The relationship between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Outfielder Yasiel Puig is, by all accounts, over; that is unless you are speaking with Yasiel Puig. In an extensive, 20-minute interview with ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, Puig had quite a lot to say about his former club, his oft maligned attitude, and his recent underwhelming performance at the plate.
In reference to Los Angeles’ handling of his limited plate opportunities against left-handing pitching, Puig told Gonzalez “Sometimes the team does something they think is good for you, and it’s not that good.” Further commenting on his astonishingly poor performance against lefties in the Dodger’s bid for a World Series last season, Puig stated “If I don’t play in the season, why you want to put me in now in the playoffs?”
The most striking comments made by Puig were in regard to his overall work ethic and lack of production during his time in Los Angeles. Puig told Gonzalez “I never worked hard. Maybe that’s the reason why I didn’t have my better years… I didn’t work hard because I still have a contract to go.” Expanding on his impending free agency at the conclusion of the 2019 season, Puig stated “Now I think I’ll work hard more than any year in my life.” While this explanation certainly sheds significant light on Puig’s mindset (or perhaps excuse) for his six-year career as a less than fan-favorite Los Angeles Dodger, it’s also, rather shockingly, supported by his career stats.
Immediately after signing a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers in June of 2012, Puig took the league by storm; slashing an impressive .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, 21 doubles, and 42 RBIs in a limited 104 game season. For his efforts, Puig came second in National League Rookie of the Year voting, behind the late Jose Fernandez. Puig followed up his impressive debut season with an All-Star worthy .296 batting average, 16 home run, and 69 RBI season. However, the 2014 All-Star weekend proved to be the beginning of a new chapter in the career of Yasiel Puig; one defined exclusively by below average performance, worse attitude, and a glaring lack of self-awareness.
Puig spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons as a .259 average hitter, with decreased home run and RBI production. In addition to his poor on-field production, Puig was the notorious subject of repeated off-the-field issues, including verbal and physical altercations with then teammates, Zack Greinke and Justin Turner. On August 2, 2016, Los Angeles demoted Puig and sent him down to the club’s Triple-A Oklahoma City affiliate, citing a need to both “improve [Puig] as a player and person.” While Puig was ultimately able to work his way back into the major leagues, he was unable to replicate the stellar performance of his first two seasons, failing to surpass a .267 BA in either 2017 or 2018.
After being traded to the Cincinnati Reds this offseason, alongside teammates Matt Kemp (OF) and Alex Wood (LHP), Yasiel Puig is looking forward to his fresh start. After a week in Reds Camp, Puig stated “I feel the love from the city, from the team, and the love for having me here this season. I want to do the best I can to help the team win and give the best of myself and the game to all the fans and all the city – [I] thank the city back for having me here and giving me this opportunity to play this year, with a Cincinnati Reds uniform.” While his contract with the Reds only has him in Cincinnati for the 2019 season, Puig has already expressed interest in staying a Red, telling Gonzalez if General Manager Nick Krall “gives me the money, I will be here as many years as he wants.”
Puig’s comments regarding his time in LA and hopes for this season seem to indicate a new attitude for the Cuban Outfielder, yet simultaneously present a unique question for front office executives come free agency. Will Puig no longer work hard once he’s under long-term contract again? While Puig’s performance the season will likely be the greatest factor in his free agency prospects, his own admissions regarding his work ethic and apparent prioritization of money over success are sure to be poignant considerations next winter.