SURPRISE, Ariz. — Manager Don Mattingly has dropped hints in recent days that spring-training sensation Yasiel Puig could make the Dodgers' opening-day roster as a reserve outfielder.
But if Puig is with the Dodgers on April 1, he will probably be sent to the minor leagues soon after.
Puig is 22 and the Dodgers want him to play regularly to round out his rough edges, which won't happen in the major leagues with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford in their outfield.
There's something else the Dodgers have to consider when deciding what to do this season with the Cuban defector: his eventual free agency.
Although Puig won't be eligible to test the open market for several years, the issue could be significant if he turns into the All-Star he is projected to become by some scouts. By sending Puig to the minor leagues for three weeks, the Dodgers can delay his entry into the free-agent market by an entire year.
Puig is in the second year of a seven-year, $42-million contract. But for him to become a free agent when the deal expires at the end of the 2018 season, he will have to have accrued six years of major league service time by then. The only way that happens is if he is credited with a full season of service time this year.
The major league season is 183 days long. To gain a full year of service time, a player has to spend 172 of them in the major leagues, according to the terms of baseball's collective-bargaining agreement. But a player who is optioned to the minor leagues for fewer than 20 days in a season will get those days added to his service time at the end of the year.
That means that if Puig spends 20 or more days in the minor leagues this year, the earliest he could be eligible for free agency would be after the 2019 season. In that case, his 2019 salary would be determined by the arbitration process.
Puig went into Monday batting .527 and Mattingly said the Dodgers were considering “all different scenarios” with him.
With Crawford recovering from elbow surgery and his throwing arm still at less than full strength, Mattingly has said he would like an extra outfielder on the roster who could replace him late in games. Puig is expected to be sent to double-A Chattanooga or triple-A Albuquerque, both of which don't start their seasons until April 4. Puig could play the Dodgers' first series, against the San Francisco Giants from April 1-3, and not miss a significant part of the minor league season.
Inexperienced Alex Castellanos and veteran non-roster utility man Alfredo Amezaga could also serve as the fourth outfielder.
Capuano in limbo
On one of the back fields of the Dodgers’ spring-training complex, Chris Capuano pitched seven scoreless innings against Cleveland Indians farmhands. This marked Capuano’s second consecutive solid start, as he was charged with one run in 5 2/3 innings in a Cactus League win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.
But with eight well-paid starting pitchers in camp, Capuano is unlikely to make the Dodgers’ five-man rotation.
“I’m not sure what’s next,” Capuano said. “I’m not sure when my next outing’s going to be.”
He could be sent to the bullpen. Or he could be traded. Or, if one of the starting pitchers suffers an injury, he could be back in the rotation.
“It’ll be interesting to see how we make it work,” Capuano said.