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Column: Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig has become a model citizen but just an average player

Dodgers¿ Yasiel Puig has become a model citizen but just an average player
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig gets ready for batting practice before a game on May 17 at Dodger Stadium.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As the Yasiel Puig Makeover Tour takes another detour to the disabled list, it’s perhaps time to pause and look at the furrows beneath the smile.

He’s showing up on time. He’s no longer a clubhouse distraction. He likes his manager. He is accepted by his teammates. During the first two months of this season, he has done an admirable job fixing seemingly every issue that could be fixed.

All of which cannot hide a sobering truth that seems beyond fixing.

While much of Los Angeles was worrying about Puig and his car, or Puig and his clock, it should have been worried about Puig and a bat.

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All of his off-field dramatics have been rendered irrelevant with the clarity that, right now, the Dodgers’ most exciting celebrity is merely an average baseball player.

He’s just a guy. He would be a third outfielder or part-time player and defensive replacement on a championship team.

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Puig is just an average baseball player on a Dodgers team that needs him to be much more, and if they are serious about contending this summer, they need to trade him while they still can.

He’s still only 25. He’s already started in an All-Star game. He is a defensive highlight reel. Someone will take a chance on him. Someone will give up an established hitter for him. Someone will believe he is a broken but brilliant talent who can be easily fixed.

That someone is no longer the Dodgers, who can’t afford to carry him on a roster that needs the consistent bat he cannot provide.

They already have a streaky hitter who plays great defense in Joc Pederson. They now have a young star beloved by fans in Corey Seager. The face of their team is now the bearded Clayton Kershaw.

Puig no longer has the marketing value that once made him an untouchable among ownership, nor the baseball value in the dugout upon which this season’s hopes were partially built, and it’s time for him to reward the Dodgers’ patience by bringing them a viable asset who can do what he cannot.

They will need to get him back in the lineup, and he will need to have a couple of good games to show he’s healthy, but once that happens, the Dodgers need to move him while he can still elicit the hope elsewhere that has been lost here.

He’s been through two managers and it hasn’t worked, two hitting coaches and it hasn’t worked, dozens of chances and it hasn’t worked. There was some thought that upon arriving here two years ago, baseball boss Andrew Friedman would have immediately traded Puig if ownership hadn’t been so infatuated with Puig’s potential. But by all accounts that infatuation has ended, any barriers real or imagined have been removed, and the numbers say the time is right for a change.

Since his breathtaking rookie season and the All-Star first half of 2014, Puig’s bottom line has not matched his headlines.

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In his last 162 games dating back three seasons, in 580 at-bats, he is hitting .247 with 19 homers and 68 runs batted in. That’s not a cornerstone player, that’s just a guy, and his struggles are increasing.

This season, in 43 games since April 15, he has a .195 average with a .221 on-base percentage while drawing all of four walks with 37 strikeouts.

Puig is apparently doing all the right things off the field, and still drawing chants of “Puiiiig” when he makes an incredible throw from deep in the outfield. But he was designated as one of their offensive leaders this year, and the offense ranks 26th in baseball with a .683 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, and much of that disappointment starts with him.

Overall, among the six Dodgers who have played in at least 50 games this season, he ranks last in OBP (.283) and fifth in OPS (.643), his slog matched by only Justin Turner, last season’s slugger who underwent off-season knee surgery.

Dave Roberts, Dodgers manager, says Puig is trying, but it’s just not happening.

“His work ethic, his will to want to be better in the batter’s box, it’s all there, but it just hasn’t translated,” Roberts said.

Puig is on the disabled list again with a sore hamstring, and his absence is nothing new — he’s missed 102 of a possible 381 games since the start of his first full season in 2014.

What was different Saturday at Dodger Stadium was how nobody seemed to miss him.

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There were no questions about whether he showed up on time. No questions about his hamstring rehabilitation.

In fact, Roberts went through an entire media session without being asked about Puig once, which used to be odd, but is now commonplace.

Trayce Thompson was starting in Puig’s place in right field, and nobody blinked.

When asked about Puig, Roberts shook his head and said, “We have to make him the best player he can possibly be. That’s our only goal.”

The scary reality, though, is that Yasiel Puig may already is the best player he can possibly be, and that’s just not good enough.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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