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.

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19 comments

  1. Bob

    August 24, 2016 03:27 PM

    I would certainly do it. If he turns out to be a problem in the clubhouse, the Phillies can cut him and eat the money. It’s well worth the risk. Our OF situation is influx right now. I know a lot of people are high on Nick Williams, but he strikes out a ton. In other words, there will be some growing pains.

    There were rumblings that the Phillies could trade Herrera. If they are so inclined, Altherr could man center, Puig and Williams in the other corners. Asche and Goeddel are bench pieces at best. Should Puig turn it around, it’s possible that the Phillies could trade him for value as well. Mackanin has the temperament to make it work.

    The wildcard is with attendance the way it is whether ownership would be willing to eat Puig’s contract should things not turn for the better. They have been thus far unwilling to do so with Howard who could legitimately help a playoff team in a situational role.

    • SJ Haack

      August 25, 2016 03:32 PM

      Howard cleared waivers. Any team could have him with no commitment at all beyond saying yes. No one bit at the chance. The Phillies are already going to eat all his salary because he’s going to be on their roster for the rest of the season.

  2. Major Malfunction

    August 24, 2016 07:08 PM

    History has shown has shown that the head cases usually remain head cases in baseball. He’s getting along on talent alone right now, not through educating himself on the game or being anything described as giving it a team effort. Maybe the demotion to AAA sobers him up? But do you risk bringing him into a young clubhouse? I don’t think the Phillies need that mess with the talent pool they have access to already.

  3. Gil

    August 24, 2016 07:44 PM

    The Phillies should try to acquire Puig. Worst case is release, best case is superstar embraced by the city and team alike. Reality likely somewhere between – most likely it won’t work out, but it sure seems worth trying. The Phillies easily have plenty of money and could use it to pick up for peanuts a player who just a few short years ago was about as high-priced and untouchable as they come. The amount owed on his contract seems worth the risk for a team like the Phillies. It would also make it easier to deal an outfielder next winter if it fits their plans.

    • Terry

      August 25, 2016 02:49 AM

      Worst case is that you lose $20 million you could have spent on a better free agent or prospect in trades (and Puig is not a prospect), you take a Free Agent “hardship tax” due to players not wanting to come to Philly (much like the Mariners experienced with Ichiro), your team gets a reputation as a thug central (much as the Dodgers did, losing the lucrative middle class fans to the Angels), etc.

      Sporting franchises are more than their record and salary cap.

      Understand that there’s a reason why the Dodgers, the biggest spenders in the MLB, want to get rid of Puig. It has nothing to do with money on the Puig contract, at least not for the Dodgers. It has to do with money in the larger macro-economic landscape. $20 million and average production is chump change compared to the hundreds of millions the Dodgers are scaling back on their projections for advertisement, merchandising, brand-name, realty value, etc.

      Yasiel Puig is the greatest gift to the Angels’ bottom line – well, behind Mike Trout which is why the LAD are trying to get rid of Puig, while the LAA will never trade Trout.

      Remember all the arguments that Puig was better than Trout? Oh the joys of the internet age, foiling people who try to throw history down the memory hole.

      • Bob

        August 25, 2016 09:31 AM

        You really lost me with the thug central comment. You’re joking or that’s hyperbole, right?

      • Romus

        August 25, 2016 09:59 AM

        Comes down to image and the dollar it brings……Dodgers want it without Puig headlining ESPN/MLB Network with his latest undoing.. Freidman wants to outdo the Giants on the field not in the headline department.

      • BobSmith

        August 26, 2016 11:33 PM

        Dodgers are yet again are leading MLB in attendance and their TV ratings are crushing the Angels.

  4. Brad Engler

    August 24, 2016 08:54 PM

    As a prospect hugger, I wouldn’t trade any talent for him, but I would take most or even all of the money on the contract if that’s what it took. They have like seventy five bucks in salary commitments next year. Why not? If he’s cut for being useless or detrimental, it’s only money.

    • Michael C Lorah

      August 25, 2016 06:56 AM

      Agreed.

    • Romus

      August 25, 2016 08:05 AM

      ‘it’s only money’…..IMO, so far this new regime, coming up on a year in less than two months, is looking to be penny-wise and dollar foolish.. Getting a suspicious feeling about the Middleton/MacPhail/Klentak triad.
      Why?
      For one…did they even use their entire international allocation this year…they had the most in baseball! Not one player signed for one million or more..the two top Ven kids for less.
      So when you say….’its only money’….to them it may mean a lot more.
      I hope I am wrong and they start to be aggressive like , I dare say, the Braves, the Padres and Brewers, especially in the back end of the pipeline for talent acquisition.
      it is still early so I need to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      • Michael C Lorah

        August 25, 2016 02:23 PM

        That spending seems, to me, very consistent with their stated goals for the international signing period. They were pretty clear that they wanted to sign multiple players rather than just one top guy, with the goal of creating more depth in the minor league system. Also, they were transparent about refusing to go over their spending cap, as they don’t want to incur penalties against spending in 2017 or 2018.

        If the team were closer to contention, maybe one top guy would suit their needs more, but with the reality of young players not panning out, having more options is to their benefit right now.

      • Romus

        August 25, 2016 04:01 PM

        Understand……but they sign 20 to 30 LA players every year. And right now the A/rookie level LA guys are exceptional, especially the pitchers.
        However, to get the future Eloy Jiminez’. Nomar Mazars, miguekl Sanos and even a Puig…..you need to pluck down the money.
        Braves did that with Maitan, Padres with Morrejon and Ona
        Last year Jhailyn Ortiz was actually the first really big signing they had ever had for over $1.5M….and that was under the old regime.
        Prior to that……it was a numbers game with the one $800K guy a year starting with Tocci in ’11. In ’12 there was the exception with Grullon and Pujols.
        Compare their track record with the other large market teams.
        That strategy of multiple signings did not work from ’02 until Franco’s emergence in ’15….I do not count Freddy, Cesar or even Villar with the Brewers as impactful layers….nice pieces but not the impact players.
        Maybe Kilome, Sanchez, Medina, Garcia will be difference makers….but they are so down the pipeline and pitchers …which is tricky anyway.
        Just think the mind-set from the old regime’s financial austerity is being carried over with this new regime.

      • BobSmith

        August 26, 2016 11:35 PM

        Phillies have nearly $1.5 million yet in unspent international bonus pool dollars unspent yet.

  5. Dave

    August 25, 2016 09:24 AM

    I would absolutely , without a doubt, snatch up Yasiel Puig in a heartbeat.

    His remaining $17M for next 2 years is chump change for the Phils.
    His total contract is for ~$42M… he has already produced $87.5M value (per Fangraphs). Yes, most of that value was the first 2 years, and he’s trended down.

    Nick Williams, in his age 22 season is doing OK at Lehigh Valley . But a .296 OBP isn’t really gonna cut it. His OPS is only .734. And I’m NOT knocking Williams. He’s holding his own at triple A, at a young age.

    At age 22, Puig finished 15th in the MVP award voting.

    Puig is one month older than the young Aaron Altherr… a month.

    The thing is, every MLB team knows that too… EVERY team can afford a $8M/yr superstar. Heck, $8mill barely gets you more than 1 WAR now… and Puig, even in this “lost” half-season has been worth 0.4 WAR. So why couldn’t the Dodgers deal him before the deadline? Even for a low return deal? That’d be better than giving him away… which they seem willing to do now.

    Also, why further diminish his value, by sending him down and telling the world that it is because he’s a headcase locker-room cancer diva? Why not just send him down to “work on his timing” or get over some minor (fake) injury or something?

    Yeah-yeah, MLB teams know Puig is “hard to handle”.

    Still, I don’t get it.

    Which makes me think something else is going on. It makes me think something very bad happenned. I don’t know what “very bad” is to the Dodgers. I’m curious to find out.

  6. RU

    August 25, 2016 10:27 AM

    It strikes me that current management is very concerned with the “environment” and teaching conditions they create. MK in his introductory speech pointed to “an attitude of winning, a culture of excellence.” That also, I would suggest, is not too far from what his boss McPhail would say as well. Given that, I would imagine their fear in bringing in a modern day “Alex Johnson” (for fans check out his Phillies career) is that despite Puig’s talent he may undermine the very positive culture they are attempting to build. Sort of like the bad apple poisoning the Crawford’s and Alfaro’s on the team. For this reason, whether it is a good baseball bet or not, I would think it unlikely to happen. Just too many young people could be influenced by the bad apple.

    As for the Dodgers – in a sad sort of way to Phillies fans – the team is finally getting its act together because they have become a “grinding out” team. That has been instilled in them by none other than Chase Utley who has vastly influenced the team. That is becoming very apparent. Puig is the very anathema to the Utley mantra and that’s why they got rid of him

    • Eddie

      August 26, 2016 01:23 PM

      Agree very much.

      In a strict talent sense, obviously Puig makes enormous sense. But if he was a headcase on a winning team with a slew of respected veterans (including several latinos), what’s he going to be like on a losing team with a bunch of kids? Could be a trainwreck.

      Situations like this, IMO all depend on things like personalities and relationships that are largely opaque to fans. For all we know, Andres Blanco and Juan Samuel are the ones who finally get through to Puig. OTOH, for all we know, the stories in the grapevine about Puig are worse than what’s published.

  7. SJ Haack

    August 25, 2016 11:26 AM

    If it was me I would have written the article like this-

    Short answer: yes.

    Long answer: yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees.

    • SJ Haack

      August 25, 2016 11:53 AM

      Luckily I’m not the one that writes the articles.

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