The United States and Cuba are starting a new chapter. It could have major implications for Major League Baseball.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced significant changes to the United States’ diplomatic relations with Cuba. Eventually, the changes could create a smoother path to the U.S. for Cuban-born baseball players looking to carve out big league careers.
For years, Cuban players have put their lives in danger by defecting from their native country in the hopes of landing major league contracts. If the U.S. lifts its 54-year trade embargo on Cuba — a possibility under Obama’s new approach geared toward normalizing diplomatic and economic ties — and subsequent baseball changes are made, hundreds of professional-level Cuban players could become more readily available to MLB teams.
Don’t expect a free-for-all featuring open free agency, though. A more likely scenario would be the implementation of a new system that would allow Cuban players to make the jump to MLB while also ensuring that Cuba is properly compensated for what ultimately could be an exodus of talent. The system could be similar to how MLB clubs currently obtain players from Japan and Mexico.
In order to acquire a player from Mexico, MLB clubs agree to pay a player a bonus. A large percentage (75 percent) of that bonus goes to the Mexican League team that controls the player’s rights. A similar system could be installed with regards to Cuban talent. If so, everyone wins — the player goes where he wants, the MLB team acquires its player and Cuba makes money in the process.
According to Baseball America, Cuba already has a system that has begun to play out in the country’s relationship with other foreign professional leagues, including Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Cuba essentially has leased out some of its top players to Japanese teams.
“Major League Baseball is closely monitoring the White House’s announcement regarding Cuban-American relations,” MLB said in a statement on Wednesday, according to CBSSports.com. “While there are not sufficient details to make a realistic evaluation, we will continue to track this significant issue, and we will keep our Clubs informed if this different direction may impact the manner in which they conduct business on issues related to Cuba.”
Changes are unlikely to happen overnight. But they’re coming.
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