Yasiel Puig may have given Reds fans a glimpse on Sunday, March 17, of why the Dodgers were willing to trade him and three others for prospects and the somehow-financially-beneficial-to-LA bloated contract of Homer Bailey.
The Reds and Indians played a spring training exhibition game at their shared Goodyear Ballpark. In the top of the second inning, the Indians were up 2-0, with a runner on second and one out. Cleveland’s Mac Moroff hits a single to right field, which was fielded cleanly by Puig. The right fielder appeared to try to stop runner Jordan Luplow from trying to score from second by launching a throw to the plate, badly missing the cutoff man, and Moroff easily advanced to second because the cutoff was high. The possibility of a ground-ball double play was gone, and the next batter hit a grounder which scored Luplow.
In the top of the third, Cleveland’s Carlos Santana hit a fly ball to right center field. Puig and center fielder Nick Senzel converged. It was one of those either-player-might-catch-it flyballs. At the last minute, Senzel stopped, and Puig – apparently thinking Senzel was going to make the catch — pulled back his glove, and the ball fell in for a double. Puig looked miffed with Senzel and did not speak with him as the team returned to the dugout after the inning.
Senzel’s inexperience in center field showed, as he apparently did not take charge as he should have. But Puig’s apparent attitude toward a youngster trying to learn a new position was concerning. (In fairness, this account is based on what was shown on the Reds telecast of the game. It was interesting that a camera shot showed Matt Kemp apparently talking to Senzel afterward about the miscommunication instead of Puig talking to Senzel.)
In the top of the sixth inning, Luplow hit a pop fly to right field. Puig was in position to make the catch, but the ball bounced off his glove for a two-base error. Luplow then scored on a triple by the next batter, Greg Allen.
Oh yes, Puig hit two home runs in that game, one a grand slam. But the fact that right field looked at times like it was being played by that kid in little league who the manager wants to keep as far away from the ball as possible was troubling.
This was Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke’s reaction upon the Dodgers trading Puig to Cincinnati on Dec. 21, 2018:
Yasiel Puig was energetic, exciting and fun.
Yasiel Puig was also selfish, irresponsible and ultimately destructive.
His success with the Dodgers was epitomized by that three-run home run in Game 4 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the glorious flipping of his bat, the triumphant raising of the arms, the playful flex of his biceps for fan Kobe Bryant.
Yet his failure here was epitomized only a couple of weeks earlier when a base-running blunder against the Atlanta Braves earned him a rare playoff dugout scolding by manager Dave Roberts.
During his six seasons in Los Angeles, Puig captured the hearts of Dodger fans, but lost the trust of his team. He won moments, but cost games. He was their biggest star, but also their biggest clubhouse burden.
The most popular cheer at Dodger Stadium was, “Puiiiig.”
But if that low guttural tone came from the dugout, it would often be a “Boooo.”
Vin Scully delightfully called him the “Wild Horse.”
But too many times, Puig acted like the wild rear end of that horse.
Mourn the loss of Puig you will — and surely you will — but the Dodgers got the better end of Friday’s trade simply by getting rid of him.
There is no question that Puig has been a public relations boon for the Reds since his arrival. When the camera has been on, he has said and done the right things, always smiling, professing his desire to live in Cincinnati and play for the Reds. When was the last time any “name” player did that?
As a right fielder in his six seasons with the Dodgers, Puig had 41 outfield assists, but 18 errors — including eight last year alone. Four were on fielding plays and four were on bad throws. In 2017, he was the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in right field. The company that makes baseball fielding gloves, in essence, said that Puig was the best defensive right fielder in either league. But last year things took a definite turn for the worse.
We Redleg Nationites should be excited about what Puig’s bat can contribute to the Cincinnati offense in 2019. But cautious optimism is advised for what effects Puig’s defense and his personality may have on the team. Plaschke wrote that in LA, there was the perception that there was one set of rules for Puig and another set for the rest of the team, due to his volatile personality. While hoping that the smiling, bat-licking, team-praising and power-hitting Puig will be the one that emerges, be aware that there is precedent for other counterproductive and even divisive behaviors and attitudes to be on display.