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MLB Proposes Plan for Cuban Baseball Players to Sign Directly with Teams

Cuban MLB player Yasiel Puig (R) signs autographs at the Latin American Stadium in Havana, on December 16, 2015. Cuban baseball stars Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig returned home Tuesday for the first time since defecting to join the American big leagues, part of an unprecedented Major League Baseball tour made possible by the thaw in US-Cuban relations. The delegation also includes Cuban-born player Alexei Ramirez, a free agent who left Cuba legally by marrying a Dominican in 2007.    AFP PHOTO/YAMIL LAGE / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
YAMIL LAGE/Getty Images
Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2016

Major League Baseball has submitted a proposal to the Treasury Department of the United States that would set up a committee made up of "Cuban entrepreneurs and officials from MLB and its players’ union" and allow MLB teams to directly sign Cuban baseball players, per Ben Strauss of the New York Times, citing the league's top lawyer, Dan Halem.  

The committee "would function like a nonprofit and support youth baseball, education and improving sports facilities in Cuba," and it would be paid a portion of any salaries signed by Cuban players. 

The proposed committee would still satisfy the conditions of the embargo, MLB claimed, because no money would be going to the Cuban government, per Strauss. The Office of Foreign Assets Control will have to approve the license, however, as will the Cuban government, before any further action.

The move would be the latest step from Major League Baseball to improve relations with Cuba, as the Tampa Bay Rays will play an exhibition game against the Cuban national team.

The ability to directly hire Cuban players ultimately would be to the advantage of the players themselves, some of whom have to hire smugglers to leave the island and find their way to the United States. Some players, in that process, have been subject to their families being kidnapped or have been extorted for more money. 

In December, the president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, Higinio Velez, addressed the danger of defection for players interested in coming to the United States, per Strauss:

To play in that type of baseball—in the United States—where the majority of the greatest players in the world want to be, you need to give up something big here, your dignity of being Cuban. We hope that—in the future—Cuban players can go anywhere in the world and play, representing their federation, and that there are not intermediaries that take advantage of them.

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk worries the proposed system would be a different form of exploiting the players, however, noting, "it’s commodifying players in a whole new way, all while giving MLB a sort of cut of their earnings that it doesn’t seem to have of any other players" and adding, "someone will always be looking for a cut in such instances." 

He also acknowledged it would be better than the current system, however. In a league enriched by Cuban ballplayers, ensuring the safe passage of those players to the U.S.—where they will always find a way to end up, even in the hands of smugglers—is a positive step in the right direction. 

 

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter. 

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