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The Los Angeles Dodgers have tried to trade Yasiel Puig before.
There was that time they tried to send him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Ryan Braun in 2016. More recently, they offered him to the Washington Nationals for Bryce Harper in July, according to Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times.
If there’s anything to be gleaned here, it’s that the Dodgers are very much open to dealing their star right fielder as long as they get a better player back.
So, why not offer him* to the Miami Marlins for J.T. Realmuto?
*And others. But we’ll get to that.
There had been uncertainty as to whether the Marlins would trade their star catcher this winter. That changed Oct. 30 when CAA agent Jeff Berry effectively demanded a trade on MLB Network Radio, saying that his client would not be signing an extension to stay in Miami beyond 2020.
Like that, the 27-year-old became arguably the most coveted player on the trade market. And if there’s any good news in this for the Marlins, it’s that many contenders have a need behind the plate.
The Dodgers, who are out to win the 2019 World Series after two straight losses in the Fall Classic, are one of them. Not only that, Hall of Fame reporter Peter Gammons said Tuesday on MLB Network that they may be the favorite for Realmuto:
With Yasmani Grandal currently afloat on the free-agent waters, the Dodgers need a catcher. A trade for Realmuto would mean filling it with the best in the business.
His 131 OPS+ led all catchers that took at least 400 plate appearances in 2018. He also slammed 21 home runs and led his fellow catchers with 4.3 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
At work here is a complete package of talents. Realmuto has a natural feel for hitting, and his power is getting better. He’s also an athlete unlike any other catcher, which shows in his sprint speed and pop times.
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The Dodgers may also like Realmuto from a payroll perspective. Per MLB Trade Rumors, he’s projected to make $6.1 million in his second-to-last run through arbitration. The Dodgers might add that to their current payroll (projected at $198.8 million by Roster Resource) and stay under the $206 million luxury-tax threshold for 2019.
For their part, there’s little that the Marlins don’t need coming off a 98-loss season. But the list certainly includes outfielders and pitchers. And if they’re going to trade Realmuto, it would be ideal if they got an up-and-coming catcher who could take his place.
The Dodgers happen to have two well-regarded catching prospects: Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith. They also have pitching, and not just in their farm system. Somebody like Ross Stripling, a 2018 All-Star, might be expendable from their major league roster.
There are also outfielders aplenty in Los Angeles. To wit, Gammons mentioned Joc Pederson as a possibility in a Realmuto trade. Top prospect Alex Verdugo is another.
There’s also, of course, Puig.
Dealing him in a one-for-one for Realmuto wouldn’t work. Puig, who’s also 27, has one year to go until free agency compared to Realmuto’s two. And at this point, Realmuto is the better player.
But as long as the Marlins also get a pitcher and/or a catcher in the deal, they could justify taking Puig as the deal’s de facto centerpiece.
It’s been a year since ownership changed hands from Jeffrey Loria to Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, their plan for increasing revenue included a better TV contract and selling the naming rights to Marlins Park, plus two more points that seemed very much related: making a stronger appeal to Miami’s Hispanic community and increasing attendance.
Following trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon, the attendance plan didn’t work out in 2018. The Marlins drew an average of 10,014 fans per game. That’s half of what they drew in 2017, which was already the worst in the National League.
Cue the Marlins’ latest rebrand. Marlins Park’s notorious home run sculpture is gone, but coming in is a new section called “Comunidad 305” that seems designed to replicate the jubilant scenes from the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The franchise has also introduced a new logo and color scheme of “Miami Blue” and “Caliente Red,” plus a new hashtag: #OurColores.
But this new look needs a face. That’s a role for which Puig would be perfectly suited.
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Though his star has faded since the days of “Puigmania” back in 2013, the Cuba native is still one of the better right fielders in MLB. He’s put up an .827 OPS and 51 home runs over the last two seasons, and he deserved to win a Gold Glove in 2017.
Perhaps more to the point, Puig is still an electrifying presence.
He can wow with his power, speed and arm strength. He also gleefully and unapologetically wears his emotions on his sleeve. That may be out of touch with baseball’s past, but it’s very much in touch with baseball’s present. And while it may not be an act he particularly enjoys, at least it’s one that Marlins manager Don Mattingly has experience with.
Puig could instantly become the biggest star on the Marlins, not to mention the main draw for Miami’s sizable Cuban American population and the Hispanic community at large. The Marlins could see more traffic at the gate as a result.
The hard part would be deciding what to do with Puig down the line. The Marlins would have the option of trading him as a rental ahead of next summer’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Given how far they have to go with their rebuild, they would probably do so.
Alternatively, they could move for an act of good faith with their fans and try to extend Puig. With nothing on their books past 2020, that could be doable.
If they haven’t already, the Dodgers and Marlins are bound to discuss Realmuto soon enough. When they do, Puig should be a serious part of the conversation.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.