Drastic times: With Choo Down, Texas Should Trade For Yasiel Puig
Fortune favors the bold. That’s an old saying, one that the Rangers tend to live by. They’re the ones that traded away an MVP caliber player in Mark Teixeira, and in the process rebuilt their team. They acquired an actual MVP several years ago in Josh Hamilton when many teams wouldn’t touch him. Their trades don’t always achieve the desired result, like with Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza. Sometimes the result is a giant question mark, like Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder. Jon Daniels and company aren’t afraid to make moves, no matter the outcome. They’ll need to dig into that gumption sack one more time to solve a big problem.
The Rangers need to trade for Yasiel Puig. As soon as possible.
The time is right for Texas to make this move, as unfortunate as it is to say. After Shin-Soo Choo‘s season ended Monday with a broken forearm, the outstanding Texas outfield took a turn for the pedestrian. Replacing a career .382 on-base and .453 slugging isn’t going to be easy. With all due respect to Ryan Rua, Delino DeShields, and the other assorted outfielders on the roster they can’t do it. Choo when healthy is one of the best, yet somehow underrated, hitters in baseball.
Most years, Texas would be up a creek. This time, though, a unique set of circumstances gives Texas one shining opportunity to fix the problem.
Puig represents an upgrade in the short and long term for Texas. Yes, he has unperformed this season with a .260/.320/.386 slash. Yes, the Dodgers were so sick of him that they shipped him to Oklahoma City to repent and rebuild. He’s one of baseball’s biggest lightning rods, and despite recent public comments, the divorce between these two is inevitable.
The Dodgers’ loss should be Texas’ gain.
Puig has already posted two MVP level seasons in 2013 and 2014. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he was 22 and 23 playing those first two full seasons of American baseball. Coming into his debut with LA in 2013, he had 63 games of minor league experience. 40 of those games were at Double A. In fact, he hadn’t played at Triple-A until earlier this month when this whole demotion commotion began. 2015 was rough, 2016 even rougher to date.
That’s just related to on-field production. The bubble machine, bat flips, Snapchat videos, and other assorted issues have dogged Puig throughout his Dodgers tenure. Some of it is valid criticism of a young man maturing under the brightest of lights, the rest is criticism shouted from the mountain pundits and fans made out of mole hills. Regardless of validity, it’s unquestionable that Puig needs to do some growing up. He said as much after his demotion, told to MLB.com’s Jack Baer.
“I’m here because I was not doing the right things over there,” Puig said through an interpreter. “I’m here to improve myself. I’m here to become a better athlete again. That’s their decision, if I have to go back to the big club. Right now, I’m going to focus on being better around the plate and being a better athlete.”
Publicly, Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has expressed the same sentiment. He’s positive about what Puig’s future holds.
“For him to have had the success that he had with making just a little bit of the changes that we wanted to make, makes us even more encouraged about him going down and being able to really focus on it, address it, and then we still feel like there is a lot of upside there and a guy that can really impact a baseball game on both sides.”
It’s unclear whether Friedman believes that, or is maintaining Puig’s trade value. It was said, however, and whichever it is the statement isn’t insignificant. The front office may not even be Puig’s biggest problem. It could be his fellow teammates. Jeff Passan, who previewed the excellent Molly Knight book “The Best Team Money Can Buy”, made mention of some disagreements Puig and teammates had.
While some issues, like his habitual tardiness for games, have abated this year, according to sources, Puig’s work ethic in batting practice and the weight room continue to bother some teammates. Much of the hostility stems from a general sense of entitlement shown by the 24-year-old. During spring training this year, as Knight writes and multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports, Puig argued with teammates over who should be allowed on a plane ride that typically includes wives and girlfriends. The subject of someone from Puig’s entourage joining the traveling crew came up, and sources told Yahoo Sports that Puig argued with pitcher Zack Greinke and nearly came to blows with infielder Justin Turner over the matter.
Greinke is gone and Turner is a free agent after 2016, but one player that isn’t going anywhere is ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw and Puig have crossed paths in the media before. In a strange situation, Dodger outfielder Scott Van Slyke’s father Andy told a radio show that Kershaw advised Friedman to trade Puig. Friedman denied the reports, but there was nothing else he could do publicly. No matter how many or how truthful the incidents, the Dodgers and Puig’s have a rocky relationship. He’s a guy in need of a scenery change. Somewhere with firm leadership in the clubhouse and front office, along with a need to let him play every day.
Choo’s injury leaves Texas without three every day major league outfielders. A conglomerate of Rua/DeShields/Jurickson Profar/Drew Stubbs together will try to recreate in the aggregate, but success seems unlikely. Even someone like a Ryan Cordell, currently injured for Round Rock, or a Joey Gallo won’t replace what Choo brought.
Puig can, though. In his career, he gets on base more against lefties than righties, .372 to .359. He’s played right field almost exclusively, save for 64 games in center. While a top of the lineup threat, posting a career .901 OPS hitting 2nd, not shabby hitting leadoff either(.279/.361/.486/.847 in 202 PAs). His skill set is different than Choo’s, but he’s a dynamic offensive player which can’t be said about the other possible replacements.
There are no worries about defense either with Puig compared to Choo. Going with Ultimate Zone Rating/150, an imperfect yet simple stat, Puig outpaces Choo in right field. Here’s a chart of the two compared since Puig’s debut in 2013. A note that I’m using UZR/150 to help equalize the fact that Choo missed significant time in 2014 and 2016. It gives a more composite picture regardless of sample size.
|Years/Player||2013||2014||2015||2016(to date 8/16/16)|
Puig won’t win any Gold Gloves, but he’s posted two above average seasons and an average one. Choo, on the other hand, has posted dreadful seasons as far back as his last Cincinnati year. Acquiring Puig means you also can shift Choo into a full-time DH role, which as demonstrated above would benefit the team defensively. His bat is why he’s here, so while paying $20 million plus a year to a DH sucks it’s a necessary evil.
Speaking of money, Puig isn’t that expensive. Courtesy of Spotrac, he’s only guaranteed a little over $17 million over the next two seasons combined. 2018 is his first (and only) arbitration year, and he walks free at age 29. The unfortunate savings of the Fielder injury situation pays for Puig in full next year, while leaving a $200,000 overhang in 2018. Sure the one arb year might scare you, but if Puig’s been good enough to break the arbitration bank the team either has or will extend him. The financials aren’t a big deal.
His acquisition cost is likely less than it should be for someone of his caliber. An All-Star quality outfielder should be something that breaks the prospect bank. Puig’s baggage though makes him a sell now player. Texas could acquire him for maybe two mid levels, or maybe one good player. Chi Chi Gonzalez and Jairo Beras could get this done I think. Maybe not that exact package, but something similar in talent level.
The major hangup for any team acquiring Puig is the makeup issues, the off-field news generation. It’s the only reason a player this good and this young is available. Those concerns are real, but my argument is Texas has the best system in place to handle someone like Puig. He has made it clear by his own statements that he knows he’s failed and is working to get better. It’s not far off to think he understands the opportunity his “antics” and immaturity have cost him. Self-reflection and admittance of a problem are the first steps towards repair. Puig’s ability to say the right thing is a big indicator of progress.
Also, consider who’s in Texas right now. Jeff Banister seems like the exact manager Puig needs right now. Banny has seen it all, been around every type of player, and knows how to get through to about any personality type. He’s also not someone that takes any feces off anyone. He’ll keep it real with any player, and that goes double in regards to the expectations that come with wearing a Texas jersey. A firm yet smart hand on a player’s rudder, something that Puig hasn’t had before.
The clubhouse itself also presents a perfect match. Tell me that if Puig did something out of line, Adrian Beltre isn’t the first one over there to set things right. Colby Lewis isn’t far behind, moving as fast as his 40% cyborg body will allow. Leadership aside, the Texas clubhouse is a fun place to be. Guys like Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, Ian Desmond, and others seem a contrast to the more business formal clubhouse of the Dodgers. It’s clear that the LA clubhouse has turned their back on Puig, fair or not. Texas offers the greener grass of a team with firm management from top to bottom, along with an accepting roster that provides structure and fun.
There’s no doubt people will rebel against even the thought of bringing in Puig. After all, he has picked up the dreaded “clubhouse cancer” label. That becomes a hard label to shake once you’ve acquired it, rightfully or otherwise. That said, people also think Yu Darvish doesn’t care about the Rangers. Character narratives tend to fall on how we feel about individual players. Puig is a flashy Cuban immigrant who doesn’t play the “right way.” That rubs a lot of people the wrong way, so his mistakes become amplified. Things characteristic of a young player growing as a person, the mistakes within become toxic and undesirable. There’s no understanding or empathy, just condemnation.
I see Puig as a young man who shined bright, then succumbed to failures both on and off the field. He didn’t succeed as much, and that takes a mental toll on any player. Couple that with living in a brand new place, doing things he’s never done before, and I’d be more surprised if he didn’t fail. How many of us at 24 and 25 didn’t do or say things that rubbed people the wrong way? A lot, but no beat reporters or bloggers follow our every move daily. We’re not taking at bats on national television every day. Everything a major league player does is big, so it’s no shock that their failures are also.
So I welcome Puig with open arms. He’s a young man who has supreme talent, needing a place that can show him the way to be a great player and person. The Texas roster is full of great players and people both. People who have been where Puig is, and can guide him through it. The reward for doing so? An in his prime potential MVP-caliber outfielder. That’s a risk worth taking. It’s a bold chance, but this is a team who has made their bones off living bold.