MLB proposes easier path for Cuban players

MLB proposes easier path for Cuban players

Major League Baseball has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Treasury Department in an effort to create a new way for baseball players from Cuba to sign directly with MLB teams.

MLB's proposal includes the creation of a license that allows players from Cuba to enter the United States on a visa. Additionally, the plan includes the creation a new non-governmental body made up of Cuban entrepreneurs, MLB officials and the MLB Players Association. According to the proposal, a percentage of salaries paid to Cuban players would go to the non-governmental body to support sports initiatives and education, and improve sports facilities on the island.

The New York Times first reported MLB's proposal to the Treasury Department.

For now, defection -- either abandoning a national team during an international tournament or escaping Cuba to ports in Haiti or Mexico -- has traditionally been the only way for Cuban players to make it to the big leagues since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Because of the U.S. embargo, any defector who wants to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the United States. Players must also petition MLB for free agency before entering into a contract with a Major League club.

More than 100 Cuban players, including several All-Stars, have played in the Majors since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the island in 1961. Approximately 125 prospects have left the island in the past 20 months seeking Major League contracts.

It is unclear if the proposal satisfies the terms of the embargo, said Dan Halem, chief legal officer for Major League Baseball. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers the embargo, has not responded to the proposal.

"We are laying the groundwork for a potential new system in the event of future negotiations with the Cuban Baseball Federation," Halem said. "If they ask for compensation for players knowing it's problematic, we floated the concept of potentially contributing to a not-for-profit entity for the purpose of developing baseball and other public interests and endeavors in Cuba."

Cuban officials have been open about seeking an agreement with Major League Baseball for months and reiterated their stance in December when MLB officials, several players -- including Cuban-born players Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Alexei Ramirez and Brayan Pena -- and the MLB Players Association visited the island as part of a goodwill tour. Halem said Cuba's position on the latest proposal is unknown.

"We don't know their reaction," Halem said. "We are way in the beginning of this. We have not had any discussions to see their position on any of this."

What is known is that the Cuban government began allowing its players to play professionally in Mexico, Canada and Japan in 2013 for a percentage of the contracts in an effort to generate revenue for the Serie Nacional -- Cuba's top league, which has been decimated by defections -- and the national baseball program. Cuban players also began playing in Colombia last year. The Cuban Baseball Federation previously expressed the desire for a similar relationship with leagues affiliated with the U.S., while acknowledging the political hurdles of the embargo.

For their part, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have been open about their desire to create a safe passage for Cuban players to the Major Leagues. Halem said MLB has been in discussions with the White House to alleviate the human trafficking element associated with Cuban players coming to the U.S.

It's clear that the path for Cuban players who escape Cuba for a chance to play in the Major Leagues can be a dangerous one. Last month, agent Bart Hernandez was indicted on federal charges related to smuggling Cuban players to the United States. Also in February, Charles Hairston of Culture 39 said his agency chose to stop representing Cuban teenage prospect Lazaro "Lazarito" Armenteros because the teenager's investor threatened his life. A day later, the Armenteros family and Octagon, his new agency, claimed Lazarito was no longer working with Hairston because he could not secure concrete offers.

MLB's proposal surfaces as President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a historic trip to Havana on March 21. President Obama is scheduled to attend the exhibition between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team on March 22 in Havana, marking the first time a Major League team has played in Cuba since 1999.

"This next trip to Cuba is another goodwill trip to play baseball," Halem said. "Whatever discussion we have with the Cubans and our Players Association will occur over a longer period of time."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.