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.

35 Responses

  1. BK

    Really nice article Tom! Puig has brought tremendous excitement to the Reds, but there is a reason he was available. Let’s hope some added maturity from the reality that the Dodgers were willing to trade him will yield a season of far more positives from Puig!

  2. Bill Lack

    I would add to this his non-slide in the game in Atlanta, when he made an out on a bad baserunning decision at 3rd base. Now, maybe he was thinking he didn’t want to risk a slide in an exhibition game, but I kinda doubt it. I think that sliding was instinctive. Guess we’ll find out.

    • Trevdawg

      well-reasoned article. I was at the game in Atlanta with my wife who immediately noticed the non-slide, questioning his effort. The maturity concerns me as does the me-first attitude. That said, 30-plus homers salves a lot of misbehaviors.

  3. Sliotar

    Tom,

    Nice writing.

    The Reds “window dressed” the roster to not be horrible in their 150th anniversary season…without gutting their farm system, or their future contention window.

    Great. Nice to say, “ya know, some things break right, the Reds could be in this.”

    The flip side….how to evaluate the 1-year guys and decide what to do with them…Puig at the top. He should have a monster year….contract is up, HR-friendly home park, hitters all around him in lineup.

    But…would the Reds be “buying at the top” by extending him? Interesting times.

  4. Steve Mancuso

    I wish we could keep the discussion of the pros and cons of Yasiel Puig (and any of the players) to the performance on the field. The personality (“apparent attitude” “volatile” “divisive”) and clubhouse stuff is speculation open to interpretation and misinterpretation and subject to various kinds of bias. Bill Plaschke conducted a well known, all-out public campaign against Puig for years. I don’t trust his characterization of the way Dodger players viewed Puig.

    Missed cut-offs and failure to slide? You bet.

    Character assassination? No thanks.

    • Big Ed

      I agree.

      Puig did not slide into third the other day in Atlanta. Bear in mind that Senzel just injured his ankle sliding into second in a minor league game. I don’t see any point in assigning character flaws to a decision not to slide in a game that doesn’t count, when the games that do count are just days away.

      On the Alphonse-Gaston routine with Senzel, we could speculate that Puig is a bad character, or we could speculate that the language barrier was an issue, or simply that they both knew where the play went wrong and didn’t need to chat about it.

      Puig probably makes more mental errors than most guys. That’s part of the reason he was available. But they all make mental errors. Joey Votto often ventures too far to his right on grounders that ought to be fielded by the second baseman, and sometimes turns an easy out into an infield hit. Live with it, and take the bad with the good.

      To me, Puig adds some much needed energy to the Reds.

    • Soto

      Agreed. I am not a fan of this article at all.

  5. WVRedlegs

    Nice job Tom. A cautionary tale indeed. The Reds Jeckyl and Hyde.

  6. Badfish

    You do know who Bill Plaschke is right? Using his quotes to make a statement completely invalidated it for me. I remember watching him on that stupid debate show ESPN had on before Pardon the Interruption. And the whole premise seemed to be to get 4 angry dudes to say stupid stuff and argue with each other over who was stupider. And I guess on those merits they didn’t disappoint.

    All you need to know about Platchske is that he was a regular on that show. Father to the Skip Bayless’s and Stephen A.’s to come and turn ESPN into what it is now.

    If he said the sky was blue I would not only double check but I would go to the optometrist to see if my vision was right. Then ask a philopher “what is blue anyway?” Cause he just can’t be right.

    • lost11found

      I too take Plaschke with a grain of salt, and I would say the same for most of the personalities on things like ‘around the horn’ on any of the sports networks.

      Bell will have to stay on top of the hustle and cutoff misses, but for me, it doesn’t have to be in public setting either.

    • Doug Gray

      This.

      Plaschke is a hack who had a vendetta against Yasiel Puig for YEARS. And more often than not, he had next to nothing to back up the trash he was saying other than “anonymous quotes” that disappeared once ONE player was traded away. Basically, nearly every bad thing he had to say was coming from one player in the clubhouse.

      • Tom Mitsoff

        Fair enough. I was not aware of the perception of Plaschke’s coverage regarding Puig.

  7. Shchi Cossack

    Excellent job of providing a realistic picture of what to expect this year from Puig. His childish antics have always grated on me as a baseball fan, but his superior talent and physical capability always left me admiring what he could do on a baseball diamond. I hope those knowledgeable Reds fans understood what Puig was bringing to the Wishbone C when the trade unfolded. If not, this clearly defined the situation we should expect.

    For the past 4 seasons, the Reds had the penultimate substance over style corner OF in Adam Duvall. He played smart, aggressive and fundamentally sound baseball, but he lacked the physical prowess of Puig. Puig represents the penultimate style over substance corner OF. He plays for himself and for accolades. If Puig launches 30 HR playing 81 games in GABP with a .220 ISO & .850 OPS, the Reds obtained exactly what they bargained for in the trade.

    The Reds do not need to extend Puig’s contract or sign him as a FA after the season. I do think a deadline trade or a qualifying offer should be considered as an alternative. Let’s just enjoy the positive contributions and tolerate the self-promotion and antics.

    • Big Ed

      I don’t see how it is fair to say that Puig “plays for himself and for accolades.” The Reds almost certainly vetted Puig through Turner Ward before pulling the trigger on the trade. He grew up in a Communist country, then became an overnight sensation in Tinseltown at age 22. I don’t equate energy and flair with selfishness.

      Adam Duvall tallied an OPS+ for the Reds of 100 in 2017 and 81 in 2018. Puig’s were 118 in 2017 and 120 last year.

      • Shchi Cossack

        Big Ed, I may not have expressed my point clearly (a frequent occurrence) or possibly just a misunderstanding. Puig showboats, just like the unnecessary behind the back or between the legs dribble in basketball , the unnecessary diving over the goal line or one-handed catch in football. There’s nothing inherently wrong with showboating, but it only benefits the individual, not the team, and often occurs to the detriment of the team. That’s not flair, that’s selfishness. The bat tosses and bat licks, the flexing and wiggling, the dugout antics and behavior outside playing fundamentally sound baseball are fun and enjoyable behavior that does not hurt the team (almost certainly helps the team). Just this spring in the few games that were televised and included Puig in the lineup, I witnessed probably a dozen instances when Puig’s insistence on showboating rather than playing fundamentally sound baseball either hurt the team or nearly hurt the team.

        Your data regarding Duvall and Puig provided the same contrast I mentioned. Duvall played fundamentally solid baseball and couldn’t touch Puig’s contributions at the plate due to the absolute difference in talent.

    • Tom Mitsoff

      I suspect Dick Williams will take a very good look at all of the players in contract years (Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark, David Hernandez, Scooter Gennett) over the first couple of months of the season and make a determination as to whether they potentially fit in long-term or not. (They likely already know their plans for Gennett.)

      Players these days seem very receptive to extension discussions rather than the risk of going to free agency. Puig will be the most intriguing of all of them. He almost certainly will put up great offensive numbers playing in GABP for half of his games. We’ll see how he performs on defense.

    • Brian

      As a former scrappy and fundamental small school college point guard. I can tell you that behind the back and between the legs dribbles are absolutely necessary for ballhandlers as they’re a way to crossover without exposing the ball to a good defender. As well as attitude, I’ve had plenty of teammates that needed to play swaggy and pretend they were gods in order to perform their best. You see it in fighting with Tyson and rousey, or with the 2016 warriors. Some people play better when they’re loose and cocky. Now if you’re argument was about just missing the cutoff man and baserunning errors, I agree those are detrimental and need work. But calling out people who dribble between their legs (every PG over 12 years old in America today) and hating people just cause their attitude is different than you’d like is just a tad ignorant.

      Also, plasche is a hack as well. The type of guy who has been screaming for the neighbors kids t get off his lawn since probably before his 30th birthday

  8. CFD3000

    It’s funny to think that a player who has been in the league so long still has a lot of untapped potential. With Puig that hinges on maturity and willingness to do the little things right. If the trade, a change of scenery, impending free agency, getting a little older, or the influence of David Bell and Turner Ward unlocks that version of Puig then by all means let extension talks begin. If not, the future of the Reds outfield looks just fine with Winker, Schebler, Senzel, Ervin and Trammell. I’m planning to enjoy this year of Puig, but I’m not hoping for more than one until and unless he shows me a lot more on and a little more off the field.

  9. Oldtimer

    Or why the Reds were willing to trade Frank Robinson in 1965. Or why the Astros were willing to trade Joe Morgan in 1971. Or why the Mets were willing to trade Tom Seaver in 1977. To name a few.

    Reasons for trades don’t last. Results from trades do.

    • Tom Mitsoff

      I hope your analogy is absolutely right!

  10. matthew hendley

    Puig immediately improved the reds. From an on field standpoint, for obvious reason. From a financial standpoint, where people will pay tickets just to see him play. GABP will increase his output in a numbers standpoint and playing for a contract year will improve his motivation. If the Reds are in the race I expect him to get a QO after the season. If we are out by July, I expect him to be our biggest trade chip

    • Shchi Cossack

      Yep. I was stunned when I heard DB’s original assessment that he was considering Puig, long with Schebler and Senzel, for the starting CF job.

  11. j reis

    there are 2 types of characters in baseball. you have your hotdogs and showboats. Hotdogs tend to disrespect the game with their antics. Brandon Phillips was a classic hotdog. Jogging to first base on ground outs or holding the ball to the last second at 2b before throwing to first.

    Dave Parker was the classic Showboat. throwing the ball from the right field wall all the way to home just to show off his arm strength, when yes, it probably would have been the better baseball move to throw it to second from keeping the runner from advancing. or running out a grounder to first so hard that you run nearly all the way to the warning track and delaying the game.

    from what I have seen from Puig in LA and so far here is that he is more of a showboat which I think is fine and quite honestly entertaining which this reds club desperately needs. And if he has even half of the impact of what Parker had on the mid 1980’s reds clubs that will be a good thing.

  12. MK

    Maybe he was miffed at Senzel because he knew he would be unduly criticized for not catching a ball a major league centerfielder should have taken.

    • Jack

      If Senzel isn’t calling for the ball, even if he should have, then Puig should be going for the ball and not just letting it drop 2 feet from him.

  13. TR

    During Puig’s Dodger years that team has had a lot of talent. Not so much in Cincy, so this is Puig’s chance to be the star of the show. A five tool player like Willie Mays is a rarity, so if Puig can energize the Reds offensively, I can live with his less than stellar defense.

  14. John G

    We heard ad naseum about how Harvey had issues in the clubhouse etc. but once he was here from front office down he was praised for being a model citizen
    So not sure how much I will worry about Puig until I see the results

  15. matthew hendley

    Reds will bat him 3rd, Line up for tomorrow.

    1Winker
    2Votto
    3 Puig
    4 Suarez
    5. Schebs
    6Peraza
    7. Barnhart
    8. Iglesias
    9 Castillo

  16. scotly50

    I like Puig on this team. His flamboyancy does not bother me. I am also aware that he will, at times, rub his teammates the wrong way. But this game is, in the end, entertainment. And that Puig will certainly deliver.

    • MK

      Team lost a lot of personality and entertainment value when Brandon Phillips left, hopefully Puig can bring a little of the swag back.