Well, this came out of nowhere, huh?
I saw the articles on Yasiel Puig being declared a free agent and I figured that the Dodgers might be interested due to their desired goal of returning to the international market, but none of the rumors had the Dodgers as players.
So much for that, as according to Jesse Sanchez, the Dodgers have apparently signed the 21-year-old Cuban to a seven-year deal worth $42 million.
According to an industry source, the Dodgers have agreed to a seven-year deal worth $42 million with 21-year-old international prospect Yasiel Puig, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder from Cuba.
The Dodgers haven’t commented on or confirmed the signing.
Puig (pronounced Pweeg) was declared a free agent Wednesday, not long after establishing temporary residency in Mexico, and was eventually cleared by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
In order to avoid being subject to new CBA guidelines that will limit spending on international prospects to $2.9 million per team without penalty, Puig must sign the record-setting deal, have the contract approved by Major League Baseball and pass a physical before Monday.
A top prospect in the island’s premier league, the Cuban National Series (Serie Nacional), Puig hit .276 with five home runs during his first campaign with Cienfuegos in 2008-09 and had a breakout year the next season, hitting .330 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. He did not play for Cienfuegos during the 2011-12 seasons because he was being disciplined for attempting to defect.
Puig, a member of the country’s national team, is the latest high-profile Cuban player to sign with a Major League club. Outfielders Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year $36 million deal with the A’s in mid-February, and Jorge Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million deal with the Cubs earlier this month. Left-handed pitcher Omar Luis Rodriguez signed a Minor League deal worth $4 million with the Yankees last week, and fellow lefty Gerardo Concepcion signed a five-year, $6 million deal with the Cubs in early February.
J.P. Breen at FanGraphs wrote a profile on him when he was declared a free agent.
Now, statistics from the Cuban Serie Nacional should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. The level of competition is perhaps not even comparable to what Puig would potentially see in Triple-A, but legitimate similarities exist between the numbers Yoenis Cespedes compiled in 2010-2011 and what Puig racked up in the same year.
The obvious difference is the significantly higher home run total from Cespedes. It’s that level of power that has allowed Cespedes to transition directly to the major leagues and post a .222 ISO as a 26-year-old without any experience in the United States.
The remainder of the numbers — the on-base percentage, strikeout-to-walk ratio, etc. — are comparable. Even the doubles are comparable. Puig reportedly has above-average speed and was once considered the “fastest player in Cuban baseball” before defecting, so it’s not overly surprising that Puig would collect more triples than Cespedes.
He followed that up with an article today after the signing.
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.”
Ben Badler of Baseball America noted that seeing him in person has been difficult and reports have not been overly positive.
Reports from scouts on 21-year-old Cuban corner outfielder Yasiel Puig have been underwhelming. The Rangers have been the only team linked to Puig, though their senior-level decision makers were not in attendance at his recent workout in Mexico, where teams have reported that his conditioning appears to be an issue. Teams have no performance data or game video to work off from Puig in more than a year because he was suspended for the 2011-12 season in Serie Nacional. The last time any scouts could have legally evaluated Puig was in June 2011 in Rotterdam, where scouts seemed lukewarm at best on him. He’s shown plus raw power and hit well in Cuba for a year before his suspension, but there are question marks about both his bat and his rawness in the outfield. How Puig could have acquired permanent Mexican residency documents after having been in the country for what’s believed to be less than a month is also a widespread question, though Major League Baseball has yet to declare him a free agent.
Upon being declared a free agent, he repeated the point.
Reports on Puig, 21, have been modest, and other than a few light workouts this weekend, teams are working off limited information. He was suspended this past season in Cuba—some sources believe it was due to his attempts to leave the country, though some teams have conflicting information—so scouts haven’t been able to see Puig in game condition since June 2011 for the Cuban national B team at the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam. The Rangers are the only team that Baseball America’s sources have linked to Puig.
“How can we evaluate someone like that?” asked one Latin American director.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus chimed in with basically the same report. We don’t know much.
His workout in Mexico was really just an extended batting practice, as he never ran and barely did anything in the outfield. His previous attempts to defect left him on the sidelines in last season’s Serie National in Cuba, so overall, he just hasn’t been seen that much. Puig has plus-plus raw power, but reviews on every other tool vary wildly for the 21-year-old. Some think he has speed, some think he’s merely an average runner, and there are definite concerns about the stiffness of his swing and a history of swing-and-miss. No matter what exactly he is, talk of this as a desperation move to help a woeful Dodgers offense seems more than a bit foolhardy, and the Dodgers have to get him into the country first, and they’ll be lucky to get six weeks of minor league time out of someone who has barely played the game in the past 12 months.
Speaking of upside, Danny Knobler of CBSSports relays this:
One scout on Puig: “You see him on the right day, he could be Vladimir Guerrero.”
— DKnobler (@DKnobler) June 28, 2012
Could probably say the same for a lot of inconsistent/toolsy players.
Keith Law of ESPN furthers the skepticism.
Based on what I’ve heard about Puig, this is a bizarre overreaction to the upcoming international spending cap, and a huge bet that, despite a stiff swing and less athletic body than Soler, Puig’s bat is good enough to justify an investment of this size. I’ve also heard that Puig was badly out of shape in his recent workouts in Mexico, and that his throwing arm is not as strong since it was last seen in games. And unlike Soler or Cespedes, Puig barely has played in games outside of Cuba, so major league scouts have not had much of an opportunity to evaluate him properly.
So basically, we shouldn’t get too excited about the fact that he signed such a massive deal, as it’s less indicative of his actual talent, and more indicative of the rules under the new CBA.
I don’t see any way this isn’t an overpay in the end, but if the Dodgers have this type of money to take a shot in the dark with, perhaps that’s an overall net positive. I just hope they haven’t spent this simply to make a statement and have it take out of the 2013 budget.
Furthermore, Dodgers scouts have a good track record with international signings … which is why I’m worried about this one, because apparently Dodgers scouts haven’t seen him play or do anything.