Posted on Wednesday, 11.24.10
Cuba might lift restrictions, let baseball players sign abroad
After years of rising defections, Cuba might let its players sign with
foreign leagues — except Major League Baseball.
BY UZIEL GOMEZ AND JORGE EBRO
Something is moving silently within Cuban baseball that, if it comes to
pass, would end five decades of imposed tradition and push Cuban players
into what was once derided as “the slave game.''
The Cuban Federation of Baseball is considering a proposal that would
permit Cuban players to join professional leagues in other countries, a
source close to the federation told El Nuevo Herald.
Federation vice president Antonio Castro, son of Cuban leader Fidel
Castro, floated the proposal to members of the Cuban delegation during
the 17th International Cup in Taipei, Taiwan, according to the source.
“Many rumors had been heard about Cuba looking for some sort of deal
with professional circuits,'' said Carlos Pérez, president of Miami
Sports Consulting, an agency that represents several Caribbean players.
“But we'd have to wait and see if this will work out or if it's just
another idea dead on arrival.''
The initiative would allow Cuban players to join professional leagues
and keep 60 percent of their wages, while the government collects the
remaining 40 percent, the sources said.
The countries where Cubans would be permitted to play are: Taipei,
Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Italy.
Players would not be allowed to sign with Major League Baseball clubs
because of the United States trade embargo on Cuba.
Antonio Castro's proposal was submitted to his father, Fidel, and his
uncle, President Raúl Castro, the sources said. It has the support of
the national federation, although figures such as former star shortstop
Germán Mesa are said to oppose it.
“Should this be put into practice, it would generate a very interesting
panorama,'' said attorney Jaime Torres, who represents players José
Contreras of the Phillies and Alexei Ramírez of the White Sox. “Let's
say a kid goes to Mexico to play. There, he could look at Major League
Baseball and compare. Nobody could prevent him from playing in the
United States, if he so wished.''
If approved, the proposal would doubtlessly make it easy for players to
go abroad — most of them with years of experience — and pursue their
Cuba might have no alternative but to give a green light to the project.
As has happened with the timid moves in the economic sector, immobility
could be a worse choice.
Recently, former player Victor Mesa recommended that the government
allow players to sign contracts with foreign teams to slow down
defections, which have risen alarmingly in recent years.
“Other countries do it, so why can't we? In the end, they're stealing
our players, even those in the minor leagues,'' Mesa said. “I favor
they be inserted into foreign teams after eight years of playing in our
national series. And through our channels, too, not as free agents.''
Mesa's comments were made public shortly after El Nuevo Herald announced
the defection of Yasiel Balaguer, a 17-year-old center fielder who is
looking to settle in a third country before signing with a major-league
After pitcher René Arocha escaped the island in 1991, defections by
baseball players rose from a trickle to a flood. In 2009 alone, 35
players fled the country. This year, Cuba's favorite pastime lost
several figures, among them Leonys Martín, an experienced player on the
Several sources say that more than 350 players have left the island over
the past several years. Currently, there were about 20 Cubans on
A MONEY MAKER
The total value of the contracts signed between 2009 and 2010 by Cuban
players in the majors exceeds $70 million.
In the late 1990s, Cuba considered the idea of allowing veteran players
to participate in foreign leagues. Several played in semiprofessional
leagues in Asia and Europe, among them the legendary Omar Linares, who
played professionally in the twilight of his career in Japan.
The baseball authorities “have a problem with so much talent that has
gotten away from them, so they want to stay on the good side of both God
and the Devil,'' Pérez said.
“The Cuban government wants to be both owner and agent, to satisfy the
players and simultaneously to keep control over them. It will profit,
because 40 percent of a contract is an abusive share. We'll wait and see