Ken Rosenthal recently reported that the Dodgers will entertain offers to part with Yasiel Puig assuming Andre Ethier will be ready to return by August. While not quite at the level of a non-revelatory trade rumor so often discussed and mocked on the Effectively Wild podcast, but (to no fault of Rosenthal's) there are no further details to parse through in this report. We don't have any likely suitors, other players who could be involved, how serious the Dodgers are, etc., but since the Cardinals' outfield hasn't been the bastion of stability, particularly in centerfield, I think it's worth exploring whether a player like Puig would make sense on any level.
To be clear, this is entirely unlikely. It involves stipulating that two teams who might end up competing with one another for a postseason invite would be willing to work out a deal. And the Cardinals, of course, don't currently suffer from a lack of OF depth. Just the opposite, in fact. Even with 1B/corner outfielder Brandon Moss on the 15-day DL, they have Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and (when Matt Carpenter returns) Kolten Wong to mix and match in the outfield as they see fit. But...the problem from an offensive standpoint has been trying to get production from centerfield, where, heading into Sunday, an allotment of some of the Cardinals above (and Jeremy Hazelbaker) have combined to hit .216/.279/.396, which has been good for a 79 wRC+ and ranks 11th in the NL.
Puig doesn't necessarily plug this hole like a natural centerfielder like Adam Eaton would. Puig's played 62 career games in center but with his strong arm has spent the bulk of his young career in right. What Puig could offer that Eaton couldn't is, in this seller's market, he might be available on the cheap. I'm not going to speculate on what sort of package of Cardinals it would take to land Puig because I haven't the first clue, but Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times stated last month he believes Puig's trade value to be at an all-time low.
The reasons are clear. Mainly, Puig's battled various injuries this year and perhaps as a result has been a below offensive player for the first time in his career (.258/.316/.389; 93 wRC+ in 266 plate appearances). His walk-rate (6.3%) has plunged to a career-low. And while McCullough notes that a lot of these problems have dissipated, in the past Puig's been considered by his teammates to be just as imperfect off the field.
But why, in good conscious, I can daydream about the Cardinals kicking the tires on a player like Puig is simple:
First, let's not forget the Puig of less than just three years ago. When he joined the Dodgers as a rookie on June 3, 2013, they were 23-32 and in last place in the NL West. Over the next three months he hit .349/.408/.557, good for a wRC+ of 170. By the time September began the Dodgers had a 10.5 game lead in their division, and while all the credit was not Puig's (Clayton Kershaw had his usual 1.62 ERA in 116.2 innings over this stretch), his spark was undeniable. Read Mark Saxon's piece from yesterday on the Cardinals' lackluster first half and it's easy to come away thinking an infusion of new energy is needed, especially if Carpenter ends up being on the shelf longer than is preferred.
Second, it's certainly possible, likely even, that pitchers have learned to expose the hole in Puig's swing, which, along with injuries, accounts for his wRC+ decreasing each year he's spent in MLB. But if there was ever a player who could stand to benefit from the proverbial change of scenery it just might be him. Whatever amends were made, the fact that the Dodgers' most valuable player and face of their franchise was essentially outed as wanting Puig off the team last December seems important. That doesn't seem like something that could be completely smoothed over by the "we had a long talk and now we're all good" conversation.
Third, outfield depth in July doesn't mean outfield depth in September. Holliday rolled his ankle on Friday and was scratched from Saturday's game (although him pinch hitting yesterday was a good sign). Moss and Carpenter's return (which hopefully come sooner rather than later) might coincide with a player like Grichuk - the only player on the Cardinals' roster who has played more games at center than Puig - being sent back to Memphis if his bat doesn't pick up (although again, his home run this weekend was a good sign).
Lastly, from a money standpoint, after this season Puig will have two years and about $17.5 million left on his contract before becoming eligible for arbitration, and then becoming a free agent in 2020. That all seems more than reasonable for a player who's in his age-25 season and just two years removed from finishing eighth in the NL in fWAR.
The arguments against looking into a guy like Puig are as plentiful as they are valid. Mainly, as mentioned, he's in the midst of a rather dreadful season. 2016 Puig doesn't seem to resemble 2013 Puig. The spark might be gone. Anything he's currently bringing to the table can be nearly replicated by Grichuk or exceeded if Grichuk can produce like he did in 2015. Puig also doesn't directly address a need and would perhaps compound the problem of lacking a true centerfielder.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, I'm not sure the Cardinals need to do anything. By runs allowed, the starting pitching has quietly been the best in the NL since June 1. The offense has provided easily the largest run differential (+89) for any NL team not currently leading their division. For a team that's only a game out of a wild card spot and looking up to three vulnerable teams (Marlins, Mets, Dodgers), the smart move might be to ride this out - and certainly not take a chance on a player as risky as Puig.
Complacency can be the enemy of progress though. It's why the Cubs were smart to be aggressive in addressing their needs this offseason (Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to improve their contact hitting, John Lackey to deepen their pitching staff) even when fresh off a 97-win campaign and with an already young roster poised to be the front-runners in the NL Central. If the Dodgers truly are dangling a talent like Puig when he might be at the bottom of his trade value, there's no harm in seeing exactly what that means.