With game and talks, Cuba and MLB have their own rapprochement

Tue Mar 22, 2016 9:06pm EDT
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Major League Baseball and Cuba reinstated talks on a player transfer agreement on Tuesday, taking advantage of an exhibition game in Havana that coincided with U.S. President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba, a senior MLB official said.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro caught a few innings of Tuesday's exhibition game between the Cuban national team and MLB's Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays won, 4-1.

Just as Obama and Castro have agreed to normalize relations, the Cuban Baseball Federation and MLB have enjoyed their own rapprochement and it, too, will require more diplomacy.

Other than an initial meeting in New York six months ago, the two sides had yet to discuss even the outlines of a deal that would allow MLB teams to sign players in Cuba without them having to defect.

"We discussed high-level concepts," Dan Halem, the MLB's chief legal officer, told Reuters, referring to the possible framework of a future agreement.

"We agreed to schedule meetings in the next few months to at least identify what our respective issues are and see if we can work through them."

To reach a deal, Cuba would require compensation for the rights to its players, but payments are blocked by the U.S. economic embargo. MLB is seeking special U.S. permission to compensate Cuba. The Treasury Department has yet to make a ruling.

In the meantime, most Cuban players with big league dreams continue to defect, a record 150 of them in 2015. Many are forced to abandon their families and take dangerous sea journeys in the hands of smugglers.   Continued...

Fans watch an exhibition baseball game between the Cuban National team and the MLB Tampa Bay Rays at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst