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The new MLB posting agreement with Cuba, explained

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The Gillette Home Run Derby
Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, two of 17 Cuban-born players on MLB opening day rosters in 2018, have combined for 309 home runs in the majors.

Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation that fundamentally alters the structure of how Cuban baseball players can join MLB, with a stated purpose of increasing the safety of the players involved.

“For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Cubans have faced harrowing journeys to the United States for years. The stories of defecting baseball players alone have been the stuff of legend. Orlando Hernandez was stranded on a deserted island for several days before reaching America in 1997.

Yasiel Puig found passage from Cuba to Mexico before signing with the Dodgers in 2012, and in doing so paid a reported $2.5 million of his $42 million contract to a Florida businessperson who later served prison time for violating U.S. immigration laws.

In 2013, Jose Abreu fled Cuba and signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the White Sox, and faced similar challenges.

“Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player. To this date, I am still harassed,” Abreu said in a statement on Wednesday. “The next generation of Cuban baseball players will be able to sign an MLB contract while in Cuba, they will be able to keep their earnings as any other player in the world, they will be able to return to Cuba, they will be able to share with their families, and they will be able to play the sport they love against the best players in the world without fear and trepidation. Great day for Cuban baseball players.”

There were 17 Cuban-born players on opening day rosters or inactive lists in 2018, roughly two percent of all major league players.

The players affected

All players under contract with the Cuban Baseball Federation age 25 or older with at least six years of professional experience who want to sign with a major league club must be allowed to do so. These players are considered professionals by MLB whose contracts count toward major league payroll.

The Cuban Baseball Federation may also release players younger than 25, but at least 17 years old, or those without six professional seasons. These are considered amateurs by MLB and are subject to international bonus pool restrictions, with international signing periods running annually from July 2 through June 15.

The players released by FCB can be scouted and signed in Cuba by MLB teams.

The key here, again, is the safety of the players, who will be able to return to Cuba during the offseason, and can play in offseason leagues or tournaments in Cuba with consent of their MLB team. The ability to freely return to their home country is something Cuban players have rarely enjoyed.

Brayan Peña, who caught for 12 years in the major leagues. He was part of a goodwill trip of MLB players to Cuba in 2015, seeing several family members for the first time since he defected as a teenager 16 years earlier.

“Words cannot describe what it’s been like,” Peña told the Los Angeles Times in 2015. “It’s something I’m going to keep until the day that I die. I’m never going to forget this.”

Follow the money

The terms of this posting agreement is the same as MLB’s agreements with professional leagues in Japan, Korea and China. Teams signing a foreign professional pay a graduated fee to, in this case, the Cuban Baseball Federation. The fees are as follows:

  • 20% of the first $25 million in guaranteed money
  • 17.5% of the total from $25-50 million
  • 15% of any amount over $50 million
  • For any minor league contracts signed, the release fee is 25% of the signing bonus

If we were to retroactively applied Puig’s $42 million contract, for instance, to this new posting system, the total fee would be $7,975,000 ($5 million for the first $25 million, $2.975 million for the next $17 million).

The agreement runs through October 2021.