“We’d just bought the team, so you don’t know whether the scouts have superlatives for lots of people that they see,” Walter said.
Veteran baseball men, top player development guys and scouts were comparing Puig to all-time greats like Roberto Clemente and calling him a once-in-a-lifetime player.
Walter listened to them all, intrigued but skeptical.
Could he really be that good? Or did these guys just see the team’s new owners as loose with their money after they’d paid a record $2.15 billion to buy the Dodgers?
He listened, and then he did what you’d expect from a brilliant financial mind: He assessed the risk/reward from a completely different perspective.
“When you’re told he’s somebody who can be another Matt Kemp, those players are $20 million a year,” Walter said. “Six years for that player is $120 million, so it’s only got to be a 1-in-3 shot [the $42 million over six years the Dodgers signed Puig for] is worth it.
“It’s a lot less if he really is ready for it.”
One week into Puig’s big league career, it looks like the Dodgers’ new owners have got themselves a steal. You could say the same for the record price they paid for the franchise now, after they inked a 25-year television deal with Time Warner Cable that’s actually closer to $9 billion than the $8 billion that was previously reported.
That record $213 million payroll isn’t looking as great just yet. The Dodgers dropped another game Saturday night against the Atlanta Braves to fall to 27-34 on the season and 7-10 in one-run games.
But Puig’s mere presence these days makes you feel like it’s way too soon to write these Dodgers off. Even standing in the on-deck circle, as he was when Mark Ellis struck out to end the game with the tying run in scoring position, Puig is intimidating. If he gets up, something’s going to happen.
If the ball is hit to him in right field, something’s going to happen.
If the moment is big, he’ll probably be involved in it.
No matter what, you have to watch.
“It’s a daily thing now. Something’s going to happen, whether it’s at the plate, defensively or running the bases,” said Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker, who went 3-for-4 to extend his career-best hitting streak to 14 games.
Saturday night Puig flashed the arm in right field that drew all those Clemente comparisons by gunning down the speedy Andrelton Simmons as he tried to go from first to third on a single to right. Simmons was out by a good 3 feet as Puig fired a laser to Luis Cruz at third for his second jaw-dropping outfield assist in six games.
He also had two more singles, one of which came on a scary headfirst dive into first base that had Dodgers manager Don Mattingly hoping he re-examines his own views on risk/reward.
“That was a little dangerous. But you know what, with guys like him, that play with that kind of energy, the game just comes out of them, you know,” Mattingly said. “It’s just coming natural.”
So natural that scouts like Mike Brito, who first saw Puig play as a 17-year-old on the Cuban national team, are feeling pretty good about themselves these days.
“I sleep eight hours a night,” Brito joked.
As for Walter, who was sitting right behind Puig as he stood in the on-deck circle at the end of Saturday night’s game hoping to make a little more magic, well, he’s doing just fine, too.
Last place isn’t what he, or anyone associated with the Dodgers, had in mind with this kind of a roster. But men who understand the markets come to understand one thing very well:
“Over long periods of time, things work out. Unfortunately, there are those short periods of time where they don’t,” Walter said.
But when you take the right risks, something or someone like Puig happens.