After a whirlwind week of impressive reporting by Ben Badler, Jeff Passan, Jesse Sanchez, and Kiley McDaniel, the Office of Foreign Assets Control has now confirmed – definitively in a letter to various Cuban players – that it will not be issuing them specific unblocking licenses because it already considers Cubans who’ve successfully established residence outside of Cuba to be unblocked (McDaniel, Badler, Sanchez).
That means the only thing standing between Cuban super prospect Yoan Moncada (as well as other quality prospects like Andy Ibanez) and a contract is MLB’s previously-espoused policy requiring Cuban players to get a specific license from OFAC, rather than the general license that they get by virtue of establishing residency outside of Cuba. Since OFAC is no longer going to issue specific licenses to Cuban nationals, it seems like MLB will have no choice but to change its policy.
It seems like the prevailing assumption is that MLB’s policy change will simply be a matter of dropping the specific license requirement, and, if MLB goes that route soon, it seems like the Cubs will have almost no shot at convincing Moncada (or Ibanez, to the extent they were interested) to wait until July 2 to sign.
The only hope, then, is that each of OFAC and MLB are in something of a public relations campaign, with the issues behind the scenes – MLB’s liability concerns, perhaps? – much bigger and more complicated than these public airings are making it seem. In that case, the negotiations between the two entities could take a little while to resolve those issues.
I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to preserve a sliver of hope here, but I do want to say that it is conceivable that, even if OFAC won’t issue specific licenses anymore, MLB will want some kind of extra assurance that they won’t be liable for doing business with someone they shouldn’t if it is later revealed that there was some kind of fraud involved in getting the Cuban national a general license. Previously, that assurance came from the specific license (because securing one involved a seriously in-depth investigation by OFAC into the Cuban national’s documents and information). Will MLB now want to perform its own specific-license-like process? Will they negotiate some kind of new protocol with OFAC? Given that normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba could be coming soon, anyway, how much time and effort are MLB and OFAC going to put into coming up with some interim protocol, anyway? How does the fact that Moncada was apparently allowed to leave Cuba, unlike other defectors, complicate his particular situation?
All of that is to say that it’s plausible that this process drags on for a little bit yet. Based on how rapidly things shook out this week, apparently in response to the various reporting (great work, gentlemen)*, however, I’m thinking we’re going to hear something definitive from MLB as soon as next week. And it’s probably going to involve these guys, including Moncada, being officially declared free to sign with an MLB team.
*(The cynical among you are probably thinking, “Not great work! You guys sped things up, which made it harder for the Cubs to get Moncada!” Even if that’s true, you don’t really think that, do you? These Cuban players are in limbo right now for reasons that seem pretty unfair to them, and the reporters appropriately pressed the issue. I’ve been really impressed at how it seems their reporting has directly spurred action where there was previously nothing. How long was OFAC going to sit on these specific license requests, possibly knowing full well they weren’t going to issue them? How long was MLB going to demand specific licenses when it was pretty clear from the new regulations that they were not required?)
UPDATE: Ben Badler reports that MLB, as expected, has contacted teams to say that nothing in their policy has changed just yet, so they should not sign any of these players until MLB decides how to proceed.