Yasiel Puig’s experience inspires Florida lawmakers to pressure MLB on its Cuban player policy

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Last week we read a couple of stories about Yasiel Puig’s harrowing journey to the United States from Cuba. Because of Major League Baseball’s rules about Cuban players and the draft, that journey required a stop in Mexico in order for Puig to be declared a free agent. And that stop in Mexico is what added some dangerous steps to Puig’s already dangerous journey from Cuba. Specifically, instead of merely evading the U.S. Coast Guard, Puig’s smugglers had to deal with drug gangs and Puig was basically held for ransom for a time.

Now two Florida lawmakers are trying to do something about that. Currently there is a bill aimed at providing funds for renovation and upkeep of pro sports facilities in the state. The representatives are filing an amendment to it to pressure Major League Baseball. From the Miami Herald:

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Matt Gaetz are filing an amendment to a stadium funding bill that would require the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays demand Major League Baseball change its Cuban player policy if they want state money for stadium construction or renovations . . . The amendment would also require the Florida teams demand Major League Baseball report any information they have on Floridians involved in human trafficking or smuggling of Cuban players to the state attorney general.

It would be largely symbolic, of course, because I’m guessing Major League Baseball has zero intention of making it any easier for players to become free agents no matter their circumstances. Indeed, if MLB could wave a wand right now and change things they’d make all foreign-born players subject to the draft instead. That would eliminate the bad incentives here too, but it has its own set of problems and wouldn’t necessarily be in baseball’s best interests over the long term.

But symbolic is better than noting. More attention needs to be paid to this. As it stands, escaping Cuba is already a dangerous proposition, even if the only goal is to get straight to the United States. Leaving incentives in place that lead Cuban baseball players to make their journey even more dangerous is not the wisest thing.

There was another miscommunication between the Phillies and Pat Neshek

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Back in June 2017, then-manager of the Phillies Pete Mackanin and reliever Pat Neshek had some miscommunication. In a series against the Cardinals, Neshek worked a five-pitch eighth inning and it was believed he would come back out for the ninth inning, but he never did. Mackanin said Neshek said he didn’t want to pitch another inning. Neshek said he was never asked. There was also some miscommunication the game prior. Neshek thought he had the day off; Mackanin said Neshek said he wasn’t available to pitch.

Mackanin is no longer the Phillies’ manager, but the miscommunication between Neshek and the team apparently persist. Neshek was notably absent during the Phillies’ hard-fought 5-4 win over the Cubs on Monday night. The game featured a struggling Seranthony Domínguez pitching two innings, yielding three crucial runs in his second inning of work.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the bullpen and instructed Neshek to begin warming up to prepare to face Albert Almora, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Kapler rang the bullpen after Domínguez walked Jason Heyward, who batted ahead of Almora. Neshek wasn’t warmed up yet. Domínguez was able to retire Almora on a sacrifice bunt, which was reviewed and gave Neshek some extra time to get ready. He was ready for the next batter, Daniel Descalso, but at this point Kapler no longer wanted to bring Neshek into the game. Descalso lined a triple to left-center field, scoring two runs and came home himself when shortstop Jean Segura‘s throw caromed off of his foot out of play.

Recounting the situation, Neshek said, “I got on the mound and threw two pitches. [Kapler] said, ‘Is he ready?’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not ready yet. I’ve thrown two pitches.” Neshek was asked how long it takes him to get ready. The veteran said, “A minute. Not 20 seconds. I’m, like, the best in the league at getting ready. My whole career has been coming in like that.”

The Phillies were able to eke out a 5-4 win. Had they lost the game, Kapler and Neshek would likely have been under the microscope for the awkward situation leading to a crushing defeat. Kapler drew plenty of criticism over his bullpen management last year in his rookie managerial season. That included bringing in lefty reliever Hoby Milner into a game in which he hadn’t yet warmed up.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the manager who struggled with bullpen management last year nearly mucked up a win last night, and maybe it’s just a coincidence that a reliever who’s had prior issues with communication had another communication mix-up. Maybe it’s not. It’s worth noting that the Phillies needed three innings from the bullpen to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs on Tuesday. Kapler called on rookie Edgar Garcia for two outs, lefty José Álvarez for four, and then brought in Juan Nicasio to close things out in the ninth. No Neshek, even as Nicasio got into trouble. Nicasio would surrender the tying and go-ahead runs, resulting in a deflating 3-2 loss.