Yasiel Puig was placed on trade waivers, and then he was claimed. He is still a Dodger for the time being. While a trade was more likely to be completed over the winter for various reasons, the fact that matters have reached this point is remarkable.
How did it come to this? It seems like it was just yesterday that Puig was the very heart and soul of a Dodgers team that stormed their way to the postseason. His pre-call-up hype seemed nearly impossible to match. Puig was a nearly mythical figure, a muscle-bound hypothetical. He could either crash and burn or rule the world, so the stories told. Before long, he would do both.
He entered the majors with the flare of an F-16. His speed, swing and incredible arm were all on display in his magical first week. "The Wild Horse," Vin Scully would come to call him. It was spellbinding. A star was born before our eyes.
Puig totaled around 10 WAR over his first two seasons in the big leagues, by all three measures of the statistic. He was utterly brilliant, a cornerstone of the team. There were times when his brashness got the better of him, but those instances were largely discarded because of how well he performed in spite of it. The voices of dissent were there, including in the LA print media.
They grew even louder over the next two years. Puig’s performance was impacted by nagging injuries and regression, by outside pressures and his own stubbornness. Reports filtered out of the Dodger clubhouse about his clashes with teammates. Talking heads grew louder, and slowly, the game turned on one of its brightest young stars.
This is not to say that Puig’s public trial was not entirely unjust. There are many stories about his conduct with his teammates that are out there to be read if one knows where to look, and Puig himself was open about the fact that his attitude was part of the reason for his recent demotion to Triple-A. There is unquestionably some growing up to be done on Puig’s part.
However, the game also has a habit of dragging down outward personality on the field, especially when it’s displayed by young players of color. Puig stated that he would try to cut down on his bat flips, because celebrations of success are staunchly frowned upon unless you’re David Ortiz. From the very moment that Puig entered the game, players and media members were always trying to push him away. He was the latest in a long line of players taught the hard way that personality on the field is best reserved for grizzled veterans.
It is hard to imagine Puig making it through the winter without being traded. The bridges with the Dodgers have been burnt down to glowing coals. With his status doubtful for even a September call-up, all signs are pointing toward Puig donning a new uniform come next year.
Perhaps Puig will be more mature. Perhaps he won’t be. Regardless of what happens on that front, he will bring with him an enormous reservoir of natural talent. Puig can still be a star. He is still one in name, after all. It’s only a matter of performing like one.
His time with the Dodgers will be remembered as one of tumult and conflict. He will be the author of the next chapter of his playing career, just as soon as the page is officially turned. For now, he languishes at Triple-A, reflecting on his transgressions and waiting for the next shot at the bigs, one that the Dodgers won’t give him despite being embroiled in a close divisional race.
Yasiel Puig has done wrong in his time in baseball. But he is also not the boogeyman that many make him out to be, existing solely to knock over the apple cart of old school baseball scripture.
He’s different, for sure.
He also may be the single most fascinating man in the game.