Major League Baseball has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Treasury Department to offer Cuban players a better route to sign with major league clubs, writes Ben Strauss of the New York Times. Presently, a U.S. embargo against Cuba forces defectors to establish residency in a third country before they can join the professional ranks. While relations have thawed between America and the island nation, the embargo remains in place and could create additional future challenges.
Agreements with baseball leagues in Japan, Korea, and elsewhere include financial compensation for when a player leaves to join the majors. However, the embargo of Cuba makes it a crime to transfer money to the Cuban government. These new talks are aimed at circumventing the embargo.
The proposed plan includes the creation of a non-profit entity to develop baseball and other public interests in Cuba. Teams would donate to this non-profit when signing away Cuban players – theoretically dodging the embargo since the money would not be directly accessible by the government. It’s not yet clear if the Treasury Department will agree with this interpretation for a host of reasons. A spokesman for the league defined the proposal as “opening the way for more substantive talks.”
The need for a new process was most recently made obvious by the reported travails of prospect Lazaro Armentaros aka “Lazarito.” Conflicting reports indicate that, at the very least, Armentaros’ former agent Charles Hairston of Culture39 was physically threatened by a Dominican buscone. His family refuted the notion that Lazarito or his family were in any danger. Regardless of the truth here, other major leaguers have detailed the often life threatening conditions experienced by a defector and their family.
As Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com notes, about 125 players have defected from Cuba in the last 20 months. The sooner baseball and the U.S. government can solve this humanitarian issue, the better.