Cuba says still far from deal with MLB on player signings

Wed Mar 16, 2016 6:07pm EDT
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban Baseball Federation and Major League Baseball are far from reaching a deal on transferring Cuban players to the United States even with new U.S. rules that could facilitate player signings, a top Cuban baseball official said on Wednesday.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama issued sweeping regulations on Tuesday that relax trade and travel restrictions with Cuba, including a provision that permits Cubans to earn salaries in the United States without having to sever ties with their homeland.

Obama is due to visit Cuba from Sunday to Tuesday and attend an exhibition game between Cuba's national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.

MLB and Cuban officials both want to normalize player transfers but such a deal remains blocked by the U.S. economic embargo. MLB is seeking special U.S. permission to sign Cuban players in Cuba so they no longer have to defect, but the Treasury Department has yet to make a ruling.

Because of the lingering estrangement, Cuban players with dreams of reaching the big leagues must defect. A record 150 Cuban ballplayers defected in 2015, draining Cuba of its best talent and exposing athletes to danger by putting them in the hands of smugglers.

Some of the top Major League players are Cuban defectors, including Jose Dariel Abreu of the White Sox, Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees and Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets.

The new salary rule applies to all Cubans but U.S. officials mentioned it could facilitate ballplayer signings, raising hopes for progress.

But Higinio Velez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, told reporters that Cuba and MLB have yet to even begin negotiations.   Continued...

Workers are seen at the Latinoamericano baseball stadium ahead of an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban national team and U.S. team Tampa Bay Rays, in Havana, Cuba March 16, 2016. The photographs show Cuban baseball legends Santiago "Changa" Mederos (L) and Pedro Chavez and the writings underneath the photographs read "Steadfast" (L) and "Dignified."  REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa