Craig Calcaterra

Students march carrying Cuban flags during a march against terrorism in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. Youths marched today through downtown Havana in protest against the United States policy towards the island nation and demanding the that U.S. free three Cuban agents imprisoned there. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Major League Baseball has proposed a new path for Cuban players

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We’ve recently written a good deal about the dangerous and complicated path Cuban players must navigate to get the United States to play baseball. It involves defecting and, in some cases, relying on smugglers and criminals to negotiate passage to a third country from which a player can then enter free agency in the U.S. The risk to players in this process is great and it has led to criminal prosecutions. It’s not sustainable.

Against that backdrop Ben Strauss of the New York Times reports that Major League Baseball has set forth a proposition to ease Cuban players’ transition to the United States while simultaneously not violating the still-existing embargo. The idea:

Under the proposed plan, according to M.L.B.’s top lawyer, Dan Halem, an entity would be created made up of Cuban entrepreneurs and officials from M.L.B. and its players’ union. A percentage of salaries paid to Cuban players would go to the new body, which would function like a nonprofit and support youth baseball, education and improving sports facilities in Cuba.

The takeaway is that the dangerous middlemen could be eliminated and players could freely and openly leave Cuba while no money is directly paid to Cuba, which would violate the embargo.

Which, as far as that goes, is fine. My lawyer hat makes me suspect that it will not pass muster with the U.S. Treasury Department because it’s clearly trying to do something indirectly which can’t be done directly (i.e. sending money to Cuba which, however it is characterized, will serve the Castro regime, even if indirectly).

My baseball labor analyst hat gives me some pause here in that it’s commodifying players in a whole new way, all while giving MLB a sort of cut of their earnings that it doesn’t seem to have of any other players. That’s more gut feeling than actual intellectual position, mind you — the details of this are sketchy and I’m not sure I have my head around it all yet — but my Spidey sense goes off when I hear about “groups of entrepreneurs” and pools and things like that related to young guys just trying to work. Someone will always be looking for a cut in such instances. The devil will be in the details.

All of that said, it’s good that people are thinking about this and looking for ways to get around what is clearly the worst possible system (i.e. the current one). It’s just a shame that having to get around existing inefficiencies, be it the long past its sell date Cuban Embargo or the system of human trafficking that it has occasioned.

Andrew Miller to close during Aroldis Chapman’s suspension

Andrew Miller Yankees
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Sometimes things in the news are shocking. Sometimes they are not. This is one of those latter deals: Brian Cashman said this morning that Andrew Miller was “absolutely” going to be the Yankees’ closer while Aroldis Chapman serves his 30-game suspension.

Miller, of course, knows from closing. He saved 36 games for the Yankees last season while posting an ERA of 2.04 (ERA+ 194) and striking out 100 batters in 61.2 innings. Which is to say that, no, the Yankees will not really be suffering for Chapman’s absence. They already had one of the best bullpens in baseball and will still have it while he’s gone.

And, while it obviously wasn’t drawn up this way, one wonders if Chapman having a month’s worth of rest on the front end of the season won’t make the New York bullpen even more effective in the latter parts of the season.

President Obama will attend the Rays exhibition game in Cuba

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Yesterday the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Cuban National Team in Havana was made official. The game will take place on March 22 at Estadio Latinoamericano and will be televised on ESPN.

Last night it was announced that a VIP fan will be in attendance: President Obama.

The White House released a statement regarding the nation’s most powerful White Sox fan’s attendance at the game:

“Americans and Cubans share a love of baseball, and this is yet another powerful reminder of the kinship between our peoples as well as the progress we can achieve when we leverage those natural ties.”

In other news, between excited Cuban baseball fans, dignitaries, the press corps and President Obama’s secret service detail, this will likely be the most heavily-attended Rays game since the 2008 World Series.