I have discussed previously in this space how brutal the lack of production from the Brewers’ outfield has been this season. Ryan Braun (139 wRC+) is the only outfielder on the club that has performed better than league average offensively. Milwaukee's cumulative 89 wRC+ from their outfielders is the 6th-worst mark in baseball and they’ve generally received middling-to-poor grades defensively, as well.
There is a potential upgrade that should be available on the August trade market, however. That player has already displayed immense talent at the big league level despite being just 25 years old, but is in the midst of a down season. He’s controlled for another three years after this one at a relatively reasonable price.
His name is Yasiel Puig.
Puig was a force when he came into the league, batting .305/.386/.502 with 35 home runs and 22 steals across 1,072 PA through his first two seasons in 2013-14. Combined with his well-regarded defense and cannon for an arm in the outfield, he was somewhere in the range of a 4-5 win player, a true star-level performer. He battled injuries last season and was limited to just 79 games, but still managed a 111 wRC+ with above-average defense in right field.
This year, however, the wheels have fallen off for Puig. He’s managed just a .260/.320/.386 slash with 7 home runs in 303 big league plate appearances, what would be the first below-average offensive season of his career (94 wRC+). His defense is still as good as ever, but issues with his lack of performance at the plate and his attitude caused the Dodgers to search for outfield upgrades prior to the trade deadline. When they acquired Josh Reddick from the A’s, Puig was optioned to AAA.
When asked if Yasiel would play at the big league level for the Dodgers again in the future, GM Farhan Zaidi responded "I don’t want to handicap that situtation." Not exactly a glowing endorsement of a player that manager Dave Roberts admitted to having to spend extra energy to keep track of and make sure that he’s consistently putting in the work to succeed in the big leagues.
The Dodgers have reportedly been seeking to deal Puig for awhile but have yet to find a suitable partner, even while expressing a willingness to sell low on the player. Puig’s stellar performance makes the headaches that he can cause off the field a little more palatable, but now that he’s closer to replacement level it seems that the Dodgers may have finally grown tired of the player who is disliked by teammates and has been called "the worst person" in the game.
Potentially bringing Puig to Milwaukee would obviously be a complicated and multi-faceted issue. It seems almost inevitable that he’ll be run through trade waivers this month, but what would a fair return for him be? If the Dodgers were willing to accept a low-level, fringey prospect or two for him, that’s one thing, but I wouldn’t be motivated to part with anyone in my top 20 or so prospects. Maybe exchanging Puig for another buy-low candidate like Wily Peralta or Taylor Jungmann, someone without the off-field issues, would pique the Dodgers interest. That’s where I’d start, at least.
Puig is under contract for another two seasons at a total of $14 mil and then will have one season of arbitration eligibility following that, meaning he wouldn’t be able to become a free agent until after the 2019 season. That’s not an insignificant sum, but money shouldn’t be an issue for the Brewers right now as they’re running the lowest payroll in baseball. It wouldn’t be difficult to find excess value in that contract, even if Puig can only return to being a 2-3 win player instead of the 4-5 win player that he was earlier in his career.
But would that excess value (and the potential package of prospects that a revitalized Puig could return in trade in a few years) be worth the trouble? The Brewers would have to map out a plan to get Puig to take his preparation and conditioning seriously to help avoid the hamstring issues that have plagued him throughout his career. They’d probably have to hire a handler for him to make sure he’s present and on time for all team activities, flights, etc. They would have to make sure that his attitude is kept in check and is not something that would negatively affect the young players that are already in the clubhouse and the one that will be coming through in the following seasons.
Boy, if Yasiel Puig could just get his head on straight, his immense talent would likely win out in the end. The Brewers have the everyday at-bats to give him at the big league level and with proper guidance and coaching, perhaps he could return to his former All-Star self. It’d be a quite a risky proposition to take on, but one that could pay off in spades down the road for Slingin’ David Stearns. The downside, however, could be disastrous.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs