TODAY: The league has granted exemptions to a dozen total players, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (links to Twitter). All of those situations have been resolved on a “case-by-case basis,” he says, and the same will hold true of any applications received in the future.
YESTERDAY: The MLB commissioner’s office declared today that young Cuban ballplayers Jonatan Machado and Omar Estevez are free agents with eligibility to sign as part of this year’s July 2 class, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. In addition to speeding the signing of these two players, Badler explains, the decision could have wide-ranging ramifications for the international market.
Previously, the league had strictly enforced its general requirement that players seeking to sign as part of a given July 2 class register with the league by May 15 of the year in which they would become eligible to sign. While the collective bargaining agreement provides room for exceptions in cases of “compelling justification” for missing that deadline, the commissioner’s office has never before utilized that provision — even for players claiming as an excuse the fact that they were forced to defect from Cuba.
That policy now appears to have been changed. The memo explaining the decision said that both youngsters had missed the deadline for this signing period “due to no fault of their own,” triggering the “compelling justification” standard and making them eligible to sign beginning in mid-October of this year.
Badler breaks things down in detail, explaining that there are other top players who now can — at least in theory — move up their signing timetable on the same grounds. With more talent potentially shifting into the current year’s July 2 group, that opens new opportunities for those clubs that have already committed to busting their budgets and incurring future signing bonus limitations.
The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Royals all face two-year bans on bonuses of $300K or more, with the Blue Jays set to serve a one-year limitation period. Those teams would have been precluded from chasing Cuban ballplayers who were forced to wait until July 2, 2016 to sign, but would be able to ink them (while incurring a 100% overage penalty) if they receive exemptions from the registration requirement.
As Badler further explains, the move could lead to a more rapid exodus of talent from Cuba, as players — and, more importantly, the handlers and other characters involved in the shadowy defection process — seek to take advantage. This news seemingly constitutes one significant step in the changing treatment of Cuban ballplayers. Obviously, it’s tied closely to the still-developing opening of relations between the United States and its island neighbor.