Cuban baseball players will be able to sign contracts with any of the 30 Major League franchises following the deal struck between the Cuban Baseball Federation, the Major League and the Baseball Players Association.
CUBAN BALLPLAYERS IN THE UNITED STATES
The days when Cuban players like Yasiel Puig, Leonys Martin, Jose Dariel Abreu and many others were put in the hands of smugglers to leave Cuba illegally could be over.
Nevertheless, some politicians in Washington, including Republican Senator Marcos Rubio, have assured that they will do their utmost to prevent that agreement from panning out and Cuban players from crossing the border.
The negotiation between the Major League, the Association and the Cuban Federation was not easy. The representatives of these organizations met during three years before settling on an agreement that is essentially backed by a license from the US Department of the Treasury that allows franchises to make payments for “training fees/rights”, without this violating the Embargo that exists since 1962.
WHICH CUBANS CAN PLAY IN THE MAJOR LEAGUE?
Who can sign? According to the agreement, there are two categories: “Federation professionals”, that is, Cuban players over 25 years of age and at least six seasons in the National Series, who could enter the market as free agents.
The second category, made up of the “Federation Amateurs”, is made up of players over 18, but who have not played six seasons in the Cuban tournament, so they would be considered for the amateur draft of the Major League. For each category, the Cuban Federation receives different compensations.
CUBA AND BASEBALL: MONEY MATTERS
The Major League will apply a system similar to that used with the Japanese, South Korean and Taiwanese leagues. The franchise that signs a Cuban player as a free agent must deliver a compensation to the Cuban Federation for the training process, amounting to 20% of the first 25 million dollars of the contract, 17.5% of the next 25 million and 15% of any figure above 50 million. As for the minor league contracts, the share would consist of 25% of the signing bonus.
These amounts affect in no way the player’s contract, who receives the total amount agreed upon in full at the signing of the contract, but then must make tax payments, both in the United States (about 30%) and Cuba (4%).
BALLPLAYERS WILL HAVE A PERMIT IN THE UNITED STATES
All players signed up will receive a work permit in the United States and may live in that country accompanied by their relatives. In addition, they will have the right to return to Cuba once the season ends.
In addition, they may play in the Cuban league and be part of the national team, as long as this is authorized by the Major League franchise. If we look at other Latin American baseball players, it is unlikely that these two scenarios will play out.
Which Cuban players could sign with Major League teams or the main leagues in the Caribbean (Venezuela, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico)?
At PanamericanWorld we have identified five “professionals” and “amateurs” who will surely attract the attention of scouts.
PROFESSIONALS FROM THE CUBAN FEDERATION
The first name on the list is a given: Alfredo Despaigne Rodríguez. At 32, this slugger is considered the most accomplished Cuban baseball player.
He has played for four years in professional Japanese baseball, where he has won two titles with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. He still has a year left on the $16 million contract he signed in 2016, but once he complies with the deal and becomes a free agent in November, he will have plenty of calls from the Major League franchise.
Alfredo Despaigne seems to be the only Cuban player with a real shot at making the Major League in 2020.Miguel Ernesto
Age works against him as well as his few defensive skills, but no one questions the strength of his wrists. To this day he seems to be the only Federation player with a real opportunity to reach the Major League in 2020.
The other four players on this list could have a shot in any of the Caribbean leagues that are part of U.S. organized baseball.
LAZARO BLANCO (RIGHT-HAND PITCHER, 32 YEARS OLD)
Blanco is currently hailed as the best Cuban pitcher. He has experience in the Can-Am League, where he won a championship with the Capitals of Quebec. In addition, he has stood out in the Caribbean Series.
In the most recent edition, held in Panama, he was included in the All Stars team thanks to his brilliant performances against Mexico and Venezuela. His pitches rarely exceed 90 mph, but he shows great command and his launch angle is very uncomfortable for hitters. He would have a sure spot in any Venezuelan, Dominican or Mexican team.
FREDDY ASIEL ÁLVAREZ (RIGHT-HAND PITCHER, 29 YEARS OLD)
This pitcher has extensive experience in National Series. His fastball is faster than Blanco’s, but he does not have the same command of the ball. He controls well several pitches and is an excellent fielder on the mound. He could also be of interest to the Caribbean winter leagues.
YOANNI YERA (LEFT-HAND PITCHER, 29 YEARS OLD)
Yera is a fast lefty with a lot of command, an unusual combination. He is the pitcher with the most punch-outs in the last five years in the National Series and has rarely made the list of injured. In Cuba he has always served as an opener, but given his characteristics he could become a reliever.
GUILLERMO AVILÉS (FIRST BASE, OUTFIELDER, 26 YEARS OLD)
Aviles is a contact hitter, but he also has enough strength to drive the ball out of the park. He is 26 years old (the youngest of the five included on this list), knows to defend the first base very well and can also play right fielder. The Japanese scouts followed him closely, but the contract never materialized. Now, with the new deal, he is quite likely to join a Caribbean league.
THE GREATEST PROSPECTS IN CUBAN BASEBALL
Identifying the top five prospects that would catch the attention of major league scouts is not easy. None of these players is over 23 and for the franchises the mix of youth and talent is highly sought-after. The teams prefer to take a baseball trainee and get him up to speed through sturdy training to prepare him for a possible leap to the major leagues.
According to the agreement, if these prospects were signed they would enter the amateur draft that starts next July 2, and the Cuban Federation would receive 25% of that bonus.
LIVAN MOINELO (LEFT-HAND RELIEF PITCHER, 23 YEARS OLD)
Two years ago, the Japanese scouts saw Moinelo pitch and decided that it was worth taking him to their league. This player from Pinar del Rio has won two championships with the Fukuoka Falcons and has served in that team as a reliever. His fastball is easily over 90 miles and he has great command of his pitches. His contract with the Falcons is still good for another year, but once that time is up, he is likely to leave Japan and look for new options in the United States.
RAIDEL MARTINEZ (RIGHT-HAND OPENING PITCHER, 22 YEARS OLD)
This is another prospect with experience in Japan. Martinez has a fastball with an average velocity between 92 and 96 miles. His work with the Dragons of Chunichi, of the Japanese league, has allowed him to gain in control, but he still needs to improve a little on the location of his pitches. With the Dragons he has served as a starter, but in Cuba the managers for whom he has always played have assigned him as closer. It is also likely that in 2020 he will receive offers from the Major League.
OSCAR LUIS COLAS (OUTFIELDER AND PITCHER, 20 YEARS OLD)
Colás is probably the Cuban prospect with better physical conditions. He is a power hitter and is capable of throwing 94mph fastballs. The Fukuoka Falcons had him in the minor leagues for a year and to secure his future, it would be essential for him to finally choose a position because the changes between pitcher and outfielder could delay his development in baseball.
YARIEL RODRIGUEZ (PITCHER, 21 YEARS OLD)
This pitcher is also able to easily exceed 90 mph with his fastball. His journey through the minor categories of Cuban baseball was outstanding and in the National Series he stood out as one of the best openers. He participated with the national team in the Can-Am League and was in the most recent edition of the Caribbean Series, although he was not able to shine in Panama and this could delay his hiring a little.
ARIEL MARTINEZ (CATCHER, 22 YEARS OLD)
Martinez is a catcher with great offensive and defensive capabilities. He already has experience in the Japanese baseball farm system, and although he did not participate in the 58 National Series and was not considered for the 2019 Caribbean Series, his youthfulness and talent are two elements that could lead him first to a league in the region and, thereafter, to the major leagues.