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Dodgers make statement with deal for Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig

The Dodgers reintroduced themselves as players in the international market when they agreed to a seven-year, $42-million deal with the 21-year-old who has not played organized baseball in over a year.

June 28, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Yasiel Puig, in a frame grab of a YouTube video, connects for a hit while playing for Cuba.
Yasiel Puig, in a frame grab of a YouTube video, connects for a hit while playing…

Less than two months removed from bankruptcy and the clutches of Frank McCourt, the Dodgers displayed their increased financial flexibility under the new ownership, committing $42 million to a 21-year-old Cuban defector who hasn't played organized baseball in more than a year.

The agreement with outfielder Yasiel Puig on a seven-year contract was perhaps the most significant statement made to date by Guggenheim Baseball Management, even more than the signing of Andre Ethier to a five-year, $85-million extension this month.

Puig isn't expected to play in the major leagues this season. He might not be ready to do so next season. But the Dodgers offered him the most lucrative contract ever awarded to a Cuban amateur, reintroducing themselves as players in an international market that was neglected under McCourt's ownership.

If team President Stan Kasten is to be believed, this is only the start.

Kasten wouldn't speak Thursday about the deal with Puig, which is pending on the results of a physical examination and the approval of Major League Baseball.

But Kasten made clear the Dodgers would continue to be big spenders. The Dodgers expect to spend money when the new international signing period opens Monday. They will spend money at the trade deadline, if necessary. And they will spend money next winter in free agency.

Of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline in particular, Kasten said, "I promise you we'll explore everything. Look, as candid as we can be, we're the Dodgers. We're supposed to be big. We intend to be big. Will we look at big things? You bet."

The shortage of top-tier prospects in the Dodgers farm system could be an obstacle, as they are what teams will be asking for in return for established players.

"I wish we were deeper in that regard," Kasten said. "But if the resources involve money, we'll be very flexible."

In fact, Kasten said he would prefer to take on a greater percentage of an incoming player's salary if it means they can acquire him in exchange for a low-caliber of prospects.

That being said, Kasten doesn't think the Dodgers necessarily have to add players to remain in contention. And with the upcoming free-agent class thin on top-class position players — these are players that are generally made available for trades — there is also the question of whether there are any high-impact deals to be made.

The Dodgers think that Puig can one day turn into such a player.

Not everyone is so sure, which is why there was surprise in some sectors of the industry when Puig received more money than two other recent Cuban defectors, Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics (four years, $36 million) and Jorge Soler of the Chicago Cubs (nine years, $30 million).

Puig is 6 feet 3 and plays at about 215 pounds, according to his agent, Jaime Torres. But Puig was suspended from Cuba's top league for the 2011-12 season for attempting to leave the Communist country. Because he was unable to practice while suspended, his weight increased to almost 230 pounds. Until Puig worked out for major league teams in Mexico City last weekend, he hadn't held a bat in five months.

But the Dodgers scouted Puig before his banishment from Cuban baseball when not every team was scouting him. What they saw in the few times Puig played internationally was a five-tool player with power and speed.

Puig had a breakout season in Cuba in 2010-11, batting .330 with 17 home runs and 47 runs batted in.

The Dodgers plan to take a measured approach with Puig, who will probably start his American baseball experience at the team's year-round training complex in Arizona. If he progresses well, he could play in the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school for baseball's top prospects.

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