Dodgers: 2018 Will Go Ways in Determining Yasiel Puig’s Future in Blue
By Sunit Bhakta
The Dodgers have a logjam, once again, in the outfield but right field is Yasiel Puig’s. However, 2018 may determine Puig’s future as a Dodger in the long-term.
About ten months ago, I predicted that Yasiel Puig would break out for the Dodgers last year, and did he. He had his best full season yet, hitting .263/.346/.487 with 28 home runs, 15 stolen bases and Gold Glove-caliber defense. While you would like the batting average to be higher, he stepped up numerous categories, setting career-bests in games played, home runs, stolen bases, walk rate, strikeout rate, and defensive runs saved.
With that being said, now I am wondering how the upcoming MLB season will have a massive say in Puig’s future, more specifically his career in Los Angeles.
One thing that will be taken into strong consideration is the amount of depth LA has for just three outfield spots. Puig, Chris Taylor, Alex Verdugo, Andrew Toles (once he returns), Trayce Thompson, Matt Kemp, and Joc Pederson. Not to mention Cody Bellinger can play all three positions as well.
While not all of the listed players will be with the team in future, it just goes to show that there are options available. That is not taking into account talented outfield prospects such as Yusniel Diaz and D.J. Peters who have a projected ETA of sometime in 2019 according to MLB Pipeline, among other sources.
And that 2019 ETA is interesting because that may potentially be Puig’s last year as a member of the Dodgers. He is in the final year of the seven-year contract that he signed coming out of Cuba. But, he will be arbitration-eligible for 2019, due to the rules of MLB’s service time, making that his last year before free agency.
This is why having back-to-back good seasons is crucial for Puig. The Dodgers will have to decide if they want to sign him to a long-term contract eventually, and if he does want to remain, he will have to have an encore of 2017, and possibly more.
If he regresses to his 2015 and 2016 numbers, the Dodgers may eventually look to move the currently 27-year-old while they can because they know they have cheaper reinforcements waiting in the wings. Not to mention, Yasiel will still have some value as a potential 20-20 guy with elite defense under contract for just over $9 million. If he performs well, they may think he’s worthy of an extension, knowing he has just entered his prime and is starting to live up to his talent.
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But it is his behavior that is the most significant reason that he will need to build off last season. He has the reputation as a troublemaker and a player the Dodgers reportedly looked to move in the past due to his misdemeanors outweighing his production.
His behavior improved last year with mainly minor incidents. However, about three weeks ago, he switched agents. And that may not be significant news because it is common for athletes to change agents. But this was the rare case of his agent firing him.
So here we are once again with a potential Yasiel Puig behavioral issue. We do not know what exactly went down and the Dodgers have not commented on it either, so we may never know. Let’s hope we do not have any more controversies with him again. But if he struggles this year, he may not be worth the headache.
It would not be worth keeping him around another year just to see if he can bounce back again. The pattern would be tiring, and it seems as if this is last straw with Yasiel and the front office so one bad move could trigger them to pull the trigger and ship him out of town finally. They have remained patient with him, but to what extent will they stay this way?
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If he struggles, he is as good as gone in my opinion. The combination of depth, end of the contract, and (possible) behavioral issues would make it smart to cut bait. But, if he repeats or improves off his breakout year, keeping him around longer should be taken into serious consideration.