MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says his sport is “anxious” to move forward after the United States and Cuba formally reestablished diplomatic ties this week, but it’s not entirely clear what he and other MLB owners have in mind.
Realistically, there’s not a lot MLB can do. We can’t see anyone putting any sort of affiliated team in Cuba in any time soon when the average income there is $20 a month. Sure, there will be an exhibition game or two in Havana next year, but calls for an affiliated team playing out of, say, Gran Stadium, probably won’t be heeded. (Gran Stadium is one of the great old ballparks of Havana. Check out John Moist’s account of his Cuban baseball travels.)
Where you will see action on the MLB side will be on the player side, as it will be easier for players to enter affiliated ball, either from player academies or signed off Cuban-team rosters. There’s been a lot of talent developed in Cuba in recent years — the likes of Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Abreu all defected from Cuba — and MLB would like to foster that pipeline, as it has done in Latin America. From NJ.com:
“We love countries where baseball is a strong part of the culture, we’re very, very interested in Cuba,” Manfred said at the Beyond Sports United symposium at Prudential Center. “We have had ongoing dialogue with the Obama administration about developments in Cuba. Obviously we’re anxious to move forward on Cuba, but even more important than that, we want to move forward in a way that’s consistent with the policy of the federal government.”…
One of Manfred’s long-term priorities, however, is to ultimately establish formal avenues for Cuban baseball players who want to come to the United States and play for MLB teams.
“Over the long haul, we’d like to see a more regularized process for Cuban players to come to the United States and, if they want, return to Cuba,” Manfred said. “It’s really important to us to have the best athletes in the world playing Major League Baseball and we think a more regularized immigration process would help us in that regard.”