Since 1961, when President John F. Kennedy terminated diplomatic relations with Cuba, baseball prodigies and prospects have faced difficult obstacles to reach U.S. soil and participate in America’s national pastime. Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced that the two nations are working to re-establish relations.
What does that mean for baseball? Exhibition games and Cuban participation in international events are on the list. Right after a simpler, non life threatening process for Cubans to leave their home in order to play major league baseball. There’s also the possibility of baseball organizations opening academies in Cuba, similar to those established in the Dominican Republic.
MLB statement regarding U.S. relations with Cuba: pic.twitter.com/UXVH9LxgJO
— MLB Public Relations (@MLB_PR) December 17, 2014
While exhibition games and participation in events like Serie Nacional and the World Baseball Classic wouldn’t be valued “most important” on baseball’s to-do list, there is the concern of players who ultimately risk their lives for a multi-million dollar contract in the Show. Twenty-five Cuban born players were in the majors this year, one of the more famous escapee stories being that of Dodgers’ outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Under the trade embargo, Cuban defectors must establish residency outside of the island to be able to enter the United States. A defector must obtain a license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to be allowed to sign with a major league team. Should there be a removal of the trade embargo, athletes would no longer have to risk their lives with human smugglers in order to reach America. Removing the embargo by 2017 would also make MLB’s dreams to start an international draft a reality.
Keep in mind that “improving relations” doesn’t necessarily mean lifting the trade embargo, which would require a congressional vote to take place.
What of possible baseball academies? Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman told FOX Sports:
“I don’t think that will happen. Normalizing relations means things like travel restrictions. I don’t see Cuba giving up its economic system or opening the door to exploitation by foreign corporations. It (the Cuban government) will still want 60 percent ownership on foreign (corporations) and complete control over its own athletes.”
The Cuban government does allow athletes to join foreign leagues as long as they pay tax on their earnings, but the U.S. embargo prevents the employment of Cubans. In order for the placement of academies to happen, it would take ridiculous sums of money from baseball to pay taxes to the Cuban government. Not to mention the absurd amount of rules and restrictions that are guaranteed to come along with it.
Another piece of the domino effect? Price. Take Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas for example: both players combined to sign for $141 million. The allowance of a larger international market could mean the undercut of big salaries like these two. Teams are currently penalized for exceeding signing bonus pools. A cheaper price on international talent would most likely point to a greater investment outside of those home-grown.
Currently, nothing between the United States and Cuba is definite yet. Previously mentioned, “improved relations” could mean anything. There’s no guarantee that any of the things addressed above could become a reality, but for the first time, there is now a possibility.