Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Odrisamer Despaigne and Cuban Players

VM Nate has an article in Padres Public about Odrisamer Despaigne, a Cuban defector who pitched for the Padres last night (and is an interesting addition to what otherwise has been a miserable team). He absolutely shined with seven shutout innings. It got me thinking about Cuban baseball in general.

The Cuban baseball market is a terrible mess. The players defect in ways that sometimes can be dangerous (at least it seems not to have been that way for Despaigne, who defected in Spain). Since the embargo prohibits teams from signing Cubans directly, they have to defect. Although the Cuban government has allowed for direct contracts as long as they are temporary (I am not sure how that is enforced but it means they have to play for the Cuban national team when needed) they can't just sign directly with U.S. teams.

So you get stories like Yasiel Puig's, which is so dark (and made me like him more). Meanwhile, fat contracts to a fortunate few entice more Cubans to do what they can to get here. Things have not changed much from when I reviewed the book The Duke of Havana almost eight years ago. If anything, human smuggling is even more violent.

Plus, what that book showed were the players that didn't cut the mustard. For every Yasiel Puig there are plenty of others struggling in obscurity, going into debt and facing all kinds of problems in their failed attempt to make the MLB.

One of the interesting insights from the book Raceball is that Mexico doesn't suffer this same fate because from an old agreement MLB teams must pay Mexican teams when they poach a player (Japan has a similar system dating back to 1967). That's really the only way you can stop the human smuggling. This solution is currently impossible for Cuba because the embargo prohibits it--in any case the money would end up directly in the government's hands since unlike elsewhere it owns all teams. I also can't see why MLB would agree to such an arrangement again. The Japan and Mexico deals were struck long before players made tons of money.

I wish MLB would make a formal statement on Cuban defectors. When pushed Bud Selig defers:

"You’re getting into an international political situation," he said. "Commissioners have a lot of power but they don’t have an international power. It [Yasiel Puig's story] was a tough story to read." 
Selig said that there have been internal discussions about trying to do something on the issue but "it gets into a level that is really beyond us."

Well, yes, only Congress can change the law. But he could say that this is a tragedy unfolding with lots of suffering involved and that the players would be much better off with a negotiated solution. But he won't say much beyond platitudes and neither will the player's union. You can be sure the owners won't. Because this is immensely profitable. The losers don't matter to MLB but the money and the exciting stars do.


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