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Dodgers

What should the Dodgers do with Yasiel Puig?

Yasiel Puig

Dodgers' Yasiel Puig looks on against the New York Mets on Oct. 13.

(Mike Stobe / Getty Images)

What to do with Yasiel Puig?

Obvious answer: Play him as much as possible. He’s one of the game’s great talents, the Hulk with a baseball bat. A rare find who also happens to be charismatic. And relatively inexpensive.

Alternate answer: Trade him now before it’s too late. He doesn’t have a friend in the clubhouse, has an outlandish sense of entitlement and has devolved into an average outfielder.

What to do, what to do?

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By now it is no secret the disdain Yasiel Puig is held in by most in the Dodgers clubhouse. His inconsistent work habits, his tardiness, his constant need to be the center of attention, and now, his mediocre offensive output, have all left teammates tired of the Yasiel Puig Show.

The Dodgers still have too many outfielders, and if Puig’s trade value is not what it once was, he is still viewed as a five-tool talent who could yet mature and develop into one of baseball’s best overall players. And he’s only owed $24.6 million over the next three years.

Teams are not in the habit of trading players in their prime who are locked into a very reasonable contract. You’re supposed to build around players like that, not deal them.

And the truth is, as currently constructed, the Dodgers need him. Or at least need the version of Puig they saw the first year and half he was up in the majors.

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The Dodgers may have a surplus of outfielders, but three of them are left-handed hitters — Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Carl Crawford. Plus, if they don’t re-sign Howie Kendrick, their offensive production from the right side is growing very limited.

It’s difficult to give up on such potential, and however regarded by teammates, no one disputes the talent. It just hasn’t delivered much of late.

After the explosive start to his career in 2013 and strong first half the next season, he has become just sort of a guy, albeit one fighting frequent injury. In this last year and a half, he’s batted .264 with 15 home runs, 55 RBI, 69 runs and seven stolen bases. That’s over a total of 497 at-bats.

That doesn’t reek, but neither is it the kind of production expected. Certainly not in the superstar stratosphere where he was supposed to reside. Not at the MVP caliber of play that hitting coach Mark McGwire forecast going into last season.

The Dodgers are hardly blameless in feeding his rooster-in-the-henhouse mentality. When he arrived they hired him something of a private babysitter to help with his transition from Cuba to the majors. When threats against him from the drug cartel that smuggled him out of Cuba emerged, they hired him a private security force. When he arrived late, they too often looked the other way. After his dynamic 2013 debut, they splashed his face on billboards around town and made him a key figure in their marketing campaign.

He was getting preferential treatment, which never goes unnoticed by teammates, particularly those putting in the time and work to succeed. The assumption is the front office still covets him for his potential, both at the plate and in his marketing.

But the Andrew Friedman regime is only a year old, and if nothing else, it has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to trade or cut loose anyone, regardless of skill set (see: Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon). And then-manager Don Mattingly became more openly contemptuous of Puig and his work ethic when he called his sudden return to hamstring health at the end of the season “miraculous” and “legendary.”

Hard to imagine he would be so brazen without support from the front office.

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For the Dodgers, it comes back to the age-old question: Are they better with or without him?

There is also this: According to Molly Knight’s “The Best Team Money Can Buy,” Puig has had more than one confrontation with right-hander Zack Greinke. Greinke is expected to opt out of his contract, and if he is so annoyed by Puig that it could actually be a factor in re-signing him, Puig should be out the door first thing.

Puig turns 25 in December. Maybe he does mature and grow, evolves into that megastar many still foresee. And maybe pitchers have figured him out, he can’t adjust and is doomed to watch his numbers continue to decline.

He’s a divisive figure not only in the clubhouse but seemingly with fans. He is either booed or cheered at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have an intriguing decision to make, with their most intriguing player.

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