By NOAH ELDEN
In June 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers made an under-the-radar move to sign a young Cuban outfielder by the name of Yasiel Puig. He was signed to a seven year contract worth just over $40 million. For comparison, the Dodgers’ 2015 payroll topped $300 million. Puig spent the remainder of the 2012 season as well as the beginning of the 2013 season in the minor leagues. He performed remarkably well in the minors, prompting a promotion to the majors in June of 2013, almost exactly one year after signing. In 104 games, Puig put up an impressive slash of .319/.391/.925 with 19 home runs. He captivated the media, reinvigorated the Dodgers’ fan base and carried the Dodgers to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder Ryan Braun was serving a 100-game suspension (which made him ineligible for about two thirds of the season) after getting caught using performance enhancing drugs, lying about it and then getting caught lying about it. He was coming off back-to-back seasons in which he finished in the Top-2 for the National League MVP award. In 2014 and 2015, Braun’s performance declined sharply. In the two and one third seasons after returning from his suspension, he provided the same amount of value that he provided during the 2012 season according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR statistic. Braun is guaranteed exactly $100 million over the next five seasons.
Yasiel Puig’s fall from greatness was almost as sharp and poignant as Braun’s. He proved to be nearly as valuable in his 2014 season as he was in his 2013 season but was plagued by clubhouse quarrels. He got into fights with veteran pitcher Zack Greinke, who is one of the most interesting personalities in professional sports, and infielder Justin Turner over minor issues. His perpetual lateness and perceived lack of work ethic irked teammates. A book about the Dodgers by Molly Knight states that Dodgers clubhouse manager Mitch Poole gave him the uniform number 66, short for 666. He is disliked by many of his teammates, coaching staff and other team personnel for his entitled attitude. His 2015 season was both mediocre statistically and plagued by injury.
Braun and Puig are two former stars who have fallen from grace through very different paths. Both players have potential to carry a team, and both players are struggling in their current situations. The Brewers have finished at least eight games back in their division for the last four seasons. Their farm system is largely mediocre, and their major league roster is aging. There is little hope for reaching the playoffs next season. The Dodgers have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. They have poor team chemistry but an asinine amount of money and a lot of minor league talent to fuel annual playoff runs.
A team like Los Angeles does not need a personality like Yasiel Puig in the clubhouse. Losing Puig could be a case of addition by subtraction if the clubhouse atmosphere improves without him. A rift between Puig and long time Dodger Matt Kemp led to Kemp’s trade to the rival Padres, and a similar rift between Puig and outfielder Andre Ethier is developing. Yasiel Puig would represent a beginning of a new era in Milwaukee. It would help take some media spotlight off Puig and allow him to integrate more peacefully onto a quieter team.
I would propose a swap of Yasiel Puig and minor league pitcher Grant Holmes in exchange for Ryan Braun and reliever Will Smith. Braun is making significantly more money than Puig, although money to a team like Milwaukee means more than to a team like Los Angeles. In addition to massively slashing payroll, the Brewers would add a player with exceptional talent and a fixable attitude problem, as well as a top prospect to help fortify a weak farm system. Will Smith would immediately slide into high leverage situations in Los Angeles, a team that finished eleventh in the National League in bullpen ERA. Ryan Braun would replace Puig’s production and provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse to replace Puig’s cancerous personality. This is a change of scenery scenario that could benefit all parties involved.