Opinion: Trump's scuttling of MLB-Cuba deal means defections, human trafficking will continue
By Cesar Brioso | USA Today
Apr 9, 2019
So much for Cuban players not having to defect to play in the majors.
When the Trump administration abruptly canceled Major League Baseball’s landmark agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation, it guaranteed the dangerous practice will continue.
Players will continue to defect from Cuba.
And they will continue to put their lives at risk by hiring smugglers and human traffickers in order to leave the island.
The incentives are just too great. Just look at some of the bigger contracts signed by Cuban players after they defected:
- Yoenis Cespedes signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland Athletics in 2012.
- Yasiel Puig signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
- Jose Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2013.
In announcing the three-year agreement with the CBF in December, MLB and the players union had hoped to eliminate defections — and the human trafficking associated with it — by creating a posting system similar to one used with players from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
"We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba," MLB said in a statement Monday.
Aside from increased access to Cuban talent without the stigma of smuggling, the agreement also likely would have given MLB a measure of cost control.
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In recent years, players defecting from Cuba typically would set up residence in a third country, making them free agents eligible to sign with any MLB team. What often ensued was an open tryout and subsequent bidding war resulting in multimillion-dollar contracts for players untested at the minor or major league level — sometimes with mixed results.
Can you say Rusney Castillo?
No one wants to the be next GM to make a $72.5 million mistake.
That’s what the Boston Red Sox did in 2014, signing the then-27-year-old to the largest contract ever for a Cuban free agent. Castillo has played a total of 99 major league games and none since 2016.
From Cuba’s perspective, the deal could have stemmed the bleeding of talent from the island caused by a recent spate of defections — for decades, players have had to risk their lives escaping from Cuba to play in the majors. According to Reuters, more than 350 Cuban ballplayers have defected since the start of 2014.
The Cuban Baseball Federation – and by extension the Cuban government – also stood to make money on the deal.
Under the system announced in December, Cuban players who were at least 25 and had six or more years of playing experience would have been released and free to negotiate and sign with MLB teams without leaving Cuba. MLB teams signing a player would have paid the CBF a release fee: between 15-20% of the total guaranteed value of an MLB contract or 25% of the signing bonus for a minor league contract.
Just last week, Cuba released a list of 34 players who could have been eligible to sign contracts with MLB teams as international amateurs as early as July.
That group potentially could have included the first non-defectors to sign with the majors under the now-scuttled agreement.
But the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era ruling that deemed the CBF to be independent from the Cuban government and allowed MLB to negotiate with the CFB.
According to a letter sent Friday to MLB by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and obtained by several news outlets, “payments to the Cuban Baseball Federation are not authorized because a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government.”
Unless another agreement can be reached, the defections and the human trafficking will continue.
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