Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation have agreed to a deal through 2021 that will allow Cuban professional baseball players to freely come stateside and play in the major leagues without having to defect. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan was the first to report that the deal was finalized on Wednesday, and the league announced it shortly thereafter:
Breaking: Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation have agreed on historic deal that would allow Cuban players to come to MLB without being smuggled, sources tell Yahoo Sports. The big question: Will the Trump Administration allow it? News: https://t.co/5yNubdzNFf— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 19, 2018
The deal, of course, is subject to scrutiny by the White House — and given the Trump administration’s general philosophy towards allowing non-American-born individuals to enter the country, it doesn’t seem to be anything close to a sure bet that the deal will be upheld. The potential for this type of deal developed due to late Obama-era regulations that eased travel regulations between the countries, but President Trump already began to roll those regulations back somewhat in June of 2017.
With an influx of major-league-ready Cuban players having chosen to come stateside since Yoenis Cespedes became a sensation with the Athletics in 2012 (Yasiel Puig, Alex Guerrero, Rusney Castillo, Jose Abreu, Yasmany Tomas, Raisel Iglesias, and Yuli Gurriel, among many others), the process of those players defecting from Cuba has become somewhat of a hot-button issue; a 2014 ESPN piece detailed the horror that took place as Puig attempted to escape the island, and others have followed, such as a Passan piece from last spring about Abreu having to eat his fake passport to avoid it being found when he entered the U.S.
This deal will surely make it much safer for Cuban players to come to the majors — and it’ll allow the country’s elite baseball talent to come to the most revered league in the world without having to risk being caught trying to leave. Beyond that, it eliminates the finality that comes with defection; players would be able to return home and visit their families and friends during the offseason, rather than having to choose their careers over their loved ones.
The rules of the agreement would be similar to the ones in those MLB has with Japan and South Korea: players would be free to leave at their own discretion once they’re 25 years old and have six years of professional experience, while players who don’t meet those qualifications would have to receive permission from the FCB. Major-league teams would pay a release fee for every player, which would be a 25 percent fee for players under 25 years old, and a sliding scale between 15 and 20 percent for players 25 years of age and older.
Perhaps the greatest part of the deal is that it could allow current major-league players to play for Team Cuba in the 2021 World Baseball Classic, which would very arguably make that event the most talent-filled international baseball tournament of all time.