When the Dodgers traded Yasiel Puig over the winter, it was a bit of a gut-punch, even if it wasn’t terribly surprising. They sent him, Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood to the Reds for a to-be-released Homer Bailey and two non-Top 100 prospects in Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray. It was a salary dump that saved the Dodgers about $17 million.
Puig had endeared himself to the fan base after one of the more polarizing careers a Dodger ever had. He had the two most iconic moments of the Dodgers’ postseason run in 2018 (NLCS Game 7 home run in Milwaukee; World Series Game 4 dong in LA), so the fact that the front office could deal him after those two incredible moments left a bad taste in one’s mouth even if we kinda knew it was coming.
Fast-forward eight months and, do you think you can find a Dodger fan who wouldn’t do that trade all over again? I’m guessing no.
Puig is having a very average season, and he’s now with the Clevelands after being traded at the deadline. He’s hitting .258/.312/.470 with a 98 wRC+ and 24 home runs. He’s been worth just about 1 win above replacement, and there’s no guarantee he would crack the Dodgers’ starting lineup right now. Yes, they probably wouldn’t have signed A.J. Pollock if Puig stuck around, but seeing as the Dodgers have 5-6 capable MLB outfielders on the roster, Puig was the odd man out. The other pieces of the deal haven’t done a whole lot. Farmer has an 84 wRC+, Kemp has long since been released and Wood didn’t make his season debut until July 28 — he also hasn’t been anywhere close to good (6.07 ERA, 6.04 FIP). Frankly, the Dodgers aren’t missing any of them.
Now, the Dodgers have two prospects who have improved since coming over and could be integral parts to the team in as little as a couple years, or they could be used to acquire talent from outside the org. And all it cost was a fan favorite, a couple veterans who weren’t coming back after the 2019 season and a catcher (and utility player) who barely ever caught for the Dodgers.
Downs, 21, spent most of his season at High-A Rancho Cucamonga where he was playing against players nearly 2 1/2 years his senior. He had an .862 OPS before recently being promoted to Double-A Tulsa (where he’s almost four years younger than league-average). FanGraphs ranked him as the 7th-best prospect in the system shortly into the 2019 season but has since elevated him to 6th and, more importantly, he checks in at No. 96 on their most recent Top 100 update. He also carries a 50 future value, up from 45 earlier this spring.
Gray, also 21, has taken a large leap forward. He was raw as a pitching prospect because he played infield in college until a summer in the Cape Cod League sealed his future on the mound. Gray has been dominant at all three levels he has played this season, compiling a cumulative 2.09 ERA and a 22.7 K-BB%. He has definitely taken a step forward under the Dodgers’ instruction and has gone from FanGraphs’ No. 8 prospect in the system to No. 5 in the org and No. 94 in its Top 100. His future value also jumped from 45 to 50 and has gone from back-end starter or reliever to legitimate mid-rotation (or better) starter.
It’s easy to remember all the good Puig did with the Dodgers, but he also came with some headaches. Still, I’m willing to bet he’d be performing better this season if he were still with LA. Now that he’s in Cleveland with Terry Francona — a pairing I’ve been calling for for a long time — he’s playing better. If Cleveland keeps him after the season, it might reap the benefits of a few full years of Puig-Francona.
But for now, the Dodgers will continue to develop Downs and Gray and not look back at the deal. Andrew Friedman and Co., haven’t been perfect when it comes to making personnel decisions with the Dodgers (no front office is), but it seems they have another one to put in the proverbial win column here.