Don’t expect the Majors to benefit from Cuba’s liberalized rules for athletes

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Last week waves were made when Cuba announced that it would allow athletes to compete in foreign professional leagues. Many of our first reactions were along the lines of “Awesome! Now ballplayers won’t have to risk their lives and families to play here! They can come and go! It’s the best of both worlds!”

Except it’s not. At least not for them playing in the United States. Because, as The Economist reminds us today, the rules Cuba announced — allowing athletes to play in foreign leagues as long as they pay taxes to Cuba — would lead to a violation of the United States’ embargo on Cuba if the players were on U.S. teams:

The United States’ trade embargo bans any transaction that would fund the Castros’ government. As a result, the requirement that Cuban athletes playing abroad pay local taxes on their income would prevent MLB clubs from signing players who plan to comply. Only outright defectors would be cleared to suit up.

They could play in Japan. Or in Mexico’s summer league. But not in the U.S. At least not unless they defected like they currently do. Any player wanting to walk the straight and narrow under Cuban law, maintaining his home there and place on the Cuban national team, would be better served avoiding the U.S. majors.

Maybe the top of the top — the guys who could command deals only U.S. teams could afford — will still come here. But it will be via defection, same as it is now. And the idea that more borderline, Triple-A types would come here is hard to see given that they’d have a much easier time of it in Japan or Mexico or someplace else.

Which, while not a top-5 reason to support the repeal of the embargo on Cuba, is yet another reason why it’s pretty stupid in this day and age.

2017 Preview: The National League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League West.

The Giants had the best record in all of baseball at the All-Star Break and the Dodgers lost the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw for a big chunk of the season. Yet, somehow, L.A. won the NL West by four games. The biggest culprit was the Giants’ suspect bullpen, which they put some real money toward fixing this winter. Is it enough? Or is a a Dodgers team with a healthy Kershaw just too talented for San Francisco to handle?

Below them is an intriguing Rockies team, though probably not a truly good Rockies team. The Dbacks have a lot of assorted talent but are nonetheless in reshuffle mode following a miserable 2016 campaign. The Padres, meanwhile, are in full-fledged rebuilding mode, but do possess some of the best minor league talent in the game.

Here are our previews of the 2017 NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

2017 Preview: The American League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League West

There’s not a lot of separation between the top three teams in this division. Indeed, it would not be a surprise for either the Astros, Rangers or Mariners to end the year on top. Part of that is because none of these contenders are perfect, with all three facing some big challenges in putting together a strong rotation.

Meanwhile, the best baseball player in the universe toils in Anaheim, where he’ll most likely have to content himself to playing spoiler. Up the coast in Oakland . . . um, green is pretty?

Our 2017 AL West Previews:

Houston Astros
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Oakland Athletics