Yasiel Puig, 34, was both a major league talent and a problem child. While his athleticism and spectacular plays dazzled fans, his on- and off-field antics also raised eyebrows, and as a result, his talents were never fully realized in the big leagues.
The Cuban-born Puig made his major league debut in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform in 2013 and was an instant sensation. In 104 games in 2013, Puig hit .319 with a .391 on-base percentage, 19 home runs, 42 RBIs, and a .925 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and quickly became the talk of the town for the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and finished 15th in MVP voting after playing just 104 games.
Sure, overzealousness and a fighting spirit that sometimes became toxic were the hallmarks of Jade, but many believed that the Bronco’s character and skills would only mature. In 2014, he batted .296 with 16 home runs, 69 RBIs, and an OPS of .863 in 148 games, earning both his first full-time and All-Star nods.
Since then, however, he hasn’t had the same impact on the field. Instead, he became more of a troublemaker and lost the trust of fans after a string of team rules violations, including tardiness. Puig was last seen in a Cleveland uniform in 2019. He missed another opportunity in 2020 after contracting the novel coronavirus.
Puig did not easily return to the majors after that. In 2022, he turned to the KBO. He needed to stabilize his playing time in a relatively high level league. He needed to improve his performance in order to return to the big leagues. Puig’s signing with Kiwoom in 2022 was the talk of the KBO and baseball fans around the world.
Puig got better and better in 2022, hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs in 126 games. Kiermaier also considered re-signing him. He thought his late-season punch would be enough to keep him around. But then, out of nowhere, post-season allegations of illegal gambling and perjury surfaced. It was reported that Puig frequently bet on illegal gambling in 2019 and even pleaded guilty to perjury charges. Unable to live with this risk, Keum waived Puig.
Puig has since tried to return to the major leagues, but has been unsuccessful. He continued to play baseball in the Dominican Winter League, but no team called him up. He was already past his prime and had a problematic reputation, but local reports began to emerge.
Dominican media outlet CDN Deportes reported on Wednesday that Puig had signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay that included an invitation to spring training. However, Tampa Bay has yet to confirm the story. US media reports have also been quiet. If it’s just a misreport, it reaffirms Puig’s popularity, but if it’s true, it could be the last chance of his baseball career to return to the big leagues.
If he impresses in spring training and exhibition games, there’s no reason why Tampa Bay shouldn’t be the only team interested. However, with his image so tarnished, and with many teams either disliking or feeling overwhelmed by his unique character, it remains to be seen if Puig will ultimately be able to make it back to the big leagues.