Dodgers move Yasiel Puig to center

ByMark Saxon ESPN logo
Saturday, July 26, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are going to Option No. 4 in their quest to find an every-day center fielder.

After moving Matt Kemp out of the position in May because they were unsatisfied with his defense, and tiring of the lack of speed from the next two players they tried there, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke, the Dodgers have decided to make Yasiel Puig their center fielder.

Puig returned from a hand injury and was starting in center for Friday night's opener of a crucial three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. Three days earlier, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he hadn't tried Puig in center yet because he plays "out of control most of the time" and "he scares the other outfielders."

Mattingly said he and the coaches sat down with Puig on Friday and stressed the importance of communicating with the other outfielders. Puig started six games in center last year but hadn't started there all season until Friday.

"We feel, with our combination of guys, this may be our best chance in center field," Mattingly said. "It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be forever -- or as long as he plays. We don't really know, but we know he's physically capable of handling the spot."

Mattingly said the idea arose when he saw how comfortable Kemp looked playing right field, Puig's former position, earlier in the week in Pittsburgh. Kemp, however, has made it clear, mostly through agent Dave Stewart, that he wants to return to center field. Since the Dodgers shifted his position May 26, Kemp has said he considers himself a center fielder and Stewart has told reporters that he thinks his client is being treated unfairly.

On Friday, Stewart made his most pointed comments yet, implying to that Kemp wants to be traded.

"Eight years is a long time to be in one place," Stewart said. "Sometimes change is good. This might be the time to change."

Mattingly said he doesn't think Kemp's unhappiness with the situation will detract from the team's focus as it jockeys with the Giants for dominance of the NL West.

"I can't speak for Matt, what he feels, what he thinks, but obviously we've got him in right field. We like him enough to put him in the lineup," Mattingly said. "We think he gives us a good chance to win."

The Dodgers have had discussions with teams about Kemp since at least December but haven't found the interest level overwhelming. Kemp, who is batting .268 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs, has five years and $107 million left on his contract following this season. To move him, the Dodgers likely would have to pay a significant portion of what's left on the contract.

Hanley Ramirez also returned to the Dodgers' lineup Friday after missing the previous three games. Like Puig, he was struck in the left hand by a pitch in the Dodgers' series in St. Louis last weekend.