Puig remained a Dodgers regular through 2018, having been part of six consecutive NL West titles. Of his five postseason home runs, three came in the 2017 and 2018 World Series. He got the second-biggest hit in the 2013 NLDS close-out game against the Braves, leading off the eighth inning of Game 4 with a double off David Carpenter. Juan Uribe followed with the game-winning homer, also off Carpenter. (With a one-run lead and six outs left in an elimination game, Fredi Gonzalez left Craig Kimbrel standing, arms crossed, in the bullpen. The Braves would never work another postseason game under Fredi G.)
The Dodgers traded Puig to the Reds – Alex Wood was part of the deal – after the 2018 season. The Reds traded him to Cleveland at the deadline last July. Just after word of the deal leaked, Puig was a large part of a brawl involving the Reds and the Pirates, teams that had been exchanging unpleasantries/beanballs all season. The list of players who’ve been ejected AFTER being traded elsewhere might well begin and end with Puig. He became a free agent in November. He remained one until agreeing to terms, pending a physical, with the Braves on Tuesday.
Not going to lie: I’m excited about this. Puig remains a major talent, and the opt-out of Nick Markakis left the Braves – especially over a shortened season with the DH in full force – short of outfielders. That Puig will be working for his fourth team in two years tells us he has lately rendered himself indispensable to no one. That said, he has hit at least 23 homers over each of the past three seasons. (Then again, lots of people have hit lots of home runs.)
In the grand scheme, the worst thing that happened to Puig was him being so good – darn near great, if we’re being honest – so soon. His excesses were never corrected. He can still run a mile to make a fabulous catch and then miss the cutoff man by 20 feet. He hasn’t hit above .267 since 2014; he has mustered an on-base percentage of more than .327 once since 2014. He’s very fast, but he’s not an adept baserunner. Of 135 qualifying MLB hitters in 2019, he ranked 94th in FanGraphs’ Weighted Runs Created Plus.
To check Puig’s career numbers is to see a player who topped out at 23 and has been nothing special since. To recall the Puig of 2013 is to believe – or, more precisely, to want to believe – there’s more to be had. This is another case of Alex Anthopoulos buying on personal history: Jose Bautista didn’t work out; Josh Donaldson did. The Braves’ general manager worked for the Dodgers in 2016 and 2017; he wasn’t on hand for peak Puig, so he’s surely not expecting that. But still.
The worst that can happen is for Puig to play most of the 60 scheduled games – assuming any scheduled games are played – and be a serviceable Brave. (It’s a one-year deal.) The best is that Puig reminds us why we came to notice him in the first place. It was on Nov. 25, 2015, that this correspondent implored the then-tanking Braves to toss their beleaguered fans a bone and trade for the erratic but exciting … Yasiel Puig. Nearly five years later, here he is.