LOS ANGELES — There’s a growing debate: Should Yasiel Puig be considered for National League MVP?
There’s a host of reasons to say no. And also to say yes.
You can argue, as one prominent agent did, that Adrian Gonzalez is the Dodgers’ MVP because he’s been there day in and day out for a team that’s experienced a lot of injuries. You can listen to the debate about Hanley Ramirez, how he’s been every bit as hot and played shortstop, to boot. You can listen about how Clayton Kershaw should win both the Cy Young and the MVP, a valid argument.
But when the Dodgers were at their lowest point this year, it was Puig who rescued the team. Plain and simple. He brought life to the team when it was nearly dead. The Dodgers are 46-10 since June 22, with 11 wins more than any other team in that span.
He’s got five-tool talent, from running to fielding to throwing to hitting to hitting for power. He can do it at such a high level, it’s scary.
“Sometimes he’ll miss the cutoff man,” said former Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy, who does local postgame shows for the Dodgers, “because he knows he can get it all the way on the fly. It’s incredible to watch.”
Yes, Puig needs to be harnessed a bit. While some people think he doesn’t know the fundamentals, others have argued that he chooses to ignore some fundamentals because he’s so much better than anyone else. In fact, the most common thing heard from people with the Dodgers or from scouts is, “We haven’t see a talent like this come into baseball for a long time.”
The Cuban defector is living life and loving it. He’s not the most media-friendly person around, but he’s having a good time. He’s been seen driving a Rolls-Royce, attending parties at the Playboy Mansion. He’s apparently playing as hard off the field as he is on it.
On Monday, TMZ reported Puig was out partying in South Beach with Matt Kemp and LeBron James. The report stated he spent $20,000 at a nightclub. The Dodgers gave him a six-year, $42 million deal in June of 2012.
On Tuesday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly benched Puig, saying it was because the rookie was in a slump. But Puig didn’t do himself any favors being 30 minutes late to the ballpark that day, which necessitated a meeting with Mattingly behind closed doors.
But the legend grows. After partying with LeBron in South Beach, showing up late to the ballpark, and being benched, Puig came in on a double switch and hit the tiebreaking homer.
The Cuban press was all over Puig last week in South Florida. And Puig, by the way, didn’t have the greatest road trip — 4 for 27.
Yes, this amazingly talented player will have his issues and he makes no apologies for not wanting to have much to do with the media. The Dodgers said they have nothing to do with Puig’s media stance and have worked with him since he’s such a significant player.
How valuable is he?
After Friday’s 2-0 victory, the Dodgers are 51-20 in games he’s played. Since his debut June 3, he ranks among major league leaders in most offensive categories, including runs (50), hits (93), batting average (.342), on-base percentage (.401), and slugging percentage (.551).
He has 10 games with three or more hits and has hit 12 homers, third on the team despite appearing in only 70 games. He’s the first player since Joe DiMaggio in 1936 to have 70-plus hits and 10 homers in his first 50 major league games.
The outlay of huge money has paid off handsomely for the Dodgers. Puig has been hitting second in the lineup, but eventually he will be in the third or fourth slot.
Puig gets criticized for overdoing things. He makes youthful decisions such as diving for a ball that perhaps is impossible to reach. He’s fast — maybe not Jacoby Ellsbury fast, but right there. Maybe he thinks he can turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples and sometimes he doesn’t pull it off.
Some believe he will eventually injure himself badly or he’ll wear down.
Right now it’s hard to harness the kid that Vin Scully calls the “wild horse.” That’s precisely what he is. He’s unharnessed, but the Dodgers don’t care right now. Let him run wild. Let him be who he is and if you have to sit him down one day and say, “You can’t play that way,” then you cross that bridge when you get there.
“What can you say about him that hasn’t already been said?” Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. “Just watch him play. You’ll come away thinking you probably haven’t seen a talent like this in years in major league baseball. That’s how we feel. It’s the kind of talent that when you see him do something nobody else can do, you just shake your head and say wow.”
The Dodgers have a lot of money. They bought Carl Crawford, Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto for about $262 million last August. But the best investment was the $42 million they gave to the man who saved their season.
Yes, he is an MVP.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.