LOS ANGELES — Win or lose there is never really a dull moment with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and news that Yasiel Puig is about to be demoted to Triple-A is about as attention-grabbing as it gets.
Just how attention-grabbing?
Depending on your perception of things, it would seem the Puig situation has managed to overshadow the team’s move earlier in the day to acquire both starting pitching and outfield help for the stretch drive.
When the Dodgers traded for both pitcher Rich Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick, it set into motion the events that would affect Puig. The Dodgers reportedly told Puig they would try to trade him and, if that failed, he would be demoted. He was not traded.
Puig was told to not come to the ballpark Monday afternoon as the Dodgers prepared to fly to Denver for a three-game series that starts Tuesday. Whether he is happy with it or not, he is expected to report to his new assignment as expected.
The dynamic outfielder has been a lightning rod for attention ever since he arrived on the major league scene in 2013. The former Cuban defector made good on his promise that first major league season. Puig turned heads right from the beginning, collecting a single in his first major league at-bat and ending that game by catching a line drive in right field and doubling up a runner at first base.
In 104 games of his rookie season, Puig hit 19 home runs, still his season high, helped the Dodgers win the National League West and is credited with helping manager Don Mattingly keep his job. He finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting to Miami’s Jose Fernandez.
But the attention has not always been positive. Far from it. The Puig-Mattingly relationship fractured and team acceptance of the outfielder seemed rocky leading into news this offseason that outfielder Scott Van Slyke may or may not have told his father, former player Andy Van Slyke, that Clayton Kershaw preferred that Puig was traded.
Dodgers players, including Kershaw and Van Slyke, did not completely dismiss the story this past January, speaking in vague generalities instead. There has been no obvious tension in the clubhouse this season.
With Puig now working through his fourth hamstring issue in the past two seasons, the Dodgers have not seen nearly the production that would match the player’s potential, thus leading to Monday’s trade for Reddick.
Through the weekend, the Dodgers had a .729 OPS from their right fielders, ranking 12th in the 15-team National League. Puig alone has a .706 OPS this season, easily the lowest of his four-year major league career. In fact, his OPS has been declining steadily from .925 in 2013 to .863 in 2014 to .758 last year all the way down to this year’s mark.
Yet, as dramatic as Monday’s news to send down Puig was, all might not be lost for him this season. If Puig can handle the demotion professionally and show some progress over the next month, it is possible the Dodgers will call him back up when rosters expand in September, if not sooner.
That last month in the major leagues would give him the opportunity to get playing time and force himself on to the playoff roster if the Dodgers are fortunate enough to advance.
Knowing that Puig did have injuries to both hamstrings last season, the Dodgers made a tactical maneuver this winter. They had him work on flexibility over muscle bulk, hoping the fitness strategy would make him better able to handle soft-tissue injuries.
But double hamstring injuries have shown that the tactic did not work, and while the rest of the offense has taken off, Puig has not been able to produce like his teammates have.
The Dodgers had one of the best offenses in baseball in July, if not the best. Meanwhile, Puig played in just 19 July games. While he did bat .283 with an .806 OPS, he had just six extra-base hits in the month, one of which was a home run. He drove in 10 runs in July, as the team was scoring runs in bunches.
So the Dodgers will be playing without Puig once again. It has not been an uncommon arrangement. He played in just 79 games last season and has played in only 81 of the team’s 105 games this year.
Puig will get a chance to handle a move back to the minor leagues at 25. If he proves himself, and makes a fastball-prone swing far better, then he will get another chance.
But whatever happens, it promises to be interesting.