By: David Rosenthal, CBS Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Rumors have been circulating recently about a discourse in the Dodgers clubhouse regarding Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Andy Van Slyke, father of Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke and former major league baseball player, made headlines recently when he told a radio station that the “highest paid player on the team suggested to the general manager that he trade Yasiel Puig.”
Everyone knows that the highest paid player on the Dodgers is Clayton Kershaw, so despite Van Slyke’s attempt to avoid naming names, he essentially created a whole new wave of turmoil for the Dodgers.
Puig was hobbled throughout the entire 2015 season, starting the year with hamstring issues, before being placed on the disabled list at the end of April.
Puig wouldn’t rejoin the team until June, and then injured his hamstring again, and was forced to go on the disabled list for a second time in August.
After appearing in the final two games of the year, Puig was added to the playoff roster, but did not make an impact in the Dodgers series against the Mets.
Many have criticized Puig for his lack of effort and excessive flashiness on and off the field, but if the Dodgers are smart, they will hold on to the ‘Cuban Missile’ and let him earn his way back into a starting role.
Let’s look at Puig’s career stats:
Aside from his struggles amidst injuries last season, Puig has been quite the steal for the Dodgers.
He signed a 7-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers in 2012, just after he defected from his home nation of Cuba.
To put that in perspective, the Dodgers have paid fellow outfielder Carl Crawford at least $20 million a year since 2013, and will continue to do so until his contract expires at the end of 2017.
Crawford has also faced a myriad of injuries himself, although he has not been able to produce at the level Puig has shown fans that he is capable of at any point during his Dodgers career.
Crawford has not been able to complete a full season as a Dodger, and his season high in hits as a member of the Blue Crew barely surpasses 120.
Puig however, in his All-Star 2014 season, collected 165 hits while also being a defensive stalwart in right field.
Crawford on the other hand, is a complete liability in the outfield and if he gets the ball to the infield on a fly from left field it’s almost a miracle.
While Puig certainly has more controversy and off the field issues than most anyone else on the team, he also has more talent than most anyone else on the team.
The man is 24-years old and arrived in the United States just three years ago.
THREE YEARS AGO.
I would imagine most people who come from nothing and are instantly cast into the spotlight as a superstar for the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a little trouble handling all the new fame as well.
Puig is entering his fourth year, and you can bet he has heard his share of all the rumors surrounding him.
The Dodgers front office would be foolish to trade the 24-year old who is making $6 million a year, which in today’s climate for professional baseball players, is simply chump change.
The team would be trading Puig when his value is at an all-time low.
Several teams like the Indians, Marlins, and White Sox have expressed interest in the Cuban outfielder because of his raw talent and incredible athleticism.
Let’s just remember, that for his career, Puig is hitting .294, with 359 hits, 46 home runs, and 149 RBI’s.
No, he’s not the home run hitter fans thought he was when he first arrived in this country.
But, he is a five-tool player who, when healthy, can literally do it all.
He’s exciting to watch, whether he is bat-flipping after a long double that should have been a triple, or when he throws a laser from right field to home plate on a fly to nail a runner trying to tag up.
The young man obviously has a long way to go as a major league athlete, but in the end, he is 24-years old and still just learning the ins and outs of this country and game.
The Dodgers should let him play out his contract (signed through 2018), and give him a real chance to cut out all the shenanigans and try to win Los Angeles a championship.
It would be nearly impossible to replace Puig’s natural talent in right field, and the team cannot make an argument that they have someone better waiting in the wings, because they don’t.
While the team needs starting pitching and relief pitching like no other, it wouldn’t be wise to cut ties with the man who stole our hearts when he first came to Chavez Ravine in 2013.
Reports surfaced today that Puig was involved in a bar fight in Miami involving his sister and security personnel.
The reports stated that Puig scuffled a bit with security, but was not injured and no police report was filed yet.
Other reports came out after the season ended that Puig got in several disputes with fellow Dodgers teammates, most notable highly-coveted free agent Zack Greinke.
Puig has been benched for being late to the stadium several times, and has had his share of arguments, but that doesn’t mean the Dodgers should just abandon ship.
In fact, they should do quite the opposite.
Why not work with the 24-year old and try to help him along the daunting task of becoming a successful young baseball player?
It’s selfish of the team to let Puig go on multiple levels.
First, it’s taking the easy way out, and not dealing with the player’s problems by simply casting him off to another franchise.
Secondly, it’s selfish to deprive the fans of seeing such a talent play every night just because he has some behavioral issues.
Yes, these bar fights, chronic tardiness, and multiple arguments with teammates are not good press, nor do they help the team’s chances of success, but are they really a deal breaker to cut loose one of the premier talents on the team?
The impressionable Cuban is simply trying to figure out life in America, and life as a starting outfielder for one of the most popular sports teams in the world.
Someone needs to get together with Puig and make a plan on how to fix all these issues, but in no way does it warrant the team releasing him, or even worse, trading him when his value is at rock bottom.
Puig certainly needs to get his act together, but with the help of the entire Dodgers organization.
Players father’s creating unnecessary clubhouse drama by talking to the media about personal conversations (I’m looking at you, Andy Van Slyke) is not helping.
It’s not easy for anyone to play under the Los Angeles media’s spotlight.
Puig is no different from newly-crowned MVP Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, except he plays in the number two media market in the country.
Harper has had his share of issues with teammates (Jonathan Papelbon incident) as well, because sometimes emotions get the best of players.
Playing in New York and Los Angeles will make even the toughest players crumble on occasion, but that does not mean Puig can’t figure it out.
Some players thrive under the microscope, while others don’t know how to handle all the new fame and attention.
Puig is in the second category.
He’s a foreigner who is struggling to deal with the Los Angeles media, and he is not the first one to do so.
It’s easy to fly under the radar if you’re playing for the Colorado Rockies or the Milwaukee Brewers (Sorry Denver and Milwaukee, you are both fine cities), but it’s not quite the same when the Hollywood press is all over your every move.
Puig has a lot to learn, and he better do it fast, because it sure looks like the Dodgers’ patience is running out.
If Puig is traded in the coming weeks, I will be greatly disappointed, as all Dodger fans should be.
The man is a rare talent, and just because of some personal issues, we shouldn’t give up on him.
Remember folks, he is 24-years old and has been a resident of this country for just over three years.
The least we can do is try to understand his situation and continue supporting the young man.
David Rosenthal is a web producer for CBS Los Angeles. David lives in Los Angeles and is a Dodgers, Kings, and Lakers fan. If you have any questions or comments for him, he can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org