Should The Phillies Try To Acquire Yasiel Puig?
Next week, Tim Tebow will hold a workout for major league teams and the Phillies are among the more than twenty teams expected to send scouts. Tebow just turned 29 and hasn’t played competitive baseball since he was in high school. The chances that he’s able to ever reach the major leagues are infinitesimally small and, yet, major league teams will watch him play because he was a well-regarded amateur player a decade ago and possesses enough athleticism to have won a Heisman Trophy and play in the NFL. Baseball teams will explore any avenue to bring talent into their system, no matter how absurd it may be. Which is why we need to talk about Yasiel Puig.
Puig will turn 26 years old in December and already has two all-star caliber seasons to his name, but he has struggled with injuries and under-performance during the last two seasons. More alarmingly, he’s been at the center of a great deal of clubhouse criticism which culminated in the Dodgers sending him to Triple-A last month with no apparent plans to reactivate him before the end of the season. We’re currently in the period of waiver wire trades which means that many, if not most, major league players will be placed on trade waivers and Puig is expected to be among them. If claimed, the Dodgers could either work out a trade with the claiming team or send him and his remaining 2-year/$17.4M contract outright to the claiming team. If he goes unclaimed, the Dodgers are free to trade him to any team.
The Tebow story illustrates that it should be nearly impossible for Puig to clear waivers. Although evaluating Tebow costs nothing more than scout transportation costs and Puig costs nearly $20 million, Puig has already realized his All-Star caliber ceiling at the major league level. That should be enough to offset the financial risk to claiming teams and yet, it’s rumored that the Dodgers are finding it impossible to move Puig.
Last week Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported:
Yasiel Puig is off to a nice start in Triple-A, and he could become tradeable. Though, “no one’s claiming him … if they do, they’re going to get him,” one rival exec opined. It’s not likely he’s back in the Dodgers clubhouse this year, either, as he “turned off” teammates.
Earlier this week, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe had a similar report:
The Dodgers are trying to give away Puig, but no luck. Puig, with Triple A Oklahoma City, is considered toxic at the moment, but it takes only one team to want him. He doesn’t have too many allies in the Dodgers organization, but as one team official said recently, “At some point, the talent, the maturity is going to take hold. Someone will benefit from it. We hope it’s us, but it’s hard to envision it right now.”Name of the source
The Dodgers are trying to compete *now* and, as a result, may not have the flexibility necessary to be patient as Puig sorts through whatever personal and/or behavioral issues have so deeply harmed his major league career to this point. It’s also very much worth noting that the Dodgers know him better than any other team and if they’re giving up it might be because they genuinely have no reason to believe he’s capable of taking the necessary steps to return to being a productive major league player. However, a team like the Phillies has a certain freedom afforded to them simply by the fact that they’re not trying to win *now* and that freedom allows them to take certain risks on players — throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, and all that. Should Puig be one of those risks?
The price is right. His age is right. While the Phillies do have a slight backlog of young outfielders currently in the system — Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, and Roman Quinn — it’s not enough to warrant ignoring the possible boost a talent like Puig could theoretically provide. What Puig has already achieved at the major league level is likely beyond expectations of reasonable ceilings for any of those players. Although the Phillies are long-shots to contend in 2017, they intend to field a competitive team in preparation for 2018 contention, if nothing else. A productive Puig could provide a real boost in that effort and if he does rebound in the Phillies organization, they could consider signing him to an extension beyond the 2018 season when he’s still in his late-20s.
But is any of that worth risking clubhouse chemistry? The Phillies team is extraordinarily young right now and they’re trying to build a productive core of players. Is it worth it to bring in a clubhouse distraction with a now well-established track record for being a bad teammate?
Although I like the young outfield core the Phillies are developing, I’m not convinced it’s enough to be the championship caliber outfield that they’re trying to build. I think they’re likely going to need or want to bring in a top-tier outfielder via free agency or trade at some point. On paper Puig certainly looks like he could be that guy or, at least, a talented bridge to whoever that guy is. Having him on the roster could also free up the Phillies to trade from their outfield depth in order to fortify other areas of their roster.
That said, I wouldn’t do it. I’m risk-averse (perhaps to a fault) and when a situation looks bad it often is bad. And right now, everything about this Puig situation looks bad. If he somehow falls to them for cheap (i.e. the Dodgers eat a portion of his contract), they’d be fools not to take him, but I think the Phillies would be wise to look for other avenues to invest the ~$20M remaining on Puig’s contract. There are missing pieces for the next competitive Phillies team who aren’t yet in the organization, but it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine that Yasiel Puig is one of them.