There was a great case for the Dodgers releasing Juan Uribe last winter.
Fresh off a 24-homer campaign for the world champion Giants, Uribe was given a three-year, $21 million deal as a free agent after the 2010 season. It was a move widely panned at the time, and it worked out even worse than anyone could have imagined, with Uribe hitting .204-4-28 in 270 at-bats in 2011 and .191-2-17 in 162 at-bats in 2012.
Things got so bad last year that Uribe appeared in one game and had one plate appearance over the final five weeks of the season. He was healthy and on the active roster the whole time, but the Dodgers refused to use him. His received one start after July 23, that coming on Aug. 14. All signs pointed to him being released over the winter. The Dodgers had Hanley Ramirez starting at shortstop and Luis Cruz penciled in at third, with Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto also on guaranteed deals as utilitymen. Of course, Uribe was making more than any of them except Ramirez, but that still didn’t figure to save him.
But, oddly, the DFA or release never came, and while the Dodgers would have been more than happy to trade him, he was back in spring training with the team. Ramirez’s injury opened up an infield spot, allowing all of the veteran backups to make the squad. Uribe still didn’t play a lot — he made three starts in the first two weeks and totaled 32 at-bats in April — but he contributed in his limited action and overtook Cruz, eventually settling in as the Dodgers’ primary third baseman and still keeping that role after Michael Young was acquired. After a strong finish that saw him collect five of his 12 homers in September, Uribe started all four games in the ALDS against the Braves. He homered Sunday in the Game 3 victory and then, after failing to get a sac bunt down, delivered the big blast on Monday, a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 lead they’d make stand up.
It’s a pretty amazing turnaround and still not his first. When he originally signed with the Giants, he was forced to take a minor league deal after hitting just seven homers for the White Sox the year before. Consistency obviously isn’t a strength. His four career-high OPSs came in 2001, 2004, 2009 and this year, for four different teams (he started off with the Rockies). The only one of those teams that never gave up on him was the Giants, unless you want to count the Dodgers, too. After all, here he is. Next stop: the NLCS.
Yasiel Puig’s fundamentals have been the topic du jour in the media recently, leading to some saying that he should be taught a lesson for his mistakes. Hyperbole aside, teammates are lending some advice to the Cuban phenom.
According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Hairston Jr. said that a number of veterans spoke to Puig this week in an effort to get him to cut down on his mistakes. He described it as essentially their way of saying, “Hey, that’s enough,” and that such mistakes could prove costly during the postseason.
“A lot of things are happening to him,” Hairston said. “He’s a superstar at 22. He’s in a new country, a new culture. We are sensitive to that.
“But if you¹re going to be a great player, you’ve got to do the little things. That’s how you win. That’s the key.”
While Puig’s arrival has been a boon for the surging Dodgers, he has received some criticism for routinely making baserunning mistakes and missing the cutoff man. He was also fined earlier this week after arriving late to the ballpark.
For what it’s worth, Hairston said Puig was receptive to the advice and that he has noticed improvement since. It’s easy to forget that the 22-year-old outfielder has only been in the U.S. for a little over a year and played a grand total of 63 games in the minors before being making his major league debut in June, so the Dodgers should absolutely do what they can to make him a better player and teammate. But that doesn’t change the fact that most of this controversy has lacked perspective.
Yasiel Puig was much more of a cleanup hitter than a leadoff man in his first week of the majors, and now he’s one officially, as the Dodgers have inserted him behind Adrian Gonzalez in Monday’s lineup.
The lineup was announced not long after Puig was named NL Player of the Week for smashing four homers in his major league debut. He hit .464 with 10 RBI in his seven games as a leadoff man last week. However, even though he had nine hits and a walk to go along with those four homers, he had just the four runs scored. The Dodgers never drove him in during any of their seven games.
With Puig batting cleanup, the Dodgers have Nick Punto leading off tonight.
If will be interesting to see if Puig gets many strikes to hit from left-hander Wade Miley while batting ahead of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Andre Ethier. Hairston has a good rep against lefties, but he’s batting .233 with no extra-base hits against them in 30 at-bats this year. Ethier has always struggled against left-handers and is slumping again just about everyone right now.