LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – It just got a whole lot easier for Cuban baseball players to realise their American dream.
An agreement involving Major League Baseball, the players association and the Cuban Baseball Federation was reached Wednesday that will allow players from the island country to sign big-league contracts without having to defect.
Aiming to end the trafficking of players by smugglers, which often involved kidnapping, extortion and threats to players, the deal was made after more than two years of negotiations.
“For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs,” MLB’s Rob Manfred said.
“We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”
Similar rules for players under contract to teams in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will allow Cubans to make deals. A mandatory release would be given to players who are at least 25 years old, and they would get work visas to come to the United States.
It happens at a time when tension is mounting between Cuba and the Trump administration after pledges were made to turn back Obama’s decision to normalise relations.
“Establishing a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue careers in Major League Baseball,” MLBPA director Tony Clark said. “The safety and well-being of these young men remains our primary concern.”
All players 25 and older with at least six years of professional experience in Cuba and under contract to the CBF would be eligible, classified as international professionals under MLB’s labour contract with the MLBPA and not subject to international amateur signing bonus pools.