Yasiel Puig isn’t expected to play in the major leagues this season. He might not even be ready next season.
But the Dodgers’ agreement to sign the 21-year-old Cuban outfielder to a 7-year, $42-million deal might be the most significant statement by the team’s new ownership group to date — and that includes the recent contract extension they signed with Andre Ethier.
“Scouting and signing talent in Latin America is critical and this signing shows ownership’s commitment to re-engage in the region and dedicate ourselves to getting stronger in this area,” said Colletti. “We feel that Yasiel can be an outstanding major league player for the organization.”
The deal is the biggest contract ever signed by a Cuban amateur. That is about five times as much money as the once-bankrupt Dodgers have spent on all of their international signings over the last decade.
Re-establishing the Dodgers in the international market was a stated priority of Guggenheim Baseball, which bought the team this spring. The Dodgers made a strong run at another Cuban defector earlier this month, 20-year-old Jorge Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30-million contract with the Chicago Cubs
“Yasiel is a fantastic kid with an infectious personality and we think he has the tools to be a frontline player in the major leagues,” said Dodger assistant general manager, scouting Logan White. “He is very physical and athletic with raw power…he can hit it a long way. On top of that, he has a good arm and is an above average runner. We had a great team of people that worked to get this done and I’m proud of our staff.”
Puig hasn’t played in a game in more than a year. Until he worked out for teams in Mexico City last week, he hadn’t held a bat in more than five months.
That’s because he was suspended from the Cuba’s top-flight league for attempting to defect from the communist island. In his last season, in 2010-11, Puig hit .330 with 17 home runs and 47 runs batted in.
Puig was a member of Cuba’s national team.
Puig is expected to begin his American baseball experience in Arizona, where the Dodgers have their spring training complex as well as a rookie league club. Because Puig has been inactive for so long, the Dodgers aren’t expected to rush him. If he transitions well, he could play in the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school for baseball’s top prospects.
Puig’s contract includes a provision that would allow him to void the deal and opt into salary arbitration with the Dodgers after he has accumulated three years of major league service time.
If the six-foot-three, 215-pound Puig reaches the majors, he will become the eighth native of Cuba in Dodger history and the first since Danys Baez in 2006. The last Dodger position player born in Cuba was shortstop Zoilo Versalles (1968).
The most famous native of Cuba to play for the franchise was outfielder Sandy Amoros, who had 324 hits from 1952-60 and made a game-saving catch in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, robbing Hall of Famer Yogi Berra of extra bases. In addition to Amoros, Baez and Versalles, Camilo Pascual (1970), Rene Valdes (1957), Chico Fernandez (1956) and Dolph Luque (1930-31) were all Cuban-born players to wear Dodger Blue.