Yasiel Puig is in AAA, where he currently has a 1.295 OPS. His replacement, Josh Reddick, currently has a .413 OPS with the Dodgers. This point is driven home over and over on this site, on social media, and basically everywhere else, and I understand why fans are upset with a fan favorite, a victim of false attacks, and a former face of the franchise type of player being relegated to the minors as production from his replacement stalls.
What I don’t understand is how people can’t accept the reasoning and logic for Puig’s demotion after over a week of explanations from just about everybody involved.
Of all the people to write an article about understanding why Puig is in the minors, you’d probably peg me as one of the last. I’m obviously a Puig fan, both for his production when he rose to prominence and because his antics just in terms of making the game fun to watch. I also was among those initially going nuts about the decision to demote Puig just as it looked like he was showing progress with an .830 OPS since his return from the DL, especially as the team continued to roster struggling players at the same position like Scott Van Slyke and Enrique Hernandez, or career minor-leaguers like Andrew Toles.
What I’m saying is that I get where the fans upset about Puig’s demotion are coming from.
What I’m also saying is that all the detractors of Puig’s demotion need to at least “get” what the Dodgers organization is doing as well. A lot of my support for Puig this season was contingent on buying into the narrative that Puig had turned over a new leaf in the off-season. By all accounts in Spring Training, Puig was in shape, he had a new attitude, and everything seemed to be going along swimmingly. There were no teammate or organization leaks, no e-mails or direct messages from those in the know about how Puig was pissing everybody off, and even the media generally had nothing to say in regards to his presence in the clubhouse. So there was no reason to think he wasn’t taking care of business, and that he just happened to unfortunately struggle with injuries again this year.
Well, we now know that was not the case, and people need to re-evaluate their view of Puig as well. Despite what many seem to believe about the situation, we know Puig hasn’t been doing what he should’ve been doing because the front office said it, the coaches said it, the media said it, and most importantly, Yasiel Puig said it.
“Yasiel is at a crossroads here,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, told MLB Network Radio on Thursday. “Taking on that desire to learn and improve can set his career on one track, and if not it’ll go down the other. Just in the conversations I’ve had with him the last few days, I’m very, very optimistic about it.”
“Just some bad habits that over time slowly have become muscle memory and engrained in what he does and it’s just hard to do in that period of time, especially when you’re playing at the big league level.”
“For him to have had the success that he had with making just a little bit of the changes that we wanted to make, makes us even more encouraged about him going down and being able to really focus on it, address it, and then we still feel like there is a lot of upside there and a guy that can really impact a baseball game on both sides.”
General Manager Farhan Zaidi framed Puig’s demotion as “a chance to work on some things and develop further as a player.”
But 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.
“We’ve been consistent with him as far as our desire for him to be a better person and baseball player,” Roberts said on Sunday. “There’s been some injuries, and he hasn’t performed the way he’s wanted to. “But I think as a coach, we have to concern ourselves with the whole team. As much as I care about him and I want him to be great, I mean, guys have to take ownership and be accountable for themselves, as a grown man.”
“I feel that we did the best we could do,” Roberts said. “At some point, each individual has got to take ownership of his actions. When you look at where we are in the season, the focus has to be on winning baseball games. That’s it. Any person whose focus is not solely on winning baseball games for the Dodgers? A change has to be made. That’s kind of where we were at.”
“He’s not there because of his conduct, the way he’s acting,” said Luis Matos, the Oklahoma City coach who interpreted for Puig on Sunday. “That’s why he’s here, to get better in that part of his life and his game.”
The way he’s acting? What exactly did he mean by that?
“Everybody knows,” Matos said, without translating the question for Puig.
His reaction to being sent to OKC:
When the club told me I was coming to OKC, I took that as their option. That’s what they told me. I’m here and I’m trying to be a better person. There’s a reason why I’m here. I’m trying to be a better teammate and a better person.
What do you learn from this?
I need to do what my teammates are doing, because I’m not there. I don’t feel like I’m on the level that they are, so I need to work on that. I want to be a part of the team and be at the same level as my teammates.
What L.A. teammates tell him:
My friends back in L.A., they text me and tell me this can happen to anyone. The best thing you can do right now is focus and do what you need to do and then be a better teammate and also support your team.
Yes, all parties involved are at least partially to blame for the demotion, but in light of everything that has been said, it’s safe to say that many just need to swallow the bitter pill like I did and put what’s happened to Puig in 2016 into a new context instead of stubbornly believing in some conspiracy where everybody is out to get him.
It seems explicitly clear that all involved (except for a significant segment of Dodgers fans) understand why Puig is in AAA, and that the reason is both multi-faceted and related, connecting improving Puig’s work ethic and relationship with teammates with trying to get the most out of Puig from a performance standpoint.
Like many of you, I also don’t care if he’s the nicest guy or the greatest teammate or a people pleaser. I just want production. Many people argue his numbers after coming off the DL were in his favor, but I think they miss the big picture. Yes, Puig was productive for a 28-game stretch, but the reality is that he was on pace to be a below league-average player if given a whole season of playing time (~1.5 WAR). The whole point of sending him down is that whether he was currently doing well or not, they never knew when his production would crater because of his lack of consistent habits or when he would get hurt (like he did even during the stretch) because his preparation wasn’t up to snuff. That’s a 100% valid makeup concern in terms of how it impacts a player’s development and thus production, and if there was any time to send Puig down to get things straightened out, it’s during the worst season of his career.
Given that Puig has now had trouble with Ned Colletti‘s front office and Don Mattingly‘s coaching staff, as well as Andrew Friedman‘s front office and Dave Roberts‘ coaching staff, I don’t understand how fans can think it’s everybody else that’s to blame here. Everything surrounding this situation indicates that if there was any mistake being made it was that the Dodgers didn’t do anything about this sooner because the allure of production was too tempting, so it’s bizarre to see fans pretend like there’s been no logic or reasoning behind the decision to demote Puig, when the remarkable thing is actually that something wasn’t done sooner.
The goal of Yasiel Puig’s detour to AAA seems clear to anybody who actually wants to know: It’s for him to improve his habits and get back to the player he once was. And his future with the Dodgers seems up to him, at least according to Roberts.
“I think that’s up to Yasiel,” Roberts said. “If he chooses to continue to grow as a baseball player and as a man, then he’d be welcome back here.”
As Puig is still one of my favorite players, I hope Roberts is telling the truth that Puig will be given another chance, and I definitely hope Puig takes the wake-up call seriously and works hard to change and get back to his old self. Given his talent, a free-agent class woefully weak in impact players, and his team-friendly contract, Puig is likely to once again be the Dodgers best chance at “acquiring” an impact offensive force in the off-season, and I’m truly hoping for the best to come out of this.
Puig has already shown the ability to adjust and change in the past (at least on the field), and by all accounts, he’s smart enough to do whatever he puts his mind to as well. It’s just a question of whether he can stick to a routine day in and day out to be the All-Star we’ve seen before. Either way, the attempt by the Dodgers to extract that star player again is worth the minute amount of time missed with the demotion to AAA, and given what everybody involved has said about the situation, I find it difficult to argue against the sense of it.