U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart are cautious of a new deal struck between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation.
MLB owners on Wednesday came to an agreement that allows Cuban baseball players over the age of 25 and with six years of professional ball experience in Cuba to be released by the CBF to play in the U.S. league.
Rubio believes the pact should raise concern from the federal government.
“I have asked state dept & White House to review the deal that allows Cuban regime to conduct state sponsored trafficking of baseball players,” Rubio said on Twitter.
Diaz-Balart, meanwhile, said the deal aids in the further exploitation of athletes by the Cuban government.
“Like all people, Cuban baseball players should be free to negotiate their own terms and wages,” the Miami Republican tweeted. “MLB’s reported proposal to cede their rights to the regime in Cuba, which profits from the players’ labor, institutionalizes their exploitation.
“MLB should not be a party to the shameless exploitation of Cuban baseball players to enrich a brutal, anti-American dictatorship.”
The deal is framed as a “safe and legal path to sign with a Major League Club.”
MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem told the Miami Herald the intent of the agreement is to dissuade players in Cuba who want to play in the MLB from taking the dangerous method of fleeing the country through human trafficking in order to set up residency in other countries like Mexico and then trying to get on teams.
Several U.S. players released statements through the MLB praising the deal.
“To know future Cuban players will not have to go through what we went through makes me so happy,” Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig said. “I want to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen and thank them personally for allowing an opportunity for Cuban baseball players to have the ability to come and show how talented they are.”
Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu said he gets harassed to this year by coyotes and human trafficking agencies.
“The next generation of Cuban baseball players will be able to sign an MLB contract while in Cuba,” he said. “They will be able to keep their earnings as any other player in the world, they will be able to return to Cuba, they will be able to share with their families, and they will be able to play the sport they love against the best players in the world without fear and trepidation.”
MLB leaders said the deal is modeled from similar agreements with Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, the Korea Baseball Association and the Chinese Professional Baseball League.
Rubio disagrees. The Senator from Florida thinks the CBA-MLB agreement is more nuanced and could complicate international relations.
“Unlike Japan & Mexico the regime controls sports & the state department should issue a ruling to that effect,” Rubio wrote.
U.S. Sen.-elect Rick Scott also chimed in, calling the deal a “giveaway to the Cuban Dictatorship.” He said the U.S. Treasury Department should pump the brakes.
The agreement includes a stipulation that Cuban Federation players who defect while in the U.S. would be subject to a one- or two-year waiting period.
Diaz-Balart predicted that President Donald Trump would quash the deal.
“Thankfully, we have a president who stands in solidarity with the Cuban people,” Diaz-Balart said. “I am confident that he will not facilitate any exploitative agreement to benefit a regime with an egregious human rights record, and that opposes U.S. interests around the world.”
Indeed, a source told The Washington Post that the Trump administration holds reservations.
“Parties seeking to benefit from business opportunities in Cuba are on notice that the Administration will continue to take actions to support human rights and restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to profit from U.S. business,” the source told the Post.
But MLB officials maintain the deal will protect athletes from potential harm.
“For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with Major League Clubs,” said MLB Commissioner of Baseball Robert Manfred, Jr. “We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”