Kobritz: MLB & Cuba sign historic deal on Cuban players
Beyond the Lines
Major League Baseball (MLB) and the players’ union (MLBPA) have reached an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation (CBF) that would legalize the transfer of baseball players from the Caribbean island to MLB.
The three-year deal would create a posting system similar to the agreements MLB has with Nippon (Japan) Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Organization, and the Chinese (Taiwan) Professional Baseball League. The deal requires the CBF to release a player with at least six years of service time in Cuba or who is at least 25 years old if they want to sign with an MLB team.
In exchange, the CBF would receive a fee from MLB equal to 25 percent of a player’s signing bonus if he signs a Minor League contract and a payment of 15-25 percent of the signing bonus if the player signs a Major League contract. The payment system mirrors MLB’s arrangement with Japan, Korea and Taiwan, with one exception. Instead of paying the fee to the player’s former team, the payment goes to the CBF, which has agreed to use it for baseball development purposes. In all the agreements, players under 25 are subject to the MLB team’s international signing bonus pool, while players over 25 are treated as international free agents.
Cuban players would automatically qualify for a U.S. work visa, have the right to bring family members with them, and could return to Cuba at will. In addition, players could play in the Cuban National League and represent their country in international tournaments with the permission of their MLB team.
MLB and the players’ union still have work to do on the details of the pending agreement, including the specifics of how players will be posted and how and when scouts will be allowed to evaluate them.
The purpose of the agreement, according to statements issued by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark, is to end the human trafficking of Cuban players to the United States. A number of Cuban players have deserted their country only to embark on dangerous journeys at the mercy of smugglers and drug lords looking to earn hefty fees. Stories of their harrowing escapades have led to backlash against MLB and cries to reform the system. However, MLB stands to benefit as well from a more orderly process of obtaining talent from Cuba, in addition to a vastly cheaper one.
Despite the positive tone of the announcement, the U.S. government must approve the deal, which is no sure thing. MLB said the proposed arrangement is permitted under provisions of a general license it received from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). However, the Trump administration and a number of Cuban-American Congressmen immediately criticized the arrangement.
Should OFAC revoke MLB’s license, it would signal a major shift in policy that could affect other companies currently doing business in Cuba. The hope is after the grumbling and threats subside, the deal will be approved, paving the way for an agreement three years in the making that would improve the lives of Cuban citizens.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.