Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation have reached an agreement that would allow Cuban players to join an MLB team without needing to defect, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
The agreement would allow Cuban players to come to the United States on work visas, with MLB teams playing the CBF a release fee, a similar system to how Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese players join MLB teams. As Passan noted, the pact would "end the trafficking of players by smugglers—situations that have led to players being kidnapped, threatened and extorted."
"Cuban players coming to MLB have been smuggled out by human trafficking organizations that are often tied to other criminal organizations, and often they lose a big chunk of their bonus to pay for their passage out of Cuba," the MLB's deputy commissioner and chief legal officer, Dan Halem, told Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post. "And often, some unsavory characters continue to harass the player or their family if they believe they weren't given the full amount."
The deal with Cuba, two years in the works, would run through Oct. 31, 2021, and have different release fees depending on the player's age:
"Major league teams would pay a release fee on top of the money owed a player. For those under 25, the fee would be 25 percent, and only the money paid to the players would count against the team's international signing-bonus pool. For those 25 and over, who are considered professionals, the fee would be on a sliding scale between 15 and 20 percent."
Players who still defect would face a mandatory waiting period before being permitted to sign with a team. And as Sheinin noted, "a State Department spokesman confirmed that players will have to travel to a third country for their visa, like other Cuban nationals, per current U.S. policy."
While the agreement is a landmark moment for baseball and would put Cuban players at far less risk than defecting and getting smuggled into the United States did, Passan noted it "could be scuttled if [Donald] Trump administration officials roll back [Barack] Obama-era provisions that paved the way for the historic pact."
Barring government interference, Cuban players could begin coming to MLB teams as of Wednesday.