Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has received threats from the human traffickers who orchestrated his 2012 defection from Cuba to Mexico, according to a five-month ESPN The Magazine investigation, which uncovers new details about Puig's harrowing escape from Cuba and the complexities of the illegal human trafficking rings that continue to shuttle major league prospects off the island.
The magazine's report, written by Scott Eden and to be posted online Thursday, also explores a civil lawsuit filed in a Florida federal court that accuses Puig of wrongfully accusing a man of attempting to set up a defection. The suit was reported by Los Angeles Magazine earlier this week.
Much of the information came through interviews with more than 80 sources, in addition to court documents in the civil suits filed against Puig and fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman, who pitches for the Cincinnati Reds.
ESPN The Magazine's reporting included exclusive conversations with a childhood friend of Puig's, Yunior Despaigne, who was with Puig throughout the escape journey and whose firsthand account sheds new light on Puig's fifth -- and ultimately successful -- attempt to defect.
Puig issued a statement Wednesday on the reports of his trek from Cuba that said: "I'm aware of the recent articles and news accounts. I understand that people are curious and have questions, but I will have no comment on this subject. I'm represented on this matter, and I'm only focused on being a productive teammate and helping the Dodgers win games."
Puig had previously not talked publicly about his defection, other than to once say there would be a movie based on it someday. Major League Baseball issued its own statement Wednesday, saying "T he safety and security of everyone involved in our sport is of paramount importance to Major League Baseball. MLB and its clubs have individuals and resources in place to provide appropriate security, but as a matter of policy, cannot comment on such measures that have been taken without potentially compromising those efforts."
According to Despaigne's account, the future Dodgers right fielder was in physical danger numerous times -- diving into dark waters to evade Cuban authorities, hiking through crocodile-infested mangrove swamps and being held captive on an island near Cancun, Mexico.
Puig and three other defectors, including Despaigne, spent several weeks in a guarded apartment on Isla Mujeres, just off the coast of Cancun. The trafficking ring that delivered him from Cuba to Mexico was headed by an escaped felony suspect wanted by U.S. authorities, sources told the magazine. The group was awaiting payment from a Miami middleman who arranged the escape, but when that payment was slow in coming, things escalated, sources said.
In the Los Angeles Magazine story, Despaigne said, "If they didn't receive the money, they were saying that at any moment they might give him a machetazo" -- a whack with a machete -- "chop off an arm, a finger, whatever, and he would never play baseball again, not for anyone."