The Battle For Yasiel Puig’s Narrative
9:59 AM EDT on March 16, 2021
With opening day rapidly approaching, two stories dropped last week about Yasiel Puig. You might recall Puig as one of the most exciting players in baseball when he defected from Cuba in 2012. It was all flashing lights and good coverage at the time: Puig was a shining talent who had fled communist Cuba for the good ol' U.S. of A, where he was rewarded with a fat MLB contract and, soon enough, a starting gig in right field with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In turn, he dazzled on the field with big hits and acrobatic catches. It seemed nothing could derail him, not even a lawsuit that claimed Puig lied and put a man in Cuban prison, which was later dismissed.
Nine years later, Puig is trying to get any team in MLB to sign him and various people in baseball are putting forward different answers to the same question: Why is he unsigned? On Wednesday, the Athletic dropped a Puig story, and ESPN followed with its own on Thursday. Both articles bring up the civil suit filed against Puig several months ago, in which a woman said that Puig pinned her with one arm and masturbated in front of her in a Staples Center bathroom in Los Angeles in 2018. Both quote an anonymous baseball person about why Puig isn't in baseball. But it's hard to not notice how the two articles have two different explanations for why.
To hear the Athletic tell it, the problem is that Puig's statistics have been trending down, along with several allusions to people not liking him, although nobody says it directly. Andy McCullough points out that Puig has had three agents since 2018. The articles notes "turmoil marked the duration of Puig’s tenure with the Dodgers" and Puig "struggled with punctuality," which his agent said was the result of now-diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There's the rattling off of various statistics (about 1.5 wins above replacement in his last two seasons, per FanGraphs, and subpar defense in right field for 2018 and 2019) to show Puig's skills are declining. Puig last played major-league ball with Cleveland in 2019, and the Athletic says there's a general wariness about signing the former star. An anonymous talent evaluator is quoted as saying, "He’s gone more than a year without competing at the highest level. So what’s it going to be like when he gets back into the big leagues?"
And, oh yeah, that lawsuit. Per the Athletic, citing baseball people, "The legal issue adds a layer of uncertainty for teams already pondering the value of Puig’s production and weighing concerns about his readiness after missing the 2020 season." Yet the piece clearly isn't sold on this being the main reason why Puig isn't in baseball. It's just a part of it, and the article gives ample space to Puig's agent, Rachel Luba, to preach about how ready, willing, and able her client is to play America's pastime again.
But what happens if you talked to some different baseball people?
On Thursday, ESPN published its story on Puig, this time with much more emphasis on the civil lawsuit, including an interview with the woman who filed it under the pseudonym Jane Roe. She told ESPN's John Barr that she went to the Staples Center for a Lakers game, where she met Puig in the Chairman's Room, described as "a room under the stands of Staples Center's south end accessible only to fans with floor-level seats and a short list of VIPs and celebrities who routinely attend Lakers games." Jane said that Puig, whom she didn't recognize, approached her during halftime and started talking to her; she described him as "being flirty." Puig later went to another part of the room but pointed at her, which she figured was just "more harmless flirtation." From Barr's report:
After the game, Jane went to the bathroom, where she said Puig followed her and physically restrained her by pinning her with his forearm. The lawsuit states that Puig attempted to take her clothes off, groped her, exposed himself and then masturbated in front of her. Later that same evening, Puig sent Jane a text message that read: "Private between me and me [sic] everything that happens no one has to know," according to a transcript of text messages that appears in court documents. It was the first of several texts Puig sent over the following days in an attempt to meet Jane privately, she said.
Jane said she didn't remember giving Puig her number, but it would make sense if she did because, according to ESPN, she "owns a business that places her in contact with several professional athletes." Jane said that she didn't go to the police because she just wanted to try and forget what happened. But she couldn't. She told ESPN that she talked about what happened with her brother and her fiancée. Her brother confirmed talking to his sister soon afterward, recalling Jane sounding "distraught." Afterward, Jane says, she grew scared of using public restrooms because she thought it could happen again.
Unlike the Athletic article, the one from ESPN doesn't delve into Puig's stats. Instead, it leads with an update on MLB's investigation into Puig and what happened at the Staples Center, then asserts, "A number of teams that reportedly expressed interest in Puig this spring have factored the allegations into their decisions." Whereas anonymous talent evaluators in the Athletic were more worried about Puig's time off, anonymous front-office executive told ESPN that Puig probably wasn't getting signed because of the lawsuit, saying, "Nobody wants the headache."
What does it all mean? It means that what is written about Puig depends on which baseball people a reporter spoke to, and that a lot of what you, the reader, think about Puig's situation is depends on where you get your baseball news. Maybe you believe the anonymous talent evaluator. Maybe you believe the anonymous front-office executive. Maybe you listen to Jane Roe, maybe you don't, maybe you do but don't think it should be enough to keep him from playing baseball. Maybe all these anonymous baseball sources are being honest and also maybe they aren't because they can say whatever they want, without putting their names to it. The only truth right now is that a lot of people in baseball—be they people attached to Puig, people attached to teams, or people attached to the league office—would like you to believe they know the real reason Puig remains unsigned. But mostly these anonymous opinions just window-dress the same facts we've all known for awhile now. Puig is 30 years old, his stats are modest but are trending down, and he's still being sued by a woman who said he sexually assaulted her. A hearing in that lawsuit is scheduled for April 22.