CiberCuba, a website based in Spain and dedicated to informing Cubans worldwide, has published a story, that according to an anonymous official “close to a Major League organization” MLB has signed an agreement with the Cuban government’s National Institute of Sports, Education and Recreation (INDER) allowing MLB to sign players currently living in Cuba.
Full disclosure: I am currently under contract to 18 of the 30 MLB teams to provide them with a variety of statistics, obtained from INDER, in all it’s leagues ranging from players as young as 13 up to the National Series.
Reportedly there are three main points to the agreement (as translated by Google)
1. Cuban players who emigrate after 2019 in search of free agency, this will be denied.
2. The Cuban Baseball Federation will present its best talents to the MLB organizations and sign from the Island, obtaining the INDER 25% of the contract’s profits.
3. Baseball players who continue the process of free agency and emigrated until 2018 will remain in current market patterns regardless of the new agreement.
The article concludes by stating that this will end the mass exodus of players that has reached extreme limits in the last five years.
From the Cuban side, this appears to fulfill my prediction that their National Series be converted into a traditional winter league, where players come north to the United States during the summer and then go home to play in the winter. A couple of years ago, when Cuba was readmitted to the Caribbean Series in late January, they adjusted their schedule to end at the same time as the four other Caribbean leagues (they had been ending as late as May) but to do that they’ve now been staring their 87 game season at the beginning of August.
According to point #3, this agreement will not affect any player who have already left Cuba, seeking free agent status from MLB. However, point #1 says that any players leaving in the future will not be granted free agent status. I would be very much opposed if this is to effectively blackball players who have their own reasons to leave Cuba. However, if the plan is to allow players who leave Cuba after 2019 to come to MLB but treat them the same as those who stay in the country, the only way I see this happening is by including Cubans in the draft, which may well then be part of plans for a world-wide draft.
Finally, according to point #2, 25% of the value of a player’s contract will be kicked back to INDER. Basically, players will be employees of INDER who will lease them out to MLB teams. This sounds similar to the system the NHL set up with players in the USSR but which only lasted a few years. (I’m not a hockey fan so please excuse me if I miss a few details there.) However, I’m not sure how that fits into the U.S. government’s economic embargo of Cuba, specifically prohibitions on money flowing to the Cuban government. The newest information that I’ve tried to find online seems to indicate that current policy is more focused on denying money to Cuban military and security organizations while encouraging money to privately owned Cuban free enterprise, to which there is a list of specific hotels, banks and other businesses that are prohibited. With this, perhaps money to INDER is no longer banned.
If this is implemented as described, you could expect many if not most players in the National Series, U23 and perhaps U18 leagues to be offered contracts to come play in the United States during the summer. The recent exodus has left perhaps only a handful at most of MLB ready players, but there would likely be many dozens if not hundreds of younger players who could come to the minors as prospects, much as we are familiar with from the Dominican Republic. I hope this new agreement does not try to punish players who seek to leave Cuba in the future, but as mentioned, that may portend a world-wide draft.
UPDATE Dec 19 4:50 pm
The deal is official.
Sources: MLB, the MLBPA and the Cuban Baseball Federation have reached an agreement. MLB clubs have approved the agreement. Official announcement coming today.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) December 19, 2018
And here it is, the formal announcement of MLB and the MLBPA's deal with the Cuban baseball federation. pic.twitter.com/Vuk3bOVP1O— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) December 19, 2018
As I understand the statement, players who are at least 25 years old and have 6 ore more years playing experience (presumably in the Serie Nacional) meet the qualifications of “foreign professionals” under MLB rules and must be posted if the player desires to play in the United States. A player who does not yet meet this definition of free agency may be posted at the discretion of the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB). Once posted, the FCB will receive a release fee calculated under the same formula as is used for the professional leagues in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, not a fixed 25% tax on the player’s salary as earlier speculated.
Summary of Key Terms of Agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB)
• Only Cuban players who have a playing contract with the FCB (“FCB Players”) are covered by the Agreement. Any Cuban player who does not have a contract with the FCB is eligible to sign with any MLB Club to the same extent as any other unsigned international amateur.
• Under the Agreement, all FCB Players fall into one of two categories: (i) “FCB Professionals,” who are FCB Players who meet the definition of a “Foreign Professional” under the Basic Agreement between MLB and the MLBPA (i.e., 25 or older with six or more years of professional experience); and (ii) “FCB Amateurs,” who are all other FCB Players who are at least eighteen (18) years old. Each off-season, the FCB must release all FCB Professionals who wish to sign with an MLB Club. The FCB may also release FCB Amateurs to sign with an MLB Club during MLB’s international amateur signing period, commencing each July 2nd.
• Once released by the FCB, all FCB Players are treated the same as other international players under the Basic Agreement, and may negotiate and sign with any MLB Club that is willing to pay the corresponding Release Fee (see below).
• The Release Fee owed to the FCB by the MLB Club that signs an FCB Player is calculated using the same formula embodied in MLB’s agreements with the NPB, KBO, and CPBL (i.e., between 15% and 20% of the total guaranteed value for Major League contracts, and 25% of the signing bonus for Minor League contracts). In addition, Supplemental Release Fees may be owed if a contract with an FCB Player contains bonuses, escalators, or options that are later triggered. The Release Fee (and any Supplemental Release Fee) paid by the MLB Club is in addition to the compensation agreed to by the MLB Club to the FCB Player in the player’s contract, which will be paid by the MLB Club directly to the FCB Player.
• Released FCB Players will be scouted and signed in Cuba by MLB Clubs, and will travel to the United States or Canada (as applicable) to perform services for their MLB Club pursuant to a standard work visa. A former FCB Player signed by an MLB Club may return to Cuba during the off-season, and may play in off-season tournaments or leagues in Cuba with the consent of his MLB Club.
• FCB Players may choose to be represented by a player agent or representative when negotiating a contract with an MLB Club.
• Any disputes between MLB and the FCB will be resolved through neutral arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce.
• The Agreement will expire on October 31, 2021, unless extended by mutual agreement.