Cuban infield prospect has yet to be cleared by US government
By Jesse Sanchez
Major League Baseball issued a memo to its clubs on Tuesday night that acknowledged new regulations for Cuban players that were published earlier this month by federal officials, and reminded teams that the League's current policies for Cuban players remain intact until further notice.
The one-page memo states the League, its legal counsel and the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control are discussing the changes. For now, Major League Baseball will continue to require an OFAC unblocking license prior to players being allowed to enter a contract. The scouting of Cuban players and travel to the island by club personnel or representatives remain prohibited, the memo states.
The memo was issued as speculation swirls about when teenage prospect Yoan Moncado -- the newest sensation from Cuba -- will be cleared by the U.S. government to sign a contract.
The 19-year-old infielder has worked out privately for the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers and Brewers, according to sources. The Rays, Cubs, Phillies and Cardinals have also shown interest.
Moncada left Cuba legally last summer, and in late September, he filed for temporary residency in Guatemala. At the same time, he petitioned for free agency with Major League Baseball and clearance by OFAC.
In October, Moncada established permanent residency and he was declared a free agent in November. The U.S. government has still not cleared him.
According to a report by Yahoo, Moncada does not need a specific unblocking license to sign with a Major League team. A Treasury Department official told the website that a specific unblocking license will not be issued for a person who meets the criteria for a general unblocking license. The Department of the Treasury's Office did not respond to an inquiry from MLB.com.
"If OFAC confirms that the process for unblocking Cuban players is no longer to apply for a specific license, MLB will conform to the law," one MLB official told Yahoo.
Major League Baseball will continue to monitor announcements and changes in the law, according to the memo.
"MLB is aware that the Cuban Assets Control Regulations published by the U.S. Treasury on January 16, 2015, may affect the unblocking process for Cuban Players," Major League Baseball said in a statement earlier in the day. "MLB has important questions regarding how the new regulations apply to the unique circumstances of Cuban Players based on our significant experience in this area, and our discussions with OFAC in prior years. MLB is committed to following the laws of the United States, and will not change its policy requiring that Cuban Players receive a specific OFAC unblocking license until it confirms with all relevant branches of our government, including OFAC, that any new approach is consistent with the law. We hope to receive clarity on this issue as quickly as possible."
The shift in policy dates back four years.
Under guidelines established in January 2011 by President Barack Obama's administration, any Cuban defector who wanted to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the United States. Cuban players would no longer have to wait three to six months to be unblocked by OFAC, according to those guidelines, if they established residency outside of Cuba or the United States.
Prior to Jan. 28, 2011, any Cuban national who defected had to first establish residency -- which could take months -- and then apply to OFAC for a license to be an unblocked individual. A player was not free to sign until he received the license. Since investigation by the OFAC could take up to six months, it could take six to nine months from defection to become a free agent.
Under those rules, instead of having to request a specific license from OFAC to be unblocked, there is a general license authorizing Major League teams to do business once permanent residency outside of Cuba (and not in the United States) was established, eliminating the requirement that the defector be processed by OFAC before he was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball.
Last month, President Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, a shift that could affect Cuban players currently in the Majors and pave the way for Cuban players seeking to play in the U.S. to have an easier passage.
On Jan. 16, OFAC amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations in the Federal Register to implement policy changes by the president with Cuba. The amendments were consistent with the president's guidelines for Cuban defectors in 2011.
Major League Baseball currently requires a specific license for unblocking from OFAC before it allows a Cuban national to enter into an agreement with a team.
It took five months for newly signed D-backs pitcher Yoan Lopez, who is also from Cuba, to receive government clearance from OFAC. The timetable for Moncada's unblockage will impact which team can sign him.
Because he is under 23 and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Moncada is subject to the international signing guidelines. Under the guidelines, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team's record in 2013 for the international signing period, which started on July 2 and ends on June 15.
The Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, D-backs and Angels have all spent more than 15 percent of their allotted bonus pools and are in the maximum penalty range for the upcoming 2015-16 signing period. The penalty includes a 100 percent tax on their pool overage and prohibits them from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. In short, those teams will not be able to sign Moncada if he becomes eligible to sign after June 15 because he is expected to command much more than a $300,000 bonus.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.