As a hurricane force five began to circulate the news of the agreement reached between the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) and Major League Baseball (MLB), with the consent of the MLB Players Association (MLBPA). The winds of this “cyclonic organism” can change many things if you drive down the pointed trajectory and not dissolve into the sea of politics.
Under the terms of the agreement, Cuban players who play in the National Series, as well as the rest of the participants in the other categories integrated into the FCB, can be hired by any of the thirty major league baseball teams in the United States.
Let’s see what the essential points of the agreement are:
Only Cuban players who have a contract with the FCB are covered by the agreement. Any Cuban player who does not have a contract with the FCB is eligible to sign with any MLB Club to the same extent as any other unsigned international amateur.
All FCB Players fall into one of two categories:
(1) “FCB Professionals” means FCB players who meet the definition of “foreign professional” under the Basic Agreement between MLB and MLBPA (twenty-five years of age or older, with six or more years of professional experience);
2) “FCB Amateurs”, the rest of the FCB players who are under the age of eighteen.
Each off-season period, the FCB must release all FCB professionals who wish to sign with an MLB Club. The FCB can also free FCB amateurs to sign with an MLB Club during the organization’s international amateur contracting period, which begins every July 2.
Once released, all FCB players receive the same treatment as other international players under the Basic Agreement, and can negotiate and sign with any MLB Club that is willing to pay the applicable release fee.
The release fee that the MLB Club must pay to the FCB for an FCB player is broken down as follows:
25 per cent of minor league contracts, i.e. signing bonus;
20 percent of the first $25 million guaranteed;
17.5 per cent of the corresponding sum between $25 and $50 million;
15 percent over any amount beyond $50 million.
The release fee (and any additional) paid by the MLB Club is in addition to the remuneration agreed between the MLB Club and the FCB player in the player’s contract, which will be paid directly by the MLB Club to the FCB player.
Released FCB players will be explored by headhunters; contracts with MLB Clubs will take place in Cuba; Contracted players will travel to the United States or Canada (as applicable) to perform services to their MLB clubs in accordance with a standard work visa.
A former FCB player signed by an MLB Club may return to Cuba during the off-season period and may, with the consent of his MLB Club, play in Cuban tournaments.
The Agreement will expire on 31 October 2021, unless it is extended by mutual decision.
The agreement between the FCB and MLB has come at a critical time for Cuban baseball. The National Series, which has just ended its 2018-2019 season, has been lowering its level and has practically hit rock bottom. As a sequel to its shortcomings, the sport’s national team has gone from failure to failure as soon as the international tournament has competed lately.
The scarcity of allocated resources (which results in a lack of implements and loss of land to play, among other evils) and the uncertain promotional policy of baseball in the media (dominated to exhaustion by football), have undermined the interest of the last generations in national sport on the island. (Not many of the younger Cubans know who Clayton Kershaw is, but none are unaware of real madrid and Barcelona templates.)
In this daunting picture, the talent flight, which has been a relentless drip in the last three decades, has contributed, notably, to weakening the Cuban ball, which had remained strong until the 1980s.
However, this whole landscape can change if the FCB-MLB convention is implemented in its entire extent. Let’s look at some events that can be triggered when the agreement becomes facts.
For now, even before the first contract is signed, the door that opens to the island’s players who play in MLB, and in other Caribbean leagues, can radically change the formation of the Cuban national team that competes to seek the rankings at the 2020 Olympic Games, a task that looks very difficult with the players of the National Series.
From that perspective, the Cuba team going to the next World Classic could be a powerful selection, if he manages to integrate Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Céspedes, Aroldis Chapman, José Dariel Abreu, José Iglesias, Aledmis Díaz, Raisel Iglesias, Kendrys Morales, Yulieski Gurriel, Yasmani Grandal, Adeynis Hechevarría, among the most notorious who play in MLB, without dismissing those who do so in other leagues.
On the other hand, the financial injection received by the FCB should result in a substantial improvement of all baseball infrastructure on the island: building real ground to play in the National Series; expand stadiums; create academies; rescue as much ground as possible; acquire the necessary implements to play ball; go towards a practice of greater massmanship in this sport.
On this path of expansion, the Cuban baseball league must change substantially: to become a true professional league, such as the work-nan of Venezuela, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic and Mexico.
The popular impact of contracts, whether in MLB, Caribbean leagues, or salaries in the hypothetical local league, along with actions to lift baseball on the island, must lead to an awakening of interest. Thus, that sport will grow in imaginaries and dreams from the early ages.
In line with these plans, baseball must be present, with hierarchy, in the Cuban media, and the sports channel must leave behind the discriminatory broadcasting policies that have prevailed to this day. Then the major leagues must be on the programming grid as european football leagues are now. Watching Aroldis Chapman pitch should be more attractive than watching a football star play.
Is the cuban sport’s superstructure ready to meet this giant challenge? Are officials, managers, coaches, commentators ready and trained?
This whole picture can’t come true overnight. Looks like a utopia. But the signed agreement is an important step in moving forward and projecting dreams. For now, we must be attentive to the force of the winds. We’ll see what happens when “the phenomenon” makes landfall. Ω