After weeks of waiting for clearance, star Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada became a free agent on Tuesday with the potential to earn a $40 million signing bonus from Major League teams. The 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder has the Obama administration partially to thank for his relatively quick freedom to join the big leagues.
Two months ago, Obama ordered a dramatic easing of restrictions towards America’s neighbor and longtime adversary. Last week, Moncada’s agent received a letter from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control saying that the government considered Moncada cleared to play and didn’t require an additional “unblocking” license, which had previously been necessary for Cuban nationals wanting to sign in the United States.
The meaning of the guidelines, which were amended last month as part of Obama’s normalization plan, had previously not been confirmed by Major League Baseball, which is why Moncada’s ability to join free agency continued to be delayed. But after league officials met with OFAC to confirm that specific licenses for individual players would no longer be required, the league said it would now simply require players to sign a sworn statement declaring their compliance with the amended Cuban Assets Control Regulations.
According to ESPN, the statement would need to read as follows: “I have taken up permanent residence outside of Cuba. In addition, I hereby state that I do not intend to, nor would I be welcome to, return to Cuba. Further, I hereby state that I am not a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba … and am not a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party.”
Translated to English, it sounds like all Cuban players will now have to do to sign with MLB clubs is get off of the island and take up residency in another country.
For Moncada this departure apparently wasn’t that hard. As Slate’s Joshua Keating noted in December, this hasn’t always been the case for Cuban players. Moncada officially moved to Guatemala in October, and reportedly was the first high-level prospect to be allowed to leave the country on his Cuban passport. Previous would-be stars were kept under tight supervision by the Communist regime. The ones who made it out of Cuba, including such recent stars as Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, often had to come up with dangerous and elaborate escapes.
Moncada, who has already undergone workouts with several teams and says he hopes to sign soon, was just the splashiest of the newly freed free agents. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, who broke the news about Moncada and the rule change, also reported that second basemen Andy Ibanez and Hector Olivera should be cleared to sign as well.
Additionally, two more players from the Cuban national team have just defected, USA Today reported on Wednesday. Their road to joining Moncada in the Major Leagues, and that of many other Cuban prospects, looks like it just got a lot smoother.