Business of Baseball: The Cuban Pipeline

For decades, baseball players from Cuba have found their way to the Major Leagues.  The first documented player to come from Cuba and play Major League Baseball was Esteban Bellan, back in the 1870’s.  Since then, players have risked everything to defect and head to the US to play baseball.  Many have been fringe players, but several have played Hall of Fame careers.

Major League Baseball scouting operations are working to identify top prospects, however, due to an embargo between Cuba and the US, players are not freely able to leave Cuba.  As is often the case, during an international tournament, the player will defect, becoming a free agent, and allowing them to then sign with an MLB team.  But the cost is great, as many of these players can never return to Cuba and risk not seeing their families again.

At the end of September, the Cuban government announced that it would allow professional athletes to sign with foreign leagues.  This action does not mean that there is a clean pipeline of talent from Cuba to the MLB, however, it does create a more amicable path for players.  Players would still have to be available to play in international tournaments representing Cuba.  And there are still requirements to enter the US, such as receiving permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

This policy could impact MLB, and thus fantasy players, by allowing more Cuban players to sign with MLB teams.  As we have seen in recent years, players signed out of Cuba often become impact players immediately.  A look at recent Cuban signees (and current players) shows a strong MLB lineup:

SP: Jose Fernandez, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
RP: Aroldis Chapman
1B: Jose Abreu
SS: Jose Iglesias
IF: Yunieski Betancourt, Yunel Escobar
OF: Yasiel Puig
OF: Yoenis Cespedes
OF: Leonys Martin
OF/DH: Dayan Viciedo

Fantasy players should pay attention to the next wave of Cuban superstars ready to impact the MLB.  Jose Abreu just signed with the Chicago White Sox, and the slugging 1B is poised to make an immediate impact next season.  Alexander Guerrero, a polished SS, has signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Jorge Soler signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2013.  Dariel Alvarez, a 24-year old OF, signed with the Baltimore Orioles.  An increased openness between Cuba and the United States would be a monumental political step, and certainly bring baseball fans a new crop of players to cheer for.