A few weeks ago Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation struck a deal and announced that Cuban players would no longer have to defect in order to play professional baseball in the United States (and Canada).
According to various news reports, the three-year agreement would allow Cuban players who are at least 25 years of age and have played baseball for six years with the Cuban federation to sign with any major league team. The player’s Cuban team would then receive a percentage of the contract he signs with a major league team.
It’s similar to the agreements Major League Baseball has with other countries like Japan.
The league’s stated goal in seeking this deal is to address the dangers of human trafficking inherent in procuring certain players from Latin America, and to give those players “a safe and legal process” for entry into the big leagues. A noble undertaking, yes?
Sadly, however, Major League Baseball may be contributing to the dangerous conditions these players face. The league is currently under federal investigation for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and some of the evidence is pretty damning.
The worst? According to a report from Sports Illustrated someone in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization kept a spreadsheet that ranked 1 to 5 how “criminal” each of their employees in Latin America was. Seriously. A “one” means you’re just sort of a criminal, I guess, while a 5 means you’re, what, Tony Montana?
It’s no big secret that major league teams will do anything they can to mine talent from around the world, even if it means cutting corners and running afoul of laws. But this agreement with Cuba would at least bring things a bit more above board, if it is approved by the federal government.
My senator, Marco Rubio, has come out against the agreement based on his belief that the Cuban Baseball Federation is not independent of the Cuban government, and therefore any fees paid to a federation team would ultimately be going to support the country’s repressive government.
He’s probably not wrong about that, but it begs the question: does it matter if the players are being exploited by the government vs. some shady “buscones” in the underground trafficking world? Somebody’s getting paid either way.
Baseball boasts a rich history of Cuban players who arrived and enriched the game, from “The Cuban Comet” Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva, to today’s stars like Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu. Many of them risk their lives to do so, however, and it doesn’t need to be that way.
The agreement between the Cuban federation and Major League Baseball isn’t perfect but it does address the issue of human trafficking, which has been ignored for far too long. Our government should stand aside and let the deal play out, then re-evaluate it in three years.
Mike Hautamaki can be reached at email@example.com.