Yasiel Puig’s time with the Dodgers was a wild ride I’ll never forget

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

Yasiel Puig has been traded to the Reds. He’s been my favorite player in recent years. Perhaps I should take some time to let the news sink in, but I felt I needed to open up my laptop and use writing as my therapy as I often do when I’m frustrated with the Dodgers.

Forgive me if this is a stream of consciousness type post, but the feelings are rushing through me faster than the Wild Horse can run down a ball in right field and gun down a base runner at third base with his powerful cannon of an arm.

It all started on June 3, 2013.

Puig is a player who makes you want to watch baseball. Games have become longer despite MLB’s war on pace of play, and the new generation of baseball fans are often on their phones in the stands instead of hanging on every pitch. Puig’s electric. Whether he’s bat flipping after a monstrous home run, wagging his tongue after sliding headfirst into third base, or making a highlight reel catch in right field, Puig’s the type of player the MLB should be promoting in order to draw in the younger audience. You don’t want to miss anything Puig does, and I’m upset that I’m going to miss what he does from here on out … unless I start watching Reds games.

When Puig bust onto the major-league scene in 2013, his talent was raw and his personality polarizing. Love him or hate him, he was here to stay. In his first season with the Dodgers he slugged .534 and OPS’d .925. He cemented his name in baseball lore as the ‘Wild Horse,’ a moniker bestowed upon him by none other than Vin Scully. And what I wouldn’t give to hear Vin call one more Puig home run or outfield assist at Dodger Stadium.

After his breakout rookie year, Puig struggled to find consistency at the plate and his way in his new country. He was arrested twice in his first year for reckless driving, and it looked as though his time in L.A. wouldn’t end well. In 2014, he was named to his first and only All-Star team, but he also took a step back offensively. In 2015, he battled hamstring issues and played in a career-low 79 games while batting .255/.322/.436/.758 with 11 home runs.

In 2016, Puig’s problems off the field and on the field came to a head, and he was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City for a month on August 2. The Dodgers acquired Josh Reddick from the Oakland A’s in a trade to take over for Puig in right field. Puig rejoined the L.A. Dodgers in September, and he redeemed himself with a .900 OPS in 23 games down the stretch. Despite his willingness to improve his work ethic once he returned from OKC, Puig didn’t get the results he wanted in October and went 4-for-19 in the postseason (.211).

Puig rebounded to hit a career-high 28 home runs and stole 15 bases in 2017 and played in 152 games. His stellar defense in right field, a strength that provided enduring value to the team during his six-year career in Los Angeles, earned him the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. He hit .455 in the 2017 NLDS and .389 in the NLCS. Although he hit two home runs in the World Series against the Astros, he only mustered four hits total and batted .148 as the Dodgers dropped the series in seven games.

Game 4 of the 2018 World Series was supposed to be Puig’s seminal moment. Even though the Dodgers ended up blowing the game — and eventually the series — his 6th inning three-run home run will forever be etched in my memory.

Puig was never able to recreate his offensive numbers of his rookie season, but he has been one of the top defensive outfielders in the league since he debuted. Although some may categorize his overall offensive numbers as disappointing, his career slash line of .279/.353/.478/.831 with 108 home runs undoubtedly contributed to the Dodgers’ run of success, helping lead them to their six consecutive NL West division titles. He’s second on the club behind Justin Turner with a 16.8 WAR since his 2013 debut, per FanGraphs.

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It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my favorite player was traded away in what essentially was a salary dump. This may just be a step toward signing free agent Bryce Harper, and it better be. A large market team like the Dodgers shouldn’t be shipping off one of their best players merely for salary relief when they could feasibly retain Puig and still acquire a Corey Kluber, a J.T. Realmuto, or sign an elite free agent like Harper.

Puig has given me a lot to write about over the past six years, and I feel privileged to have followed and documented his journey from his harrowing defection from Cuba to his establishment as one of the top outfielders in the majors. His story helped pave the way to a new agreement allowing Cuban players to sign with MLB teams announced Thursday.

This spring it will feel strange not to follow and photograph Puig at Camelback Ranch, because he’s always been enjoyable to chronicle whether he’s shagging balls in the outfield, testing out his glove at third base, or working with Turner Ward in the batting cage. Puig and Ward will be reunited in Cincinnati, a new city for the smooching duo to capture the hearts of. The Wild Horse will now patrol the Great American Ball Park outfield, but I will never forget his run with the Dodgers.

While others may still complain about Puig missing the cut-off man or his admittedly terrible base running, I’ll never forget the good times.

Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu‘s bromance was iconic.

Puig’s dance moves made Shakira blush.

His tongue will hopefully be appreciated in Cincy.

Ward tried to get away from this, but to no avail.

Finally, the thing I’ll miss the most are the bat flips. Those glorious bat flips.

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There’s been many Dodgers’ trades that have shocked and disappointed the fans over the years. Mike Piazza is the first to come to mind. This trade that sent Puig, Matt Kemp (again), Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to the Reds has to be one of the most pivotal for the Dodgers since the blockbuster with the Boston Red Sox in 2012 that netted them Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and cash.

My heart tells me that a fan favorite is gone, but my head tells me this is a good move for the team if it means additional moves this winter lead to a World Championship. Puig had only a year left on his contract, so his departure seemed inevitable. The deal with Cincy puts the front office in a better financial position to make subsequent moves this winter. By subsequent moves, I mean signing Harper.

Like Puig, Harper is a player that makes baseball fun again. Please make baseball fun again, Dodgers.

#PuigMyForeverFriend

About Stacie Wheeler

Stacie Wheeler
Stacie Wheeler, born and raised in So Cal, has been writing about the Dodgers since 2010. She wrote daily as the co-editor of Lasorda's Lair for five long years, and she has also written for Dodgers Nation, Dodger Blue 1958 and The Hardball Times. She currently contributes to True Blue LA. Stacie graduated from the University Of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in Cinema-Television. You can also watch her videos on her YouTube channel, DishingUpTheDodgers.