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.