The ongoing saga of Yasiel Puig and his inconsistent production for the Dodgers reached a point this week that saw the team send the outfielder to the minor leagues. The narrative surrounding the demotion says the Dodgers are close to ending their relationship with the controversial 25-year-old.
While it stands to reason that Puig has certainly worn down on the patience of multiple front offices and coaching staffs, Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, still believes in Puig's upside and is encouraged by recent developments.
In a recent interview with MLB Network Radio, Friedman opened up about Puig's season and the rumors about why they decided to make the move at this time:
"There is a lot out there as is typical in sports and things. Some are based in truth and some have just kind of taken on a life of it’s own. There are definitely things he can do to improve and get better, no question about it. It’s interesting because I was very optimistic coming into the year and I think he started out the year that first week where he did a really good job of laying off pitches middle-in. Guys would try to eat him up inside and then breaking ball down and away off the plate."
Given a clean slate with a new manager, it looked like Puig had turned a corner at the plate. Puig hit .405 (15-for-37) with four extra base hits, five walks and five RBIs.
"That first week, I don’t know if he hit a ball under 100 mph. It was incredible how locked in he was. After that he started going through a little bit of a tailspin and wasn’t nearly as productive at the plate as he expects himself to be, as we expect him to be. But he was still playing gold glove caliber defense."
Puig's defense stayed at a high level for most of the season while the offense lacked. The team was actively trying to better his swing mechanics and approach at the plate -- not unlike previous seasons. But the progress was slowed by a trip to the disabled list.
"He then had the hamstring injury, came back from that and actually performed pretty well offensively. But during that time on the DL we were really trying to address some swing issues. Just some bad habits that over time slowly have become muscle memory and engrained in what he does and it’s just hard to do in that period of time, especially when you’re playing at the big league level."
It was abundantly clear to the front office as the trade deadline approached that they couldn't count on Puig at his current state and the decision was to go after an outfielder. The team made the move to pick up Josh Reddick from the Athletics, making it less necessary to have Puig on the major league roster. That's not to say there weren't signs of improvement.
"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."
Friedman also touched on the topic of Cuban baseball players as a whole, going back to comments he already made on the topic earlier this season.
"As an industry we have not done a very good job by way of the Cuban players that we sign. We’ve given them humungous signing bonuses and basically said alright go get em. They come from a very different culture. They’ve also played professionally in a very different environment. The expectations are different. How teammates internalize things are different. I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of helping to explain these things. There has definitely been improvement. Is there more to come? Definitely. But we’ve handled those conversations with him."
Puig has had a reputation of being hard to deal with off the field and a challenge to teach. There have been conflicting reports to whether the differences with teammates still exist but it's painfully evident that the learning curve has proved difficult still for him. How has he responded to the criticism this season?
"He has actually been really accountable and understands what the expectations are and is anxious to learn more and figure out what that means. When someone has pride it’s hard for them to say I don’t know. Instead of that, it manifests itself in different ways that can bother the people around them."
While Friedman is still highly optimistic that Puig can be a productive player, he also knows this move is a pivotal moment in Puig's development and his relationship with the Dodgers.
"I think Yasiel is at a crossroads here, where taking on that desire to learn and improve can set his career on one track and if not, it will go down the other."