More disturbing than the lack of worldwide outrage over Cuba’s apartheid Castro dictatorship selling enslaved baseball players to Japan like chattel is that there are some people in the U.S. lamenting not being able to get a piece of that action.
Cuba opens pipeline of baseball talent to Japan, U.S. left out
HAVANA/TOKYO (Reuters) – Cuba is allowing some of its best baseball players to take their skills to Japan and make good money instead of risking their lives at sea with human traffickers in pursuit of Major League Baseball dreams.
The bright lights of the U.S. big leagues do still draw Cuban prospects to speedboats in order to escape the communist-run island – one player just left the island and six others were excluded from the national team for trying.
But now they have options.
In an attempt to halt defections, Cuba is allowing some of its players to sign overseas contracts while raising the pay of those who stay.
Two of Cuba’s biggest stars have signed officially sanctioned contracts this season with Nippon Professional Baseball teams, and Cuba for the first time is welcoming foreign scouts. South Koreans have also come looking for Cuban talent.
Cuban baseball officials have indicated more signings are likely, though they have not said how many.
“We would like to hire more Cuban players in the future,” said Masao Shimazaki, director for international relations for the Yomiuri Giants. “One reason Cuba has a lot of good players is because Cuba does not have an agreement with MLB yet.”
Cuba once prevented its stars from playing in the United States but now Major League Baseball teams are shut out of the Cuban market only because of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo of the country.
Without the embargo, they would be free to scout and sign players straight out of Cuba as long as they are willing to share the rights to players with the Cuban government, which also takes a 20 percent cut of the contracts plus income tax.
The shakeup in Cuba’s rules comes at a time of unprecedented success for Cuban players, as typified by this year’s sensation, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox.
After defecting last year, Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million contract and deftly adapted to the big leagues. He is among the league leaders in home runs.
Since 2009, more than 20 defectors have signed MLB contracts worth a combined total of more than $330 million, according to data on Baseball-Reference.com.
Players in the Cuban league were lucky to make $20 a month until recently. Now the minimum salary is over $40 a month, and veteran players can earn several times that.
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