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  • Cuban baseball players were expected to join MLB teams in the 2019 season.

    Cuban baseball players were expected to join MLB teams in the 2019 season. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 April 2019

The decision overturns an agreement reached between both organizations in December following three years of negotiation during the Obama administration.

The U.S. Treasury Department scrapped on Monday a historic agreement between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban players to sign with U.S. teams without needing to defect.

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The decision overturns an agreement reached between both organizations in December following three years of negotiation during the Obama administration, who ruled that the Cuban Baseball Federation (CBF) is not part of Cuba’s government thus enabling deals to go through under current U.S. law. 

According to the Cuban government, the country’s baseball federation is not part of the state. The organization answers to the Cuban Olympic Committee, which in turn reports to the International Olympic Committee, and not the Cuban government. 

Yet the Trump administration has decided to politize the issue saying that Cuba wants to “to use baseball players as economic pawns” in order to support Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Their justification rests on their assumption that the CBF is part of the island’s National Sports Institute, which would make any dealings illegal. 

“The agreement with MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball”, said a statement from the CBF, adding that “attacks with political motivation against it harms the athletes, their families, and the fans.”

Under the reached agreement, players could have received 100 percent bonus to sign and professional clubs would have paid an additional 15 to 25 percent to the federation as a release fee. That money, which was not to be deducted from the player’s salary but be paid on top of it, was going to be directed towards helping Cuba further develop its baseball program. 

Cuban players older than 25 and with six years of service in the Cuban league would have been free to sign with MLB teams. Younger players would have needed Cuban baseball’s permission to leave, in order to protect the national team and league. 

The players would also have to pay the Cuban income tax on foreign earnings. But most importantly did not have to defect in order to reach U.S. soil. In the past, Cuban MLB players such as Yasiel Puig of the Cincinnati Reds, Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets or Jose Dariel Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, have defected and left the island in dangerous situations. 

“We are unsure of the next steps,” an MLB source said speaking on condition of anonymity.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after the start of the 2019 season, and only a few days after the federation released the names of 34 Cuban players who were eligible to sign and were expected to play this year. 


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