It's so rare that we get an unequivocally Good Thing to talk about, but today there is one. The US Department of the Treasury and the Obama Administration has announced that it's changing the rules that govern our country's embargo of Cuba. These changes will allow Americans and American business interests to make payments directly to individuals in Cuba, provided that the money doesn't get paid to any entity of or owned by the Cuban government.
Practically speaking, this means that Cuban ballplayers are free to sign with Major League clubs without restrictions. Previously, these players would have to leave Cuba, take up residence in a non-U.S. country for a period of months, and would then be allowed to apply for the right to work/play in America. It was a process that invited human traffickers and criminals to essentially hold ballplayers for ransom for months, and force them to fork over an enormous share of their signing bonuses. It's a process that I talked about a few months ago in the wake of the Guerriel's defections.
This doesn't solve all of those problems, however. Cuban players still need to find a way off of the island, and that tends to require extra-legal assistance from sketchy people. Moreover, the Commissioner's office still needs to clear potential defectors to sign as free agents, a process that Baseball America's Ben Badler has said can still take months. According to Badler,
"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."
Essentially, this change in policy removes the restrictions the United States imposed, while leaving those of Major League Baseball unchanged.
Still, even removing one of the roadblock from the path of potential future Major Leaguers is a big deal, given that it is a path fraught with danger for them and for their families. It also removes a potential impediment that the league could use to argue for an international draft that would decimate signing bonuses and amateur players' earning potential. Anything, in my mind, that reduces the likelihood of an international draft is a great win for players who have grown up in poverty. And it has the potential to get the best players into the Major Leagues faster.
Really, the only person who should be upset by the announcement is Goose Gossage. Given the excitement that Cuban-born players like Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig (and, he admits reluctantly, Aroldis Chapman) have brought into the game with them, it's likely that we'll see more players who demonstrate eye-popping abilities, and who actually seem to enjoy using them. Perish the thought. And, really, anything that pisses off Goose Gossage is a reward in and of itself. Thanks, Obama!