Update: Los Angeles Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has commented on the situation in a press release.
“Everything dies. In time, even stars burn out.” — Matthew Stover, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith novelization.
Stover’s line of “even stars burn out” is one of the things from Star Wars that can translate into real life. This also holds true in the world of sports, where All-Stars, world champions, and even future Hall of Famers eventually lose the luster and success that made them icons. For as long as the hope that the stardom and strong play will remain, the time eventually comes where the jersey is hung up for the final time and the car rides off into the sunset.
Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Dodgers, star outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was demoted to the minor league team in Oklahoma City following last week’s trade for Oakland’s Josh Reddick, may have finally burnt out.
Puig, an All-Star in 2014 and one of a recent group of Cubans to become stars in the Major Leagues (notably joining Jose Fernandez, Yoenis Cespedes, and Aroldis Chapman), was sent to the minor leagues last week for a combination of poor on-field performance and issues in the clubhouse. After failing to trade Puig, Dodgers management was optimistic that maybe a brief stay in the minors would help Puig mature and get back to the level he played at from 2013-15.
But, as ESPN reported on Tuesday morning, the former MLB 15: The Show cover boy recorded videos on the popular app Snapchat of him and teammates partying following a 3-2 loss to the Iowa Cubs.
“My team is so funny,” Puig says in the video. “We lose today and everybody’s happy.”
As the night continued, more and more videos showed a shirtless Puig and his teammates drinking and dancing on a party bus, listening to loud music, and yelling obscenities. Some clips from the account have been captured and put into one long video.
So much for understanding the point of the reason he was demoted to the minor leagues.
For years, a common flaw of Puig’s — and one that the media has picked him apart for countless times — is the way he approaches the game of baseball. Despite a huge contract and playing for a team that enters every season with World Series expectations (but hasn’t reached the Fall Classic in nearly 30 years), Puig still treats his at-bats, time on the bases, and time on the field as if it’s a pickup game. Few players today, even those like Bryce Harper who have set a norm for being different, act as free-spirited and excited to hit the field as the 25-year-old Puig does.
Unfortunately, this attitude can come at a price, especially if the player in question is not producing up to normal standards. No one bats an eye at aberrant behavior when things are going well, not even if Puig is in the clubhouse skinning an animal alive or finding himself enjoying the latest Ghostbusters movie, but things have to change when an outfielder who hit.305 in his first two years is barely hitting his weight (.260 average and he weighs 240 pounds).
A player laughing during losses, even with whatever talent he may have, isn’t going to last in the pros at the highest level. Although Puig may be better at the game of baseball than Derek Anderson was at quarterback, there’s not much of a difference between them when it comes to attitude and maturity.
Luis Matos, a former outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals who currently serves as Oklahoma City’s bench coach, has become the unofficial interpreter for the Cuban star as the media flocks to the minors in hopes of landing the perfect Puig story. This past weekend, Matos spoke about Puig to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, explaining how the former top prospect could have fallen so far so quickly.
“He’s not [in the big leagues with Los Angeles right now] because of his conduct, the way he’s acting. That’s why he’s here, to get better in that part of his life and his game… He’s just coming here to be a better person. That’s out of his hands. He just wants to play baseball. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Dodgers or with somebody else.”
Oklahoma City manager Bill Hasselman also spoke about Puig to Shaikin, though the former Red Sox catcher kept his thoughts about his new outfielder much shorter and simpler.
“We just want to help him become a better teammate to fit in and to understand stuff a little better.”
Prior to the demotion, Puig had been hitting 0.260/0.320/0.386 in 81 games for the Dodgers with just seven home runs and 34 RBI. To his credit, though, Puig had been hitting at a.283/.389/.417 clip with five doubles and 10 RBI in the month of July.
If one wishes to go further, Puig had been hitting.304/.387/.435 with a 17-9 K-BB ratio since June 2, the day when his average stood at a horrendous (by his standards).237. Still, the solid two-month stretch hadn’t done much for his WAR, as it stands at just 0.8, which would be a career-worst if the season ended today. After a 10.3 WAR and a 6.6 Wins Above Average in his first two years, Puig has had just a 1.9 and a 0.0 in both categories since the start of 2015.
With Puig likely on the outs in Los Angeles, look for him to wind up somewhere that can handle players with attitude problems and an influx of outfielders that could be moved around if a talent like Puig arrived. For the right deal, likely consisting of a starting pitcher and a top prospect or two, Puig could easily wind up with a team like the New York Yankees or Chicago White Sox at the start of the 2017 season.
By that point, even if a star dies out, it’s quite possible that a new hope will rise.
[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]