Dodgers cling to the hope that Yasiel Puig will fulfill his promise

As the Dodgers' proposed trade for Aroldis Chapman was unraveling this winter over allegations that the All-Star closer physically abused his girlfriend, a well-meaning but clueless reporter asked Andrew Friedman if he had ever seen a player's stock drop as a result of off-the-field problems.

"I would say every time," the Dodgers president of baseball operations responded sarcastically, eliciting a chorus of laughter from his audience.

When Friedman was the general manager of the small-market and small-budget Tampa Bay Rays, he was known to acquire talent at discounted prices by targeting players with questionable backgrounds. If you can think of a crime, there's a decent chance one of Friedman's Rays was accused of it.

However, an exception has emerged to Friedman's Second Law of Distressed-Asset Valuation.

His name is Yasiel Puig.

As Puig's reputation has worsened, his value to the Dodgers only increased. With the team's pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training this week, the Dodgers are now more dependent than ever on the temperamental outfielder, which is frightening.

There was a time when Puig's value to the franchise was based largely on how many tickets he sold and how much merchandise he moved. That will no longer suffice. If Puig isn't the legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter he was once projected to become, the Dodgers are certain to again fall short of the World Series.

The Dodgers are behaving as if they have accepted this reality. Bill Shakin reported earlier this month that they wouldn't talk to the Chicago White Sox about a potential deal involving Puig, and instead offered them Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.

And who could blame them? The Dodgers didn't make any meaningful additions to an offense that failed them in October against the New York Mets, and Puig has more potential to improve than Ethier or Crawford.

Their best hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, turns 34 in May. Even if he maintains his production level, they will have to find someone with whom to pair him in the middle of the lineup. Last year, that role fell to either Howie Kendrick or Justin Turner, who are both solid hitters but aren't serious home-run threats.

Rookie shortstop Corey Seager was phenomenal in his first month in the major leagues — he batted .337 as a September callup — but he is only 21. The Dodgers received a painful reminder of Seager's youth in the NL division series last year, when they inserted him into the middle of their lineup against the Mets. Seager batted .188 over the five games.

While there's a chance Seager could have the kind of rookie season Carlos Correa had last year for the Houston Astros, it would be foolish for the Dodgers to count on that.

For what it's worth, Puig has said and done all the right things since his alleged participation in a bar room brawl that made him the subject of a league-office investigation.

At the team's community caravan last month, he talked about how hard he worked this winter, in particular what he did to avoid the kind of leg injuries that hobbled him last year.

When the team's pitchers and catchers report to the team's spring-training complex in Arizona, Puig is expected to be there with them, almost an entire week before the majority of position players.

Then again, he's done this before.

At the start of spring training last year, he said he wanted to be to baseball what Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are to basketball. The spring before that, he promised to be a smarter player.

This time around, will his actions align with his words?

The Dodgers better hope they do. Their season depends on it.


The sporting world's best story is playing out in England, where Leicester City is on top of the Premier League standings, ahead of the big-money soccer clubs such as Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Leicester City opened the season as a 5,000-to-1 long shot to win the league.

For some perspective: One overseas sports book lists the odds of Kanye West winning the 2016 presidential election at 1,000 to 1.


The more middleweight boxing champion Gennady Golovkin complains about Canelo Alvarez's reluctance to step into the ring with him, the more hypocritical he sounds.

Golovkin's desire to fight Alvarez is understandable. Alvarez is arguably the most popular fighter in the world today and a fight against the Mexican junior middleweight would raise Golovkin's profile. Golovkin would also be the favorite, as Alvarez is smaller and not as well-rounded.

But if there's anyone who should understand Alvarez's position, it's Golovkin, who not so long ago was called out by a heavier, more skilled and less popular fighter in Andre Ward. Golovkin wanted nothing to do with Ward.

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times