Trump administration cancels MLB’s deal with Cuba

The Tampa Bay Rays played an exhibition game against the Cuban national team in Havana in March 2016. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

The Trump administration cancelled a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have made it easier for Cuban players to come play in the United States, an administration official told USA TODAY.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the move would make it more difficult for Cuban players to sign with MLB, though the immediate details of its impact were unclear.

In December, MLB and the players association reached an agreement with Cuba's baseball federation to allow players from the island to be scouted and signed by the league without having to defect. The agreement was based on a decision from the Obama administration that allowed the Cuban baseball federation to be considered separate from the Cuban government.  

Under the agreement, the players could receive 100 percent of a signing bonus, but the signing team would pay a posting fee to the Cuban federation. This would have been similar to the system that is currently in place for players coming to MLB from Japan.

The Trump administration argues that the country's baseball federation is actually part of the Cuban government, making the business illegal under current law.  

For decades, Cuban players have risked their lives escaping from their homeland to destinations like Mexico, Haiti or the Dominican Republic, where they could establish residency.

Critics of the agreement, notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, feel that the posting fee going to the federation amounts to paying the Cuban government ransom for baseball players.

"We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba," MLB said in a statement Monday.

Earlier in April, the Cuban federation announced the first list of 34 players who would be authorized to sign with MLB clubs.

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