The Dodgers dipped into the international market for the first time under new ownership Thursday morning, reportedly agreeing to a seven-year, $42 million deal with Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig. The 21-year-old Puig broke out in the Cuban Serie Nacional (the nation’s top league) during the 2009-10 season, hitting .330/.430/.581 with 17 home runs in 327 at-bats.
The deal blows past Yoenis Cespedes‘s $36 million deal as the record for a Cuban player defecting to the major leagues. In terms of average annual value, Puig’s $6 million per year sits under Cespedes’s $9 million but above the roughly $5 million promised to Aroldis Chapman by the Reds and the $3.3 million promised to Jorge Soler by the Cubs.
Danny Knobler and Jon Heyman of CBS Sports had two interesting notes on the signing. First, from Heyman:
Yasiel Puig is considered a 5-tool player. #dodgers winning bid of $42M for 7 yrs apparently wasnt even his highest offer.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) June 28, 2012
And from Knobler:
Puig is a big-time power prospect, but I’m told Dodgers never saw him play in an actual game. Has only played twice outside of Cuba.
— Danny Knobler (@DKnobler) June 28, 2012
Puig’s Cuban numbers back up the possession of a solid hit tool (just 39 strikeouts in 327 at-bats) as well as discipline (49 walks) and power (.251 ISO), at least as far as international statistics can. Clay Davenport roughly compared Cuban baseball to Class Low-A, and Puig’s numbers at age 19 (he didn’t play in 2010-2011 due to discipline over his attempts to defect) would be impressive there.
Speed is speed, and Puig hit six triples with his Cuban team but also was thrown out in four of his nine stolen base attempts. Evaluation of Puig’s defense will be toughest of all. Workouts can show raw ability, but they may not show the kind of reactions and decision-making necessary to defend at the MLB level.
It may seem rash to commit $42 million to a player with no first-hand knowledge of how he plays in games. But, given Heyman’s note that the Dodgers weren’t the high bidder (at least in terms of gross dollar amount; it’s possible a team offered more years and a lower average salary), it appears less that the Dodgers were smitten by one great workout and more that there is something legitimately enticing about the player. At least one scout has noted his power as “not quite Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper, but close.”
Perhaps more importantly, this contract is another point showing the Dodgers’ new willingness to invest in baseball, following on the heels of Andre Ether’s $85 million extension. Although every franchise has limits, the new Dodgers are set to spend at a level previously unforeseen in Chavez Ravine. Yasiel Puig is about as unknown as a $42 million commodity can get, but the ability and desire to invest in a player with his potential was lacking in Los Angeles as Frank McCourt’s financial issues piled on. Even if Puig doesn’t pan out, the investment in his talent and potential is a positive development for the Dodger franchise.