Inside the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse, the contempt some teammates hold for outfielder Yasiel Puig is no longer a secret limited to whispers. They discuss it openly, resigned to the fact that the Dodgers don't plan to trade their mega-talented right fielder no matter how deep the animus runs.
"We've talked about this," one Dodgers player told Yahoo Sports. "At this point, it would be addition by subtraction."
Stories of Puig's ability to infuriate teammates have percolated through baseball since he shot to fame as a rookie in 2013 and cemented himself last season as one of baseball's greatest talents. Now, in "The Best Team Money Can Buy," a fascinating new book that explores the inner workings of the Dodgers' clubhouse, author Molly Knight delivers anecdote after Puig anecdote that illuminates what makes him so off-putting to so many.
The idea of trading Puig – a notion the Dodgers have never seriously entertained, according to sources – comes down to a simple question: Would Los Angeles really be better without him? And even if some players believe that might be the case, none of the past incidents have convinced the Dodgers that Puig's harm today goes beyond occasional annoyance.
While some issues, like his habitual tardiness for games, have abated this year, according to sources, Puig's work ethic in batting practice and the weight room continue to bother some teammates. Much of the hostility stems from a general sense of entitlement shown by the 24-year-old. During spring training this year, as Knight writes and multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports, Puig argued with teammates over who should be allowed on a plane ride that typically includes wives and girlfriends. The subject of someone from Puig's entourage joining the traveling crew came up, and sources told Yahoo Sports that Puig argued with pitcher Zack Greinke and nearly came to blows with infielder Justin Turner over the matter.
Greinke, the National League ERA leader and one of the game's best pitchers, was at the center of another memorable Puig moment related in Knight's book. In 2014, during the Dodgers' annual trip to Chicago, the team bus stopped downtown to allow rookies undergoing hazing to walk into a pizza place and emerge with food for the veterans. Some Dodgers players, not wanting to wait, skipped off the bus. When the bus was ready to leave, Puig was outside, looking for his luggage inside of the bay underneath the bus. After Puig ignored multiple requests to close the luggage bay, Greinke hopped off the bus, grabbed the suitcase in front of Puig and chucked it onto Michigan Avenue. Puig stepped toward Greinke and was restrained by reliever J.P. Howell.
Word of the incident spread quickly, those there giddily recounting it to those who got off the bus, and highlighted the chasm between Puig and his teammates.
Puig's reputation preceded his time with the Dodgers. During spring training 2013, Mitch Poole, the Dodgers' longtime clubhouse manager, assigned Puig's jersey number on a lark. "I thought it'd be funny to give him number 66 to reference 666, like he was Diablo," Poole told Knight. During the spring, Puig cottoned to the number and asked to keep it because he thought it was good luck.
Upon his debut, Puig already made teammates wary by engaging in a relationship with a minor league coach's daughter. His inability to show up on time was another constant problem. Puig was chided by veteran Skip Schumaker during his rookie season for coming to the stadium 20 minutes after he was expected to arrive. Manager Don Mattingly benched Puig opening day when he was nearly an hour late.
How Puig's on-field impact (he's hitting .289/.382/.465 this season) meshes with the off-the-field issues will remain a constant question for the Dodgers until the latter vanishes or the former wanes. The Dodgers have gone out of their way to help Puig, according to Knight's book, assigning a private security firm to watch over him because of threats from the drug cartel that smuggled him to Mexico from Cuba. The organization is constantly trying to balance assuaging Puig while not showing him preferential treatment, aware his value to the team goes beyond his statistics. As Knight wrote: "Whatever Puig's issues were, he was one of the best players in the game, he sold tickets, and he was relatively cheap."
The players recognize as much. When the player who posed the addition-by-subtraction question reconsidered his thought, he told Yahoo Sports: "That's the biggest Catch-22. He's a top three or four talent in baseball."
And that hasn't changed. As much as Puig might slack in preparation, he continues to play the game at an unmatched level, his dynamism unfettered. Sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's laughable, and always it's exciting, and in a baseball culture that appreciates the steadiness necessary to survive its long season, Puig's ebbs and flows can be off-putting.
This is Puig's third season. His first two ended with the Dodgers playing in the postseason, and another October looks nigh. Among their monstrous payroll, frontline farm system, deep scouting group and unmatched analytical power, they are the sort of team that could reel off multiple championships in the next five years. Puig is signed through 2018, and as he enters his prime, teammates wonder whether he'll change.
"You guys tell me how you want me to play," Puig said during a meeting last year, according to Knight's book, and a few teammates spoke up, including then-Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who said: "I just don't want your career to go the way my career went. All my teammates hated me because of the way I played."
The distaste for Puig is palpable, some of it fresh, some still festering from the past. It's real, though, and the Dodgers know at the very least they need to monitor it so it doesn't devolve into the scenario where they might actually be better without someone so good.