Yesterday, the Gurriel brothers, a pair of baseball-playing, Cuban dynamos, defected and announced their intention to play Major League Baseball. . That's fantastic if you're a fan of the game, since we want to see the best players and the best possible baseball that we can. The biggest question isn't where they'll wind up signing, but when.
The answer, sadly, is probably not any time soon. According to Baseball America's Ben Badler, the odds are against us seeing either Yulieski or Lourdes Gurriel in 2016. According to Badler, "The process for Cuban players to become eligible to sign takes several months." Badler continues,
"Cuban players have to go through a lengthy ordeal to become free agents. First, they have to establish residency in another country. Then they have to wait for the commissioner's office to clear them to sign. Those are both time-consuming processes, though various folks involved in the handling of Cuban players have found that bribery can expedite matters.
Right now, there are more than 100 Cuban players off the island, many of whom are waiting for the commissioner's office to declare them a free agent. Take outfielder Jorge Ona, one of the best young Cuban prospects out there. He left Cuba six months ago and is still not cleared to sign. Randy Arozarena, another talented young Cuban prospect, went seven months between leaving Cuba and getting cleared to sign."
Moreover, Lourdes is going to turn 23 in October, and that will jack up his value and his market significantly.
Why? Because baseball's International signing rules are arbitrarily idiotic, is why. Players under 23, no matter where they come from, must be signed from the pool of money allocated to each club to sign international players. Teams that go over that pool would forfeit their rights to sign international players for more than $300,000 in the subsequent year, and would have to pay a 100 percent tax on the signing bonus they paid out. According to Badler, 10 teams are already ineligible to sign him, including all of the biggest markets and international spenders in the league.
But as soon as Lourdes turns 23, that restriction is lifted. He's free of those encumbering bonus rules, and is a complete free agent. The bonus for him should be huge.
This is all very stupid. We're going to spend an entire season waiting for these guys to get cleared to play instead of watching them play, when we all know they are ready to go right now. We're going to wait for the league to decide whether a 31 year old should have to go through the amateur draft (a formality; of course he won't). And somehow a vaunted prospect magically transcends the bonds of amateur status the moment that he turns 23. All Baseball has done is set up roadblocks to prevent the best players from being able to debut in a timely manner while lengthening the time that they're reliant on the human smugglers and vampiric "agents" who "care" for them in the interim, whose practices were the subject of an excellent exposé in ESPN in 2014.
It's ridiculous and an outrage in service to a system designed to tamp down spending on international players, which was never a significant portion of clubs' spending to begin with. And all it does is help criminals, while damaging the players, teams, fans, and even the sport itself, which craves infusions of fresh talent. Eventually, Cuba will be open enough that it will (sadly) be treated like the Dominican Republic. Until then, I'm in favor of any tweak or change to the current system that gets guys paid and onto the field faster. An entire season is simply unreasonable, and, frankly, these been through enough just to get here.