LOS ANGELES -- Andrew Friedman tends to be the master of the non-answer. As the Dodgers' president of baseball operations, he is almost universally uninterested in publicizing his intentions. But he was particularly slippery when a reporter asked him Tuesday whether he felt compelled to trade Yasiel Puig this winter to improve team chemistry.
"I think Yasiel Puig can be a significant part of future success for the Los Angeles Dodgers," Friedman said.
So Puig could be part of that success, which of course means he also could not be part of it, presuming, of course, that the Dodgers actually have success, with or without him. Is that about the gist of it? Glad we cleared that up. Oh, and by the way, Friedman wouldn't even answer whether he thought chemistry was a problem last year, though he admitted, "It felt like there was always something kind of missing."
Dave Roberts. the new Dodgers manager, struck the perfect chords when he was asked about Puig, the lone remaining problem child on a team that Friedman and his group have worked hard to forge into a more professional, more cohesive unit. Toward the end of Don Mattingly's stay as manager, according to clubhouse sources, he and Puig didn’t talk at all. Puig told acquaintances he didn't care what Mattingly thought about him.
Roberts said he has never exchanged a word with Puig in the past but will keep an open mind when dealing with him. Roberts already has reached out to him, but Puig was traveling outside the country. He said he hopes to have a face-to-face conversation with Puig in January, when Puig swings through Los Angeles.
Presuming the Dodgers do, in fact, hold on to Puig, how he reacts to Roberts and the new coaching staff could largely determine the staff's success. After all, Puig is, on the surface, the perfect player for an organization that is trying to get younger, more athletic and less reliant on big, ticking-time-bomb contracts to win games.
He is 24, he is as athletic as anyone in baseball and he makes one-third what another Dodgers corner outfielder, Carl Crawford, pulls in.
If Roberts and his coaches can tap into the scalding determination that compelled Puig to bat .526 with an .842 slugging percentage in spring training of 2013, one of the best performances in Cactus League history, and then continue that display into the regular season, they could -- in conjunction with a few shrewd moves from Friedman -- position the Dodgers as the best team in the National League.
If Puig continues to sulk, if he shows up weighing 245 pounds again, if he struggles to make adjustments, he could drag the team down with him and force Friedman to make a trade in which the Dodgers receive scant return by July.
It really does feel like Puig has the power to set the course for the start of the Roberts era. It began Tuesday with glimmering promise, Roberts striking a confident tone in his introductory news conference in front of an assortment of high-profile supporters, including Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who went to bat for Roberts during the hiring process.
Because of Puig's importance to the Dodgers, Roberts was careful when discussing his new player, maybe the most talented position player at his disposal. He said he has never had a conversation with him, but that he was looking forward to getting to know him. I asked him whether he will have one set of rules for Puig and another set for the other 24 players on the team or whether they will be held to the same standards.
"In life, I think there are certain rules that apply to everybody, there are certain non-negotiables, but I think certain people have earned certain responsibilities and certain rights," he said.
Roberts elaborated by saying Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner, had earned certain rights that Joc Pederson, a rookie in 2015, had not: to be able to drive on his own to road games rather than take the team bus, for example, or to be able to fly on his own and enjoy an extra day at home with his family before a road trip.
Never mind that Kershaw is a team leader and has an impeccable reputation in the game or that Puig already has had three brushes with South Florida police in his short career and has never been popular with other teams.
Roberts chose an extreme example, but what he was trying to say is that every player is different, because every person is different. Being stern with one player might work well. Being stern with another player might cause a fatal disconnect. For now, we can only presume that one of the reasons Friedman hired Roberts is that he is adept at connecting with everyone in his clubhouse, even the most problematic cases.