Misc, MLB

Cuba And Japan’s Rule Changes Could Alter MLB Landscape

Coming very soon to a ballpark near you might be the next big star from Cuba or Japan, who – outside of the United States – are the two leading baseball powerhouses around the world.

Just yesterday, Cuba announced that it is changing its laws to allow professional athletes to seek employment elsewhere to further their career in their specific sport.  While that does sound great for Major League Baseball, given the influx of talent like Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes and most recently, Yasiel Puig, there are a few hoops that need to be jumped through first before this dream becomes a reality.  Mainly speaking, the United States government.  No biggie, right?

Cuba has apparently grown tired of the fact that their best stars are defecting stateside for lucrative contracts instead of staying home, or coming back home to Cuba once their respective sport’s season is over.  As it stands now, once you defect you are no longer allowed to travel back to Cuba.  However, Cuba’s governing body has reversed their thinking on that topic and Major League Baseball might greatly benefit from that decision.

In Japan, the change is a little different.  Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league has a posting system that is used in conjunction with America’s Major League Baseball.  That posting system functions as so: once a player becomes eligible to post (after nine seasons in Japan), any MLB team is allowed to silently submit a posting bid.  Typically, there are a few teams that will submit a bid on a player.  The highest bidding team wins the rights to negotiate with that player in a pre-determined amount of time. The more money a team or owner has in its pockets, the more it can bid on a player or players.  That bid/post money does not count against the salary cap and does not therefore count for the player’s overall salary.  It’s just a large transaction of cash from one team to another.   Recently the trend has been an unfair advantage for the high-spending teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Rangers.  It also handcuffs Japanese players to either play for the one team that posted the highest bid, or go back to Japan and play for their previous team.  It’s kind of a bum deal for the players involved.

The new posting system would allow for the top three team’s bids to be included, allowing players to negotiate with more than one team.  Rumors have stated that the posting system may also no longer be a blind, silent bidding process, but rather a public bidding process.  Although still a little unfair to the lower-spending teams in Major League Baseball, it’s now no longer an open-and-shut case when it comes to how big your checkbook is.  Whether this actually drives prices up for the posted players is yet to be seen.  At the very minimum you will now see more Japanese baseball players deciding to play in the U.S., not only sooner, but also with the team of their choice.

While changes to the way Japanese players are introduced to Major League Baseball revolves mostly around money, Cuba’s issues run a little deeper.  Like Communism, Cuban Missile Crisis deep.  That systemic change will be a little more difficult for Major League Baseball to work itself around since we currently do not allow transfers of cash to communist-led countries (including a player’s salary).  And although the new Cuban law covers all athletes, it is hard not to look at the millions of dollars professional baseball players make in the United States and how even a percentage of that being put back into a country would be beneficial to that country – making it the probable catalyst for this rule change.  A second, less controversial rule of this new law is that Cuban players would be required to continue to fulfill their country’s duties.  In other words, they must continue to play baseball for the Cuban national team.  We can work with that one for sure.  As long as we don’t have to play the Guess My Real Age Game with the next Cuban defector, MLB teams and fans will be happy.

With a few things still left undecided, and the U.S. government to work around, these changes may not take place immediately.  But the optimist in each of us should look at this as a great opportunity.  In the very near future, we may see a great influx of talent being spread throughout all Major League Baseball cities in a way that hasn’t happened since the Negro League players were welcomed into MLB.  And more importantly, these players now have choices.  Instead of waiting nine years in Japan to make their dream come true for an unwanted team or city, and instead of literally floating on a raft to Mexico to defect from your country, these players can now just choose to play for the Major League Baseball team of their choice.  When it’s all said and done, this could be one of the biggest steps in the right direction MLB has taken in years.

[CBS, Newsday]