and front office to fans. Yet now, he’s being discarded like nothing just because his production isn’t matching the hype they helped to build around him. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

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Since Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi have arrived, I’ve had almost nothing but good things to say about this front office, but this was just puzzling on multiple fronts. Just for starters, it doesn’t really make any sense to tell a guy “we’re going to trade you or demote you,” just because either way it immediately sours your relationship with the player. Telling him that matter-of-factly is a gut punch, and it’s not hard to imagine Puig being confused given that he had been playing well recently.

The main duo in charge are incredibly intelligent men. They’re incredibly intelligent baseball men. They didn’t get to their respective positions by not being so. That said, I really hope this is an exception to the rule of how they handle players and transactions behind closed doors, even if Puig was, reportedly, OK with the way things went down.

It isn’t fair what happened to Puig, and unless he did something incredibly unforgivable — and that doesn’t appear to be the case here — he didn’t deserve for this non-story to come out and remain unchallenged by the front office for a news cycle. The front office could have done far more public relations-wise by nipping the “stormed out of the clubhouse” line in the bud, as Zaidi was on a conference call with reporters when Rosenthal’s story went live. If not then, why not come out with a prepared statement in response to the erroneous story to show to the public and Puig himself that you support him. Not doing so sends the wrong message and makes one wonder how much they wanted the story refuted to begin with. It isn’t the front office’s fault (probably) the source leaked faulty information, but it’s called damage control — especially since it has to do with Puig. By saying nothing, it really says a lot.

In the end, Rosenthal ate some crow, the front office was bizarrely mute, and Puig came out looking better than expected because he’s smart and/or has a good PR team.

But what if it was all just PR from Puig?

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The baseball story itself is head-scratching on the surface.

The Dodgers are demoting their most talented outfielder who is hitting .308/.390/.440 since returning from the disabled list on June 21 (28 games, even with the week missed due to a hamstring injury) in favor of keeping guys like Enrique Hernandez, Andrew Toles and Scott Van Slyke — all of whom have options. Hernandez and Van Slyke have a 72 and 78 wRC+, respectively, on the season. Puig, even with all his struggles, has a 95 wRC+ — still below-average, but not well below-average like Hernandez and Van Slyke. And his defense is miles ahead of both of them (even if SVS is an underrated defender). Toles gets a pass in the sense that he’s a rookie and true center fielder, but he could have easily been optioned to Triple-A to allow Puig to stay.

The Dodgers want more production from Puig. Great, we all do. But the fact he has been producing since coming off the DL and with Howie Kendrick playing out of position for most of the season, the simple fix would have been to put Josh Reddick in left field, leave Puig in right field and move Kendrick back to being a primary second baseman (because Chase Utley‘s production has diminished, as expected).

All that said, the decision to get rid of Puig does make quite a bit more sense after Andy McCullough wrote his story about Puig and shed some light on the situation.

Zaidi acknowledged that Puig’s behavior was a factor. The organization did not portray Puig as an irreconcilable malcontent, crippling the club with his personality. The issues were smaller and subtler, a series of minor indiscretions that piled up.

Despite his ubiquitous Twitter hashtag, Puig sometimes showed up late to meetings. He displayed only intermittent interest in the work necessary to avoid injury. Roberts acknowledged Puig lacked consistency in his habits. ‘Yasiel has to continue to grow,’ he said.

‘There are certainly things we believe he could do better off the field,’ Zaidi said. ‘And those have been communicated to him. I don’t want to elaborate on it further.’

Team officials acknowledged a correlation between Puig’s preparation and his performance. If Puig dedicated himself to activities geared toward injury prevention, he might not have recurring hamstring issues. If he established a more concrete pregame routine, he might maintain his mechanics at the plate.

On Tuesday afternoon, as he prepared to manage his first game with Puig in the rearview mirror, Roberts admitted he spent more time focusing on his former right fielder than any other Dodger.

‘The goal, especially at this level, is time should be distributed evenly,’ Roberts said. ‘And I think Yasiel understands that. And this is something that we expect him to understand, that this is not punitive. It’s for his growth. To become, ultimately, a better baseball player.’

It’s a fantastic read and a thousand times better than anything you’ll get from the national guys.

Fans wanted specifics on what was going down behind the scenes and refused to believe media reports (understandably) until they got them. Well, McCullough provided both details and a months-long story with it.

In essence, while Puig was nowhere near as destructive as it was reported he was before, much of the supposed improvement lasted about a month. That month generated good will with teammates and executives and got much positive PR, but it wasn’t before long that he lapsed back into the same pattern of behavior as before. That’s frustrating to hear given that many fans felt he finally turned the corner with at least his attitude even if his production wasn’t the same, but that reportedly simply hasn’t been the case. Basically, a lot of what we’ve heard this season has been more of a con than anything else, so you can imagine how people who deal with him on a day-to-day basis might feel.

As such, while the front office deserves to shoulder blame for this mess growing beyond what it should’ve, Puig himself deserves his fair helping as well. Yes, the front office should’ve handled this better. Yes, demoting him likely makes the team marginally worse than it should be. Yes, it’s wrong that the team is reaping what they sow in terms of his entitlement and are now acting surprised by it. However, the demotion is an understandable decision if looking at his overall lack of production (excluding the arbitrary endpoints), potential negative impact in the clubhouse, and the message it would send if Puig’s antics went generally unpunished … again.

So even if you don’t agree with the decision to demote Puig, you have to at least understand it. But make no mistake: It was less about his performance (especially of late) and more about the little things he did (or didn’t do) that built up and finally boiled over.

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I don’t know if Yasiel Puig has played his last game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’ll undoubtedly be placed on waivers, and from there who knows what will happen. Heck, even if he isn’t dealt, they may just never call him up from the minors altogether, thus keeping him out of sight and out of mind. Nobody knows.

We all hope for the best out of this situation. We hope Puig goes down to Triple-A, fixes the problems with his swing, gets the message and busts his ass, and comes back up for the stretch run to destroy the league. As fans I think most of us wish that’s how it works out and that Puig remains a Dodger for life. But the more likely scenario is that Puig’s time as a Dodger comes to an end with a whimper even if he entered with a bang, and the blame for that lies on all the parties involved in this mess.

Note: A big thanks to Chad for helping with this piece — both on the editorial and technical (site went down and lost a lot) side.

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.