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MLB Opens Doors: A Stampede of Cuban Baseball Players?

MLB Opens Doors: A Stampede of Cuban Baseball Players?

Posted by Miguel Ernesto on February 06, 2015

"I hereby declare that I have permanent residence out of Cuba. Furthermore, I hereby declare that I am not willing to return to Cuba. I hereby declare that I am not an official of the Cuban Government, nor a member of Cuba’s Communist Party". Just by signing this affidavit, Cuban baseball players that leave their country and decide to continue their career in the United States will be able to negotiate a contract with one of the Major League Baseball’s franchises. This move outstandingly speeds up the signing of new players and puts out a crystal-clear message: although a dialogue has been established between both countries, MLB is not willing to negotiate with the Cuban Federation.

The executive vice president of MLB, Dan Halem, underscored that the new rule joins the amendments of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), announced in January by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), linked to the Treasure Department.

No Cuban baseball player with residence in Cuba is allowed to sign with a franchise because the Embargo, in force since 1962, forbids it. The players that had definitely left the country, no matter how they did it, had to obtain the residence in another country and wait for a specific license issued by the OFAC to unlock their case. Once this permit was granted, which could take 4 - 6 months, franchise executives would negotiate with the players’ agents. Now the process will be easier because they won’t have to wait for the specific license. An affidavit is all they need.

The new policy could directly benefit shortstop Dainer Moreira and pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez, two baseball players that abandoned the Cuban delegation that participates in the Caribbean Series, in San Juan. Since they are in Puerto Rico and the Cuban Adjustment Law applies there, they won’t have any legal problem to stay in the country; nevertheless, they will certainly try to establish their residence in another country, as soon as possible. They have millions of reasons to do so.

If Cuban baseball players get their American residence and negotiate their MLB contract, they would fall into the “draft amateur” and, therefore, their contracts would be very limited; but if the sign by having a third-country residence, they are labeled “freelancer” and have the possibility to sign contracts for seven or eight digits.

Vladimir Gutierrez

This is the most coveted “path” by Cuban baseball players hired by MLB. There are several examples. Rusney Castillo (72.5 million with Boston’s Red Sox); Yasmany Tomas (68.5 million with Arizona’s Diamondbacks); Jose Dariel Abreu (68 million with Chicago’s White Sox), among many others, have singed as freelancers.

Over 70 Cuban baseball players were waiting for their “specific licenses” to be issued by the OFAC in order to join different levels of MLB; but since they no longer need that bureaucratic process, it’s not difficult to foresee a growth, in the immediate future, in the number of players in different franchises.

In 2013, Cuba announced the implementation of a new policy in the sports sector, which allows athletes signing with professional clubs, always with the mediation of the National Federation. Five Cuba-based baseball players are going to play during the upcoming Japanese baseball season, but not even this decision has stopped the continuous departure of players that, through legal means or not, leave the Island in an effort to make their “playing MLB” dream come true.

The Cuban Baseball Federation has said to be ready to negotiate with MLB, but the Embargo stands in the way. The finest Cuban baseball player at the time —among those who still play the National Series —, Yuliesky Gourriel, who will go back to Japanese Yokohama DeNa Baystar for three million dollars, said in a press conference during the Caribbean Series that he and other Cuban baseball players would like playing in the MLB, “as long as we have legal permit and we don’t have to leave our Cuban residence behind.”

That possibility presently seems to be remote. MLB wants to attract more Cubans —the impact caused by Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes has contributed to the show—; but the mechanism to increase the presence of these players in franchises does not include a minimum negotiation with the Cuban Federation.

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