In just a few short days, President Obama and the Tampa Bay Rays will make their way to Havana, Cuba for an exhibition game against the Cuban National team on March 22.
The game will be the first matchup since the Baltimore Orioles squared off against the same team back in 1999, but the circumstances of this meeting are far more indicative of positive future relations.
In fact, this matchup represents just one of the many benefits closer U.S./Cuba relations will have on Major League Baseball, in the very near future.
For example, improved U.S./Cuban relations have paved the way for some new labor rules that will have a large, immediate and positive impact on many Cuban baseball players. According to the new rules – which go into effect on March 16 – Cuban citizens will now be able to work for American companies and/or receive American salaries, without having to defect from Cuba.
Ben Strauss recaps the entire story here at the New York Times.
Of course, this is the world where dangerous stories of human trafficking, teenagers leaving their families and bribery running the show have lived for years. The new laws are significant, because they under cut all of those dangers. Now, players can now safely remain in Cuba, while negotiating with MLB clubs, and travel freely to America once a deal has been signed. It might also have the side benefit of preventing “handlers” from taking a large percentage of a players future earnings.
It is a huge step forward, in creating a safe environment for young Cuban players and bright day for U.S. Cuban relations. Depending on how aggressively MLB teams interpret the new laws (they are still digesting them for now), there could be a relatively massive influx of Cuban signings, over the next year. Of course, the International Free Agency rules will still apply, so only certain teams will be able to sign players to limited contracts – less they receive further penalties.
This is a hugely exciting story, with deep reaching implications for MLB. We’ll be sure to apprise you of new information, as the story continues to unfold.