The Trump Administration has put a stop to MLB and the MLBPA’s efforts to create a posting system which would allow Cuban baseball players to come to the United States without having to defect from their home county and without having to worry about the dangerous defection process which often includes exploitation at the hands of human traffickers. It did so by reversing an Obama era Treasury Department ruling granting Major League Baseball an exception to the Cuban Embargo. Jeff Passan of ESPN reports the decision which came down on Friday.
To review: back in December Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) announced an agreement on a posting system that would allow players to join the league without having to defect. The deal was to allow Cuban ballplayers of a certain age and experience level to play in the United States and return to their home country freely, just as players from other countries can. In exchange, a portion of their bonuses were go to the FCB, just as posting fees for players from Asia go to their Asian teams.
It was hoped that the system would curtail the often dangerous process by which players obtain residency in countries like Mexico, where human traffickers and other unsavory types can threaten them and take advantage of them. Less nobly, the age restrictions would keep Cuban players in their teens and early 20s out of the United States, thereby eliminating a class of expensive free agents. It was a deal of tradeoffs, obviously, with some of MLB’s financial interests being served, the interests of preventing exploitation of players being served and, of course, providing a means of the Cuban Baseball Federation to receive compensation for lost players.
While normally any deals between United States businesses and citizens with Cuba or Cuban entities are forbidden due to the decades long Embargo, Major League Baseball obtained the right to negotiate and enter into such a deal from the Obama Administration Treasury Department. As we noted soon after the deal was agreed upon, Republicans in Congress, particularly Senator Marco Rubio, began to take issue with it and pressured Trump to reverse the previous Treasury ruling. The rationale: paying money to the FCB is no different than paying money to the Cuban government and that, they argue, is against U.S. interests.
So the deal is dead and the status quo remains: Cuban players who wish to play in the United States have to make a dangerous defection, leave their families, risk persecution and jail if they are unsuccessful, risk life, limb and possibly a great deal of money due to reliance on human traffickers, who are often associated with organized crime and drug cartels. If players do make that perilous journey and establish residency in a third country, they can become unrestricted free agents. If they land in the United States, they will be subject to the draft. If they are intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard before reaching land they are, per U.S. policy, returned to Cuba.
Given how outmoded and manifestly ineffective the Embargo has been over the past half century plus, it’s hard to say how this ruling serves anyone’s interest other than politicians who want to appear tough on Cuba for their own political interests.