A few minutes before Andrew Friedman welcomed the media corps to the Dodgers’ suite at the Delano Hotel on Tuesday evening, Cincinnati Reds general manager Dick Williams acknowledged to reporters that the clubs have engaged in various trade discussions at this week’s winter meetings, but nothing was imminent. He didn’t offer specifics.
Friedman declined to address the revelation, which Williams offered after reports surfaced that the two clubs have been in regular contact, but the Dodgers’ goals are not a secret. The president of baseball operations has said he wants to trade from the team’s surpluses in the outfield and starting pitching to upgrade elsewhere. And atop the list of trade chips the Dodgers would welcome moving is the name that has constantly emerged on the rumor mill this offseason and in offseasons past: Yasiel Puig.
In addition to the Reds, the Dodgers have discussed Puig with the Cleveland Indians, according to people with knowledge of the situation. While there isn’t an obvious return from Cincinnati, the Indians are shopping right-handers Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. Acquiring either would strengthen the top of the Dodgers’ rotation. Adding a starting pitcher to the package to Cleveland — perhaps Alex Wood — is a possibility and the Indians could also ask for Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers’ top prospect. But it all starts with Puig, and gauging Puig’s value is not easy.
On the one hand, the 28-year-old right fielder can be a clubhouse nuisance whose focus and effort on the field fluctuate to maddening levels. That combination is why the Dodgers have tried trading him in recent years and it’s why clubs have been scared away. A recent example came in August when the Dodgers claimed Bryce Harper on waivers and the Washington Nationals, wanting nothing to do with Puig, declined to trade Harper to the Dodgers unless Los Angeles attached one of its top catching prospects, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Even then, the Nationals would have waived Puig. Many teams consider Puig toxic, perhaps to an exaggerated degree, which doesn’t bode well for him in free agency next winter.
On the other hand, Puig’s talent is inarguable; his bat can carry a ballclub for stretches and he often seizes the moment in October. Add his looming free agency — money is a great motivator — and Puig could be well worth the $11.3 million MLBTradeRumors.com projects he would make in arbitration in 2019.
Puig made $9.214 million in 2018. He batted .276 with 23 home runs, an .820 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and unusual splits. Against right-handed pitchers, Puig, a right-handed hitter, batted .297 with 19 home runs and a .921 OPS in 291 plate appearances. Against lefties, the production plummeted: .209 batting average, .628 OPS, and four home runs in 153 plate appearances. Puig has not evolved into the perennial All-Star some projected he’d become early in his career — his rookie year remains his most productive offensively — but he is an above-average hitter with pop who can provide elite defense when he tries.
Catcher and bullpen help sit atop the Dodgers’ offseason priority list, but upgrading elsewhere — in the rotation, outfield or infield — is a possibility if the right opportunity arises. Harper is still out there and his market may not be as robust as anticipated. The Indians are dangling two All-Star pitchers as they reshuffle their roster with payroll in mind. There are ways to improve a roster coming off a second straight World Series appearance with high-end talent. The Dodgers have the resources to upend the industry and they’d prefer to use Puig to help make it happen.
“If things line up, we’ll do something here,” Friedman said. “But, worst-case scenario, we’ll have a lot more information that would kind of inform the rest of our offseason, which has value as well.”
Dodgers likely to hire Utley
Chase Utley retired as a player after this season, but he is with the Dodgers this week at the winter meetings and the club expects to officially hire him for a job in baseball operations, Friedman said.