There could be significant changes on the horizon for Cuban players, writes Ben Badler of Baseball America. The Mexican League is working with the Cuban government to work out an agreement that would allow Mexico to import Cuban players to play in the Mexican League in the spring and summer. Those players would still be able to return to Cuba to play in Serie Nacional — Cuba's top professional league — over the winter.
The change would be significant, as the Mexican League could offer Cuban players significantly more in terms of salary than they are currently receiving to play in Serie Nacional. In addition to benefiting players, it would benefit Cuba, as the government would stand to profit by leasing player rights to Mexican teams.
Former Cuban stars German Mesa and Omar Linares have joined the Veracruz Red Eagles of the Mexican League, one of the two teams expected to be most active in recruiting Cuban imports, according to Badler. Veracruz is the same team that sold right-hander Luis Heredia's rights to the Pirates three years ago. Heredia is now one of Pittsburgh's top prospects, but Badler cautions that the new arrangement would not allow Cuban-born players to be sold to Major League organizations, even though the Mexican League is technically an affiliate of Minor League Baseball.
Mesa and Linares will work with Mexican-born players to develop them for the Red Eagles' top team and to be sold to big league clubs. Other examples of big league teams purchasing the rights to Mexican League prospects include Manny Banuelos of the Yankees, Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays and Julio Urias of the Dodgers.
Major League teams would benefit from the arrangement by being able to scout Cuban players with much greater ease. As it stands right now, the only time MLB scouts can see Cuban players live is during international tournaments; the rest of their scouting has to come via video footage from Cuba. Major League teams would be able to freely scout Cuban talent in Mexican League competition, however.
Eventually, it's possible that Japan and Korea could become involved in a similar arrangement, writes Badler. For now, the hope is that the additional salary earned by Cuban players in the Mexican League will curb some of the desire to defect to America. Cuba has seen several of its top players defect in recent years, including Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Leonys Martin, Jose Iglesias, Jose Dariel Abreu and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, among many others.