MLB Likely to Play Exhibition Game in Cuba
Baseball in talks to return to island for first time since 1999
By BRIAN COSTA
Updated March 19, 2015 7:51 p.m. ET
Major League Baseball is likely to play an exhibition game in Cuba in
early 2016, commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday in an interview with
The Wall Street Journal.
The league has been in talks with the U.S. government about returning to
the baseball-rich island for the first time since 1999, as the two
countries work to reestablish relations, but previously had no timetable
for doing so.
Such a game would be the first played by a major North American
professional sports league in Cuba since the U.S. announced in December
that it would seek to reestablish diplomatic ties it severed in 1961.
The New York Cosmos, a team in the second-tier North American Soccer
League, are scheduled to play the Cuban national soccer team in Havana
on June 2.
"To the extent that we can play a role in helping the United States
government effectuate a change in policy, that we're following their
lead and we're acting in a way that's consistent with what they want us
to do, that's an honor for us," Manfred said.
Manfred said the feedback MLB has received from U.S. government
officials recently makes him confident there will be a spring-training
game in Cuba in 2016. It remains unclear whether there will be just one
or multiple games.
"The combination of their input and where we are in our calendar for
2015 makes the most likely point in time to be spring training of 2016,"
he said. "It's not a three-day exercise to play a meaningful exhibition
game in Cuba. You need a little lead time to get that done, to put
everything together, to be able to broadcast it in the way that it
An exhibition game in Cuba would represent the first step toward what
MLB hopes will be an expanded presence there. A baseball hotbed for
decades, the island has been an increasingly rich source of talent for
the league in recent years, despite the inability of MLB scouts to
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Chicago White Sox slugger
Jose Abreu highlighted a group of 25 Cuban-born players to appear in the
majors last season, the most since 1970, according to Stats LLC.
"It's a great source of talent," Manfred said. "We've seen the level of
interest that quality Cuban players have generated among major-league
clubs. And secondly, Cuba is a country where baseball is part of the
culture, like it is here in the United States, and we love markets like
Under the terms of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, players must first
establish residency in a third country before signing with an MLB team.
As a result, many players have faced a harrowing journey from Cuba to
In December, a Florida man pleaded guilty in federal court to taking
part in a conspiracy to smuggle Puig out of Cuba in 2012 in exchange for
a cut of his $42 million contract with the Dodgers.
Though Congress has so far stopped short of trying to lift the embargo,
Manfred said he doesn't think that would be necessary to ease the flow
of talent from Cuba to MLB. "I'm guessing, because I don't have enough
information, but I think there will be an effort to regularize the flow
of baseball talent, short of there being a complete lifting of the
embargo," he said.
The economic model under which that talent would begin to flow under any
new arrangement is unclear. The means by which international players
enter MLB varies by country.
Japanese players who aren't yet eligible for free agency in their league
are subject to a posting system in which MLB teams pay Japanese teams up
to $20 million for the right to negotiate a contract with the player. By
contrast, in the Dominican Republic, teams can sign hordes of players as
amateurs at relatively low costs and develop them at team-run academies
on the island.
Manfred declined to say which of the two would be a more likely model
for Cuba. Any new system would be subject to negotiation with the Cuban
government. "I'm going to have a negotiation on this topic at some
point, is my guess, and I don't want to go there," he said.
No MLB team has played a game in Cuba since March 28, 1999, when the
Baltimore Orioles became the first to do so in 40 years. The Orioles
played the Cuban national team in Havana, winning 3-2. The two teams
played again at Baltimore's Camden Yards on May 3, 1999, with Cuba
The Orioles are among the teams interested in playing in Cuba in spring
training 2016, according to a baseball official.
Write to Brian Costa at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: MLB Likely to Play Exhibition Game in Cuba - WSJ -