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Don’t expect the Majors to benefit from Cuba’s liberalized rules for athletes

Oct 1, 2013, 9:43 AM EDT


Last week waves were made when Cuba announced that it would allow athletes to compete in foreign professional leagues. Many of our first reactions were along the lines of “Awesome! Now ballplayers won’t have to risk their lives and families to play here! They can come and go! It’s the best of both worlds!”

Except it’s not. At least not for them playing in the United States. Because, as The Economist reminds us today, the rules Cuba announced — allowing athletes to play in foreign leagues as long as they pay taxes to Cuba — would lead to a violation of the United States’ embargo on Cuba if the players were on U.S. teams:

The United States’ trade embargo bans any transaction that would fund the Castros’ government. As a result, the requirement that Cuban athletes playing abroad pay local taxes on their income would prevent MLB clubs from signing players who plan to comply. Only outright defectors would be cleared to suit up.

They could play in Japan. Or in Mexico’s summer league. But not in the U.S. At least not unless they defected like they currently do. Any player wanting to walk the straight and narrow under Cuban law, maintaining his home there and place on the Cuban national team, would be better served avoiding the U.S. majors.

Maybe the top of the top — the guys who could command deals only U.S. teams could afford — will still come here. But it will be via defection, same as it is now. And the idea that more borderline, Triple-A types would come here is hard to see given that they’d have a much easier time of it in Japan or Mexico or someplace else.

Which, while not a top-5 reason to support the repeal of the embargo on Cuba, is yet another reason why it’s pretty stupid in this day and age.

  1. anthonyverna - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Someone could go to Mexico, play for a bit, and then defect, no?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:24 AM

      They could, but they’d be under contract with said Mexican team, and MLB honors other league’s contracts. So the choice would be either deal with some legal wrangling between the two leagues, or sign a short term contract. Unfortunately, I doubt many of the Mexican/Japanese/Korean/etc leagues want to be seen as jumping off points for Cuban baseball players.

      • paperlions - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        Plus, the entire point of the rule change was to give Cuban baseball players the ability to make money playing baseball but to still be able to return home to their families….so that defection is a less attractive option.

  2. yankeepunk3000 - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    agreed Craig. its an out of date agreement.

    • raysfan1 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      I expect it to change but not until Fidel and Raul Castro are both dead.

  3. cur68 - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Canada has no such embargo. I suppose the Nice Cuban Lads could learn to play hockey? All that Castro-Evading moxie could be put to good use by strapping knives to feet and handing out long, crooked clubs. Also, the benefits to the annual seal pup harvest would be noticeable. Cubans are natural bat swingers. The National Reserves of Seal Blubber would be topped up in no time.

    However, they could also come over here and further the cause of baseball. ¿Si, eh?

  4. chill1184 - Oct 1, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    The Cuban embargo is so Fing stupid. Last time I checked we won the damm Cold War and Castro is as much of a threat to the US as a house fly.

  5. twilson962 - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    What about the Blue Jays? Am I missing something? Would they have an advantage as far as Cuban players are concerned?

    • tanzkommandant - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      The Expos will return as an all-Cuban lineup.

      • cur68 - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:16 AM

        Oh Please Dog! Let it be so….

      • twilson962 - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:13 AM

        HAHAHA. That’s funny…and I’m a Nats fan.

    • Old Gator - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      Good question, that. Would the pencil necked nitwits in the state department refuse to let them enter the country when the Jays were on the road, though?

      But of course we’re back to the same issue: the embargo is an embarrassing fossil. Dump it.

    • chill1184 - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      I think because MLB is headquartered in NY the clowns in government view it as a US based company and the Blue Jays are just a Canadian branch of the umbrella company that is Major League Baseball.

      • jm91rs - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:32 AM

        Wait, they’re just one big business operating under many different team names? Like a monopoly? Say it aint so!

    • tolbuck - Oct 1, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      The problem is players are also taxed based where the game is played, not just where the team is based. The Jays players are paying US taxes for all road games they play even though they are based in Canada. So the Jays won’t sign Cuban players since they wouldn’t be able to play half the games.

      • twilson962 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        That’s right. I forgot the players have to file taxes in each state they play…

  6. pappageorgio - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    Now I’m not even an old timer…..but I have to remind everyone that Castro hates the united states.

    Is paying a few taxes to CUba a big deal? Nope. Letting in a few Cigars? No biggie. Right up until some terrorist sends some sort of bomb through in one of those containers.

    We’ve tried to assassinate this guy several times. Castro has never really been all there and him being like 100 years old (if he’s still really alive) doesn’t add to his sanity. Plus the guy has shown that he can really hold a grudge….

    There maybe some bigger issues here than letting the ball players play.

    • chill1184 - Oct 1, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      Oh yes the good old cold war fearmongering, good to see neocons can still pull those cards out every now and then. Next tells us on why fascist programs such as NSA domestic spying still are needed, despite the conservative “opposition” to Obama.

      • pappageorgio - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:12 AM

        So at what point will it be ok to start giving money and accepting cargo from Kim Jong Un? Because they are a lot alike……only one of them is just a hop and a skip from our sothern border.

        Crazy + Old (and nothing to lose) + still pissed because we tried to kills the guy like 50 times= not a good situation. Maybe you’re too young or just can’t read a history book…..but Castro is not a very nice man, he’s shown that he’s a bit unstable, and hates the US.

        The bleeding liberals can call it “fearmongering” all they like……when someone shoves a dirty bomb up our a** you’ll be the first one to ask “how did our gov’t let this happen?”. Maybe you’d prefer Castro’s method of torture and murder to the NSA’s domestic spying?

        When Castro goes restrictions will be losened but until he does they stay in place……I ‘m comfortable with that.

      • chill1184 - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:30 AM


        LOL at you calling me a liberal. Sorry to burst your bubble but Im a libertarian, conservatism is just as statist and authoritarian as the next liberal.. Your reasoning for keeping this cold war relic around (among other statist programs conservatives support) is the same reasoning the left uses for gun control all you did was change the terms.

        Perhaps you tend to forget (or choose to ignore) that we also trade with authoritarian regimes such as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, China among others.

        As for your pathetic ““how did our gov’t let this happen?” bs, you forget that libertarians advocate the massive reduction of the state and heavily favor privatization in many areas. Unlike you conservatives only support liberty when your brand statist thugs are removed from power.

      • Old Gator - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:18 PM

        Funny conversation, pappa. Chilli and I are at opposite ends of the political spectrum but we both seem to find your arguments ridiculous. Let’s try a few points:

        (1) Kim Jong Un routinely threatens to nuke us; Castro doesn’t. Kim Jong Un routinely tests nuclear devices. Castro doesn’t. The North Korean regime periodically stages terrorist attacks on South Korean shipping, residential areas on border islands, and assassinates local officials. Castro doesn’t. You demonstrate or militate or protest against the Cuban regime, you’re harassed, interrogated, fired from your job and, increasingly less often, sometimes jailed. That’s pretty ugly but In North Korea, you’re tortured or killed. The comparisons between the two regimes is pretty lopsided.

        (2) Cuba is, slowly but surely, mellowing. In Cuba folks call Fidel el coma andante. He’s old, in poor health and his influence is in decline. His brother is pulling most of the strings but he’s also verging on decrepitude and there’s a rising cadre of much more pragmatic apparatchiks in the Party who will soon be taking over. Their pragmatism needs to be encouraged but we’re just giving the hardliners more excuses to keep the clamps on. Private property has been re-introduced. Now we have a situation where a measure of freedom is being extended to its athletes and, once again, it’s the USA that’s blocking another potential liberalization with this stupid embargo. Talk about counter-productivity.

        (2) The Cuban regime has been in power for over a half century. You do realize that, right? That alone should give you a reason to pause and question what the point of a foreign policy that has been such an abject failure might be. And in that time, while in fact despite the embargo there has been a thriving commerce, most of it legal, between the Island and Americans of Cuban descent how many “bombs” have been shipped over here? Your paranoia is laughable.

        Wake up. Grow up. Stop feasting on mindless right-wing sound bites. You sound like an ignorant clown.

  7. jlinatl - Oct 1, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Although we honor Mexican and other league contracts, a player could sign a 1 year contract and defect at its conclusion which would likely be easier than it is today.

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