Should the Blue Jays target Yasiel Puig in their 2016 trade deadline discussions?
When Puig is on his game, he is outstanding. He was an all-star in 2014 with a 147 wRC+, and he has a career +6.9 UZR/150 in right field. Some might remember this throw in May to nail Darwin Barney at second base.
There is also a good positional fit. Even if the Jays re-sign Jose Bautista, it is unlikely that Jose will remain in RF much longer. So the Jays will be in the market for a power-hitting, plus-defense player in right. And, given the large contracts for Donaldson, Tulo and Russell (and perhaps Edwin and Jose), it would help if this player were (a) under team control for a few years and (b) relatively cheap – like Puig, who is owed ~$17 million for 2017 and 2018 combined, and will still have a year of arbitration in 2019.
Puig could fit right in to right field in 2016, with Jose and Edwin sharing the 1B/DH duties and Smoak moving to a defensive replacement off the bench.
The final good news is the price. Ordinarily, a player of Puig’s calibre would not be available at all. Or, if they were, the price would be astronomical. But, given the team issues described below (and the wealth of the Dodgers team) it is entirely possible that price would not be an issue.
Puig’s production has shown a troubling downward trend. He hit to a .319 / .391 / .534 line and a 160 wRC+ in his rookie year of 2013. In 2014, he was an All-Star with a wRC+ of 147. But in 2015 this wRC+ dropped to 111 and so far in 2016 he has hit .258/.316/.389 with a 93 wRC+. It is also possibly significant that Puig’s decline in offensive production has corresponded with a decline in BABIP, from .383 in 2013 to .356 in 2014 and to .296 and .303 in 2015 and 2016.
A second concern is injuries. Puig missed 81 games in 2015, largely due to a series of hamstring injuries. So far, he has missed 18 games in 2016, also for hamstrings. However, Puig missed only 3 games in 2013 and 11 in 2014, so it is possible that 2015 and 2016 are more indicative of bad luck than any long-term issue.
The elephant on the table in any Puig discussion is his attitude. Puig has been accused of arriving late to practices (and games), of not staying in shape, and of not giving a full effort in every game. These issues have taken things to the point where his teammates are talking about how trading him, even for a marginal return, might constitute “addition by subtraction“. The Dodgers have enough other high-paid stars that they need to keep happy that they might well see Puig in this light.
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So why would the Jays even consider trading for Puig, given these issues? Haven’t the Jays said how important clubhouse chemistry is for them?
First, there is the question of the “real” Yasiel Puig. Remember that he is still a young man (25 years old) and that he recently went from being a poor Cuban ballplayer to a multi-millionaire media star. And as if that were not enough to turn a young man’s head, he plays his games in Lotusland with all of the media attention and star glitz that that implies. It is possible that, with additional maturity and away from the L.A. lifestyle, he might be a different man. Remember his audition earlier this year for Ambassador for Toronto?
And Toronto has had good luck with “problem” players in the past. Remember when Michael Saunders had a poor work ethic in Seattle? Or when Josh Donaldson and Billy Beane were “at war” at season end, with Donaldson allegedly disrespecting “Billy Boy” at every opportunity? Or how Colby Rasmus was uncoachable in St. Louis? Sometimes a situation can deteriorate to the point where a player just needs a change of scenery and a fresh start.
The bottom line
Without question, Puig would be a gamble. But, at the right price, it might well be a gamble worth taking. Toronto might be a good fit for Puig too – while we might not be “Toronto the Good” any longer, the Toronto lifestyle is likely still more low-key than most major US cities. Puig + Toronto could very well be a win-win.