ABOVE: Yulieski Gurriel
It’s cold outside. It’s been snowing. So it’s time, of course, to dream of spring training and the boys of summer. Let’s talk baseball. And OFAC. Batter up!
Wait, haven’t we said this before? Indeed we have, just about the same time last year, when the MLB and OFAC were in a struggle, principally centered around Yoan Moncado, as to whether MLB would sign unblocked Cuban baseball players only with a specific license even though OFAC said that its general license in section 515.505 of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations was enough and that it wouldn’t issue a specific license for Cuban players. (The MLB blinked and now allows signing based on the general license.)
Early last Monday morning, Yulieski Gurriel and his brother Lourdes Jr., who were playing for Cuba in the Caribbean Series in the Dominican Republic disappeared from their hotel and later announced their intention to take part in the U.S. national pastime. Yulieski is one of the top players in Cuba and Lourdes Jr. is a well-ranked prospect as well. To be eligible for the general license, the brothers must establish residency outside Cuba. It then takes MLB a few more months to convince themselves that residency outside Cuba has been established. So don’t expect to see either of them (Yulieski in the majors and Lourdes Jr. in the minors) on opening day.
Of course, given the liberalization of the Cuban embargo, the question remains as to why the brothers have to cool their heels for 6-12 months before they can play ball. The latest round of liberalization lets people travel from the U.S. to Cuba for baseball and other “athletic competitions.” It would only make sense to even up the traffic in the other direction and let the Gurriels and others play baseball here before being unblocked. Even the perpetual Cuba blockade boosters club in Congress could hardly complain because such a rule would suck baseball talent out of Cuba and, far from propping up the current Cuban regime, might do more to bring it down than 50 years of economic sanctions.
For some bonus fun, here’s what Cuba had to say about the defection:
In the early morning on Monday two players abandoned the hotel where the Cuban baseball team attending the 58th Caribbean Series Baseball in the Dominican Republic was staying. Yulieski Gourriel and Lourdes Gourriel Castillo, in a blatant attitude of surrender, were taken in by the merchants of professional baseball. The event was immediately rejected by the other members of the Cuban team, who issued a statement.
Uh huh. Sure they did.