Mattingly concerned about Puig saga

ByMark Saxon ESPN logo
Thursday, April 17, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO -- Yasiel Puig has presented Don Mattingly with plenty of managerial challenges since arriving in the major leagues last June, but the latest news about the outfielder's perilous escape from Cuba has taken the relationship into new territory.

According to two reports, including a lengthy ESPN The Magazine story detailing its five-month investigation, Puig has received death threats from human traffickers who orchestrated his 2012 defection from Cuba to Mexico. Mattingly said he read the first of those articles Wednesday and has gained a more nuanced view of his talented, sometimes reckless outfielder.

"If you care about Yasiel, you worry about it," Mattingly said. "There's some serious stuff that he has to deal with. I think you have to worry about it if you care about him as a person. You worry about what he's going through."

The Dodgers' front office, including president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti, has declined to comment on any of the newly revealed details of Puig's defection. The team hired a security detail that has been traveling full time with the Dodgers since mid-June of last season, days after Puig arrived from Double-A Chattanooga.

Because of their silence, it's unclear how much of Puig's saga the Dodgers knew when they signed him to a seven-year, $42 million contract shortly after he defected. According to the reports, Puig owes a Miami businessman and small-time criminal 20 percent of all his baseball earnings after the man orchestrated his escape to Mexico's eastern coast with the help of a Mexican drug cartel.

Mattingly said he learned of those details when he got a call from Colletti on Tuesday afternoon alerting him to the first magazine article.

"If it was news to anyone above me, I don't know that, but it was definitely news to me," Mattingly said. "I think it was news to anybody in our clubhouse. I know a lot of people check in on Yasiel that know a lot more than I do. I'm the manager of the baseball team. I'm not running the whole organization. I'm not the president or ownership."

Puig has steadfastly refused to discuss his journey from Cuba, and his agent released a statement on Puig's behalf Wednesday stating that the ballplayer would have no further comment.

"I'm represented on this matter, and I'm only focused on being a productive teammate and helping the Dodgers win games," the statement read, in part.

Puig briefly addressed the controversy following the Dodgers' 2-1 win over the Giants at AT&T Park on Thursday before a team-employed interpreter shut down his interview with reporters.

"I feel normal," Puig said. "I'm focusing on baseball and I'm giving my best for my team so things go well on the field with the preparation I've had, so those things that are happening don't torment me."

Puig went 1 for 4 with a strikeout against the Giants. He dropped a routine fly ball in right early on but threw out the runner at second. He later made two nice, running catches in the outfield.

Mattingly said Puig will be given all the support he needs by the organization and that his best support group is his team.

"We're at the field today and we've got to think about baseball," Hanley Ramirez said. "I talk to him, and he tells me he's going to do everything he can to help our team win today."

According to the reports, Puig was held against his will at an island off the coast of Mexico until a rival ring, hired by the Miami businessman, executed a successful late-night raid to get Puig to Mexico City. He was granted residency by the Mexican government and signed shortly thereafter with the Dodgers.

Upon receiving his $12 million signing bonus, Puig reportedly paid 20 percent of his total contract value to the Florida group that brought him to the U.S.

"If it's true, it's a wild story," Mattingly said. "I'm sure it's like all the other guys coming out of there also. I'll bet Yasiel's no different than anybody else out of Cuba."

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