Cuban players paid smugglers $15 million according to court records

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We’ve written recently written about the number of harrowing stories of Cuban baseball players who have made their way from their home country to jobs in Major League Baseball. And how those stories often involve human trafficking, blackmail and worse. In February, an agent was indicted on human trafficking charges. There are other parallel investigations into this murky world.

Today federal prosecutors said that Cuban baseball players paid a South Florida-based smuggling ring more than $15 million to leave Cuba, complete with setups for phony documents, false identities and boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The revelations came in the form of an unsealed grand jury indictment against Bartolo Hernandez, a Florida-based sports agent, and two of his associates. It provides details about the smuggling of 17 Cuban players, among them Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Leonys Martin of the Seattle Mariners. The smugglers usually took a percentage of any Major League Baseball contract a player signed. Of course, given the dire circumstances in which the players found themselves, there are allegations that these monies were extracted under duress and that the circumstances of moving the players from one place to another involved force or fear or bodily harm.

An ugly world which, hopefully, will disappear as relations normalize between the U.S. and Cuba.

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.