Trump Administration Is Stopping MLB's Deal With Cuba

The Trump administration has axed a deal that allowed MLB teams to sign Cuban baseball players without those players having to defect.

A collection of Cuban born players at the 2014 MLB All Star Game.

Image via Getty/Brace Hemmelgarn

A collection of Cuban born players at the 2014 MLB All Star Game.

According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration has scrapped a deal that permitted Major League Baseball teams to sign Cuban players without those potential signees having to defect first. The White House defended this decision by saying the Cuban Baseball Federation was part of the Cuban government and nullified the deal on account of a current ban on trade with Cuba.

The deal between MLB and Cuba had been expected to run through the 2021 season, and allowed Cuban-born players to ink deals with MLB clubs under the same rules as international players from, say, South Korea and Japan. That means that players over the age of 25 were allowed to sign with organizations if they ponied up a "release fee" to their Cuban team. Other players were also free to sign contracts with minor league squads.

Back in December the executive director for the MLB Players Association, Tony Clark, said that the intent of the original agreement was to create a "safe, legal process for entry to our system" in lieu of the previous system (such as it was) that involved defection.

At that time, the U.S. Department of Treasury signed off on the deal, but since then the current administration has decided the baseball federation is too close to the Cuban sports ministry. This interpretation is a reversal of an Obama-era policy which deemed the two to be separate. 

According to NBC News, Ben Rhodes, who had led the Obama administration's efforts to restore U.S.-Cuban relations, called this newest move "cruel" while also adding that it "serves no purpose." He added that the issue is a humanitarian one for the players and their families.

In contrast with that, a senior Trump administration official stated that the Obama-era policy had essentially amounted to trafficking of individual Cuban players with payments made to the Cuban government instead of smugglers.

On Monday, the Cuban Baseball Federation stated through Twitter that "The agreement with #MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball. Any contrary idea is false news. Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families and the fans."

Many All-Star caliber players currently on MLB rosters have come from the island nation including, off the top of my head: Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Aroldis Chapman, Yasiel Puig, Yuli Gurriel, and Yoenis Cespedes.

Worth noting is that the new policy would've given young players more opportunities in the American professional ranks, as a lot of people who defect don't come anywhere near the success of the aformentioned players.

Bleacher Reportadds that, earlier this month, MLB teams received a list of 34 eligible players from Cuba with some of those players expected to sign and potentially play at some point in 2019. That is no longer the case:

Trump adminstration has canceled the deal allowing Major League Baseball to sign Cuban players. They say Cuban Baseball Federation was part of the Cuban Govt. so the December deal was illegal. 34 players were eligible to sign with MLB. They aren't now.

— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) April 8, 2019

The thrust of the government's argument, as laid out in a letter from Treasury Dept. to MLB obtained by ESPN: "A payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government." U.S. government sees the CBF as an arm of the Cuban government. Deal nixed accordingly.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 8, 2019

Included in the letter to the government from MLB were the tales of Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Leonys Martin and Yunel Escobar after they left Cuba -- ones the deal was supposed to end. The human-trafficking horror stories did nothing to sway Trump Administration.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 8, 2019

The unfortunate reality is this will not stop players from leaving Cuba; it will only make it more dangerous for them to do so.

The MLB's proposal was not perfect, but something needs to be done to put an end to the horrendous tales of human trafficking involving Cuban players.

— Future Dodgers (@FutureDodgers) April 8, 2019

MLB is likely fuming at the Trump/Cuba decision behind the scenes for reasons other than just the rejection of their posting agreement. There is a lot of angst at MLB and on clubs re: dealings, past and present, with Cuban players that they really would prefer not to deal with.

— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 8, 2019

This is disappointing. The 25% that went to the Cuban Baseball Federation is in line with the posting fee for Japanese players. The objection to Cuba taxing players on money earned abroad is hypocritical since the US does the same.

— Binging Baseball (@BingingBaseball) April 8, 2019

MLB was trying to stop the frightening stories of human trafficking or defection that many Cuban players have endured. Deal would have allowed payment to Cuban baseball federation for players, like Japan. Trump admin saw that as payment to Cuban government.

— Brian Murphy (@MurphinNC) April 8, 2019

A devastating decision for those Cuban players who were looking forward to legally pursuing their goals at the highest level of baseball - ending this deal encourages more dangerous escape attempts, not less.

— Michele Steele (@MicheleSteele) April 8, 2019

As for how things will proceed now, NBC News writes that any agreements for Cuban players to play on U.S. teams will "require specific licenses from the Treasury Department exempting them from the prohibition." 

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