The Trump administration has put an end to an agreement that made it easier for Cuban baseball player to sign with Major League Baseball franchises.
The December deal between the MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation streamlined the signing process, making it closer to what foreign players from Japan or South Korea experience when transitioning to the MLB.
Players over 25 years old could sign with a MLB franchise and the club would pay a 25 percent release fee to the Cuban Baseball Federation, while other players could sign minor league deals.
The goal of the deal, which was a joint effort between the MLB, the MLB Players Association and the Cuban Baseball Federation, was to crackdown on players defecting and human trafficking.
It had become the norm for Cuban ballplayers to hire smugglers to take them to a third country where they could sign with a Major League club.
MLB All-Stars like Yoenis Cepedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu are some of the most recent defectors, all with harrowing tales of survival trying to escape the island nation for a chance to play in the Big Leagues.
“We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba,” said Major League Vice President Michael Teevan said in a statement.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said the existing deal “was based on an erroneous ruling by the former Obama administration that the Cuban Baseball Federation was not part of Cuba’s Communist government.”
The crux of the government’s issue with the deal, which is outlined in a letter from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to Major League Baseball, is that “a payment to the Cuban Baseball Federation is a payment to the Cuban government.”
“Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns – selling their rights to Major League Baseball,” National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted on Sunday. “America’s national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime‘s support for Maduro in Venezuela.”
According to ESPN, Major League Baseball has requested a meeting with government officials but it was not granted.
The Cuban Baseball Federation reacted on Twitter to the Trump administration’s announcement.
“The agreement with #MLB seeks to stop the trafficking of human beings, encourage cooperation and raise the level of baseball. Any contrary idea is false news. Attacks with political motivation against the agreement achieved harm the athletes, their families and the fans,” the tweet read.
The announcement comes just a few days after the Cuban Baseball Federation released a list of 34 players eligible to sign direct contracts with MLB teams.
“I just feel bad for those young ballplayers who are probably not going to have the same chance to play here,” said Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who also defected from Cuba. “It’s definitely difficult for a lot of Cuban players who are not playing at this level here in the States. But the way we got here, it was tough – to say the least.”
William is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.