Despite America’s embargo against Cuba, baseball has been one of Havana’s major exports.
However, its not clear whether the historic thaw in relations between the two countries that began this month will lead to an even bigger baseball boom.
One top agent who spoke to Business Insider said, so far, the policy shift has left the baseball world with a “sea of unanswered questions.”
Cuba has a long baseball tradition and several players who were born there have defected to the United States in spite of the tension between the two nations and to play Major League Baseball. According to the Baseball Almanac, there are 31 active Cuban players in the MLB, including the stars Yasiel Puig and Rusney Castillo.
Given Cuba’s history of producing top baseball talent, President Barack Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement the US will begin “normalizing” relations with the island following a prisoner exchange left many in baseball wondering whether the policy shift will have an impact on the game.
Shortly after Obama’s announcement on Dec. 17, the MLB’s public relations department released a short statement on Twitter that said they did not have “sufficient details” about the deal to determine how it would effect the league’s teams.
Indeed, while the White House has been clear about the main elements of the policy, the specific regulations that will implement the changes have not been revealed yet. The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the US sanctions on Cuba and will be making the regulatory changes, declined to comment on this story.
Ron Shapiro, the chairman of the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, is a baseball agent who currently represents Minnesota Twins star Joe Mauer and has a slew of Hall of Famers among his former clients. Shapiro discussed the Cuba deal and its potential impact on the MLB with Business Insider this week.
Overall, Shapiro said the deal left baseball with a “sea of unanswered questions at this point, which will resolve themselves in time.”
Shapiro noted the specific components of the policy shift still have yet to be finalised.
“First of all, things have to be worked out more completely at the governmental level,” explained Shapiro. “We’ve got the breakthrough, but obviously there’s unfinished business in resolving what it all means at that level.”
He also described the many different questions the MLB, agents, and players will have to deal with once they know the specific regulatory changes.
“Baseball then will have to analyse everything from its draft, its relationship with teams over there, when and if players come here the rules it will abide by in respecting the contract issues over there,” Shapiro said. “I mean, there’s just an array of things that have to be resolved. And agents will have to be careful because the Players Association may have to decide on some things with respect to players over there and whether they have any rights under the collective bargaining agreement, or when they have rights and how they’re dealt with.”
Despite the remaining questions, an improved US relationship with Cuba clearly has a lot of potential for the MLB.
Shapiro said he would expect teams to develop training and recruitment programs in Cuba, which he noted is a “fertile” source of baseball talent because “they play the game from childhood.” He also suggested Cuba could be a strong market for the MLB.
“Clearly Cuba, as demonstrated by the number of Cubans in major league baseball already today is a fertile ground for talent,” Shapiro told BI. “It’s also a fertile ground for the MLB product, whether it be via television or other means. So there’s a lot to be explored.”
Shapiro said Cuba is clearly a “great pool” of talent due to the “significant number” of current MLB players who are from here and the fact “the games that have been played over there are pretty significant in terms of fan interest and the effectiveness of players.” He predicted the Cuba deal will eventually lead to more Cuban talent playing in the US.
“Cuba is a partially tapped source that will be more fully tapped now,” Shapiro said.
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