Column: Yasiel Puig is at a crossroads

Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig (66) swings at his helmet after a ground out against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 16.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Behave. Showcase your talent.

Simple enough, right?

Except nothing is simple when it comes to Yasiel Puig, who will head to triple-A Oklahoma City this weekend with very straightforward blueprint of how to salvage his once-promising career.

The Dodgers have made their decision. Puig now has to make his.

The 25-year-old former All-Star is at a critical crossroads in his career, with one fork in the road leading back to the major leagues and the other to Flameoutville. It’s really up to him where he ends up.

Whatever course he takes, the gates at Dodger Stadium will almost certainly remain locked to him. Every indication is that Puig won’t play again for the Dodgers.


Speaking to reporters Tuesday before the Dodgers’ series opener in Colorado, General Manager Farhan Zaidi declined to speculate on the possibility of Puig returning to the team’s major league roster.

“I don’t want to handicap the situation,” Zaidi said.

It doesn’t sound as if Puig is part of the team’s plans, does it?

While Manager Dave Roberts offered some lip service on how Puig could use his time in the minors to improve as a player and person, the reality is that he will be in Oklahoma City to showcase himself for other teams.

If the Dodgers’ failure to move him by Monday’s nonwaiver trade deadline was any indication, Puig will have to play well to improve his stock.

At least one team is said to have shown interest in Puig, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter. Other clubs have started to explore the idea of a potential acquisition.

Puig’s deflated value won’t be the only obstacle the Dodgers will encounter in dealing him.

Before Puig can be traded, he has to be waived.

If Puig were to clear waivers — he has a team-friendly contract that will pay him a combined $14 million over the next two seasons — the Dodgers would be able to send him to any team.

If Puig is claimed, the Dodgers would have minimal leverage in negotiating a deal, as they would be able to trade him only to the claiming team. Under this scenario, the Dodgers could exercise the nuclear option and relinquish Puig’s rights for no return to the claiming team, which would be responsible for that $14 million.

There’s something else to consider, however.

Any team that acquires of a high-profile player as controversial as Puig takes more than baseball into consideration. If there is a scout who believes Puig is demonstrating improved focus and still has upside as a player, he would have to convince his general manager of that. The general manager would have to sell the idea to the team president, who, in turn, probably would have to gain the approval of ownership.

In short, this is far from an ideal situation for the Dodgers — or for Puig, for that matter. He could be spending a lot more time than he wants in Oklahoma City.

But if the Dodgers are enjoying any aspect of this, it’s that they have something they never previously had in their codependent relationship with the outfielder.

They finally have power over Puig.

They are no longer beholden to him because of his production, which has declined. Nor are they inclined to protect him because of his marketability, which has also diminished.

Puig has to do as he’s told.

He has no recourse in regard to his current situation, as he doesn’t have enough major league service time to decline a minor league assignment.

Failing to report to Oklahoma City could result in disciplinary action that would prevent him from collecting his entire $5.5-million salary.

So could insubordination. In other words, Puig has to behave if he wants to be paid.

Puig’s childhood friend from Cuba, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena, was subjected to this kind of penalty.

The Dodgers signed Arruebarrena in 2014 to a five-year, $25-million contract.

Arruebarrena didn’t respond well to a minor league assignment last year, prompting the team to suspend him in May for the remainder of the season. The suspension was later reduced to 30 days.

Arruebarrena is under another season-long suspension this year.

Arruebarrena’s story offers Puigs a cautionary tale. The question is whether Puig has the motivation and emotional endurance to avoid repeating it.

His future depends on it.