Cuba to allow athletes to sign foreign contracts

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Are the days of ballplayers risking their lives to defect a thing of the past?

The Cuban Government’s anouncemnt thru GRANMA (the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party) says that athletes will be able to sign contracts abroad as long as they “fulfill their obligations at home.” Said obligations were characterized thusly: “It will be taken into account that they are in Cuba for the fundamental competitions of the year.” This suggests that Cuban athletes will still be required to play for the national team and tournaments.

NBC’s Orlando Matos in Havana, who confirmed the news, says this could be considered one of the most radical economic reforms announced by the Cuban government.  Sports were declared strictly “amateur” in the early 60’s.  This reform would allow the athletes, trainers and other sports specialists to keep the money earned from contracts made abroad as long as they pay taxes to the Cuban government.   When it comes to Cuban baseball, athletes will start to get paid, receive bonuses and other monetary awards (all in Cuban pesos) and this indicates the beginnings of a professional Cuban Baseball League.

It is unclear how this affects baseball players coming to play in the United States beyond the issue of taxes, but one can only assume that this move is designed in large part to address them given the primacy of baseball in Cuba and the embarrassment to the government engendered by its biggest star athletes fleeing the country to play. Yasiel Puig has become a sensation. Yoenis Cespedes before that. We wrote the other day about a documentary on Yunel Escobar’s harrowing journey to the U.S. Before that we bore witness to Orlando Hernandez’s famous defection. As of now, teams are scouting Cuban defectors Alexander Guerrero and Jose Dariel Abreu, putting them in line to be the next big Cuban success stories.

The devil will be in the details, of course, and the details insofar as they relate to Cubans in Major League Baseball are not yet known. Nonetheless:  Viva increasing normalcy in a relationship that has been messed up for far too long.

Jonny Venters is back in the majors

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The Rays announced on Wednesday that the club purchased the contract of lefty reliever Jonny Venters from Triple-A Durham. The 33-year-old hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 due to a continuous battle with arm injuries. The Rays note that he has undergone two and a half Tommy John surgeries, which is a number that seems to be in dispute.

Venters signed a minor league contract with the Rays in December. With Durham so far this season, he gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits and five walks with six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

Before the injuries, Venters was among the best relievers in 2010-11. In those two seasons, he posted a combined 1.89 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 82 walks in 171 innings.