Deal with Cuban Yasiel Puig shows Dodgers are operating like a big-market franchise again

Hamstrung for years by the financial whims and excesses of the McCourt family, the under-new-ownership Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday edged again toward conducting themselves like a large-market franchise.

Days before new collective bargaining guidelines would bring an international spending cap, the Dodgers were close to signing Cuban Yasiel Puig, a 21-year-old outfielder, to a seven-year, $42 million contract, the player's agent said Thursday. Puig, who defected from Cuba three weeks ago, must pass a physical, which will be conducted in Mexico City in the next day or two.

The contract would be the largest ever for a Cuban defector and represents the Dodgers' return to the higher-end free-agent marketplace under Guggenheim Sports Management. Two weeks ago, the organization signed right fielder Andre Ethier to a five-year, $85 million extension.

Declared a free agent this week, the right-handed-hitting Puig is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. His agent, Jaime Torres, described Puig as "built like a linebacker, with defensive back speed" and predicted Puig could be big-league ready within weeks. Puig worked out for several teams last weekend in Mexico, according to Torres, who said Puig had not held a bat for five months. The Cuban government had suspended Puig because of suspicions he intended to defect.

Puig batted .330 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs last season with Cienfuegos of the Cuban National Series, the country's top league, and was a member of the Cuban national team. As Puig emerged as one of Cuba's top players, he was mentored by Luis Casanova, an iconic figure in Cuban baseball.

Should Puig pass his physical, the Dodgers likely would begin his indoctrination into U.S. baseball and customs with their Rookie League team in Arizona. Puig presumably would require at-bats and daily competition to reacquire his baseball legs. Torres said his client prefers center field, but can play all three outfield positions. Due to the presence of Matt Kemp in center and Andre Ethier in right, Puig likely would be groomed in left field.

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After years of marginal involvement in the Latin American market, the Dodgers were aggressive in their pursuit of Puig. Assistant general manager Logan White spent several days in Mexico City, where he not only scouted Puig, but took him to dinner. In reviewing videos of Puig and watching his recent batting practice, the Dodgers see him as a player with five tools, all of which could translate in the major leagues.

The agent, Torres, said of Puig, "He's a very nice kid. Very friendly. Very smart. Great smile. He told me, 'I don't care about the money. I want to play.' "

To that end, Torres said, Puig chose the Dodgers in spite of at least one better offer.

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"He was very confident with the Dodgers," he said. "More important, the Dodgers had everything lined up."

The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox were believed to have pursued Puig as well.

The agreement with the Dodgers was first reported by

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