9:30pm: The league’s formal announcement of the system indicates that only players under contract with the FCB are eligible for the posting system. Others are eligible to sign with MLB teams under the same system as other international amateurs. Cuban professionals will be made eligible to MLB clubs each offseason and are free to sign with any MLB team willing to pay a release fee on said player.
A professional player’s release fee will be determined based on the same scale as in the NPB and KBO posting systems. That is to say that, on top of the bonus paid to the player, a Major League team will pay a release fee equal to 20 percent of the first $25MM of a bonus, 17.5 percent of the next $25MM and 15 percent for anything beyond that point. Notably, today’s announcement indicates that Cuban players who’ve been released into the posting system “will be scouted and signed in Cuba by MLB clubs.”
The agreement runs through Oct. 31, 2021, unless there is an agreement of an extension of the system prior to that point. Full details of the arrangement can be seen in the league’s announcement.
3:23pm: MLB and the FCB have indeed reached an agreement, as Romero reported last night and as Passan now details in a new column. An announcement could come as soon as today. While the agreement is significant, the newly agreed-upon system could be dashed if the current presidential administration opts to scale back on regulations installed under the previous administration that loosened restrictions on business interactions with Cuba.
As Castillo tweets, however, the new system doesn’t require immediate government approval before going into place, as MLB already has a license in place. That does not preclude future legislation from throwing a wrench into the system.
The specifics of the new system aren’t yet fully clear, though Passan does detail some of the financial elements of the arrangement. Major League teams signing a Cuban player would pay the FCB a release fee on top of the money promised to that player — a 25 percent tax on amateur players (i.e. players under 25 and/or with fewer than six years of experience) and a 15 to 20 percent fee for professional players (i.e. players 25 or older and with more than six years of pro experience). The exact release fee on a professional player is determined based on a sliding scale — the specifics of which are not yet publicly available but will presumably come to light when the league makes a formal announcement.
Interestingly, Castillo suggests (via Twitter) that players who qualify as professionals (25 years of age, six-plus years of pro experience) will all be “released” by default, allowing them to pursue opportunities with MLB clubs. Presumably, those who do not wish to leave Cuba in pursuit of a big league deal will be able to continue playing on the island.
The new system leaves Cuba with an overwhelming amount of control over its native talent. Players who defect will indeed be subject to the punishment of an additional waiting period, per Passan. Professionals who defect would need to wait until the start of the next free-agent period (i.e. the week after the conclusion of the World Series). Amateur players who defect will be forced to sit out an entire signing period. As Passan spells out, that’d mean a player who defects after July 2 next year would sit out not only for the 2019-20 signing period but also the 2020-21 signing period before becoming eligible to sign in the 2021-22 period. Obviously, then, those regulations were put forth in an effort to severely punish those who wish to defect from the island and circumvent the newly created system.
11:50am: It seems there could soon be a new arrangement to allow Cuban ballplayers to move to MLB organizations, though the timeline for a formal agreement remains unclear. Francys Romero of CiberCuba.com reported (Spanish language link) on the prospective deal, which Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times says was presented to teams at the Winter Meetings, though Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter) emphasizes that a deal is not yet completed.
Details are not fully clear, but generally it seems the concept under contemplation is a kind of posting system not unlike those already in operation with professional leagues in Japan and Korea. In this case, the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) would evidently recoup the fees paid by MLB teams for the right to acquire talent from the island nation.
The approach would seemingly do away with the current process, in which Cuban players who wish to play with affiliated organization have been forced to defect from their homeland and establish residency elsewhere. Needless to say, it’s far from an ideal system (if that’s even a fair term), and one that has resulted in some highly problematic trafficking situations.
Under the proposal, the reporting of Romero and Castillo suggests, MLB teams would pay a release fee of a varying amount, tied to the value of the bonus. Fees for minor-league signings would be set at 25%, while MLB deals would require 15% or 20% payouts. While the bonuses themselves would presumably continue to count against teams’ international bonus pools, the fees would not.
The new system would seem to open the door to a more open and accessible transfer system. Of course, there are still some concerns and also some hurdles. It seems the Cuban organization would control the pipeline to no small extent. Per Castillo, there’d be no provision to allow for scouting in Cuba. More importantly, any players who defect would not only face a penalty “waiting period” but would still be subject to the fee requirements.
Obviously, there’ll also need to be some governmental machinations before any deal can be finalized. It seems reasonable to presume that the commissioner’s office has been operating in conjunction with the relevant federal authorities, but broader political forces could presumably still influence the outcome. After all, there’s still ample uncertainty in the broader United States-Cuba relationship.