Cuba and the U.S. might be moving toward normalized relations, and this development will likely only speed up a trend that has been growing over the past decade: Cuban baseball players joining Major League Baseball.
Historically, Cuba has groomed some of the world’s best ballplayers and has consistently beat U.S. teams in international competition. But over the past decade, Cuba has experienced a drain in talent as its top players defect to the states for greener pastures and big paydays.
Normalized relations between the two countries would change all of this. Under one scenario, Cubans could enter the Majors in a similar fashion to players from Japan, who must follow established guidelines formed by MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball.
But in the meantime, top Cuban baseball players are receiving huge paydays for leaving their homeland. 19-year-old Yoan Moncada is the latest recipient of a huge payout to the tune of a $31.5 million signing bonus from the Boston Red Sox.
That’s right: A teenager who hasn’t stepped foot on a Major League diamond received a signing bonus worth more than what many big leaguers will make in their entire career.
The penalties the Red Sox had to pay to grab Moncada make this deal seem even more ludicrous. Because he’s under 23 and hasn’t played in Cuba’s professional league for at least five years, Moncada was subject to MLB’s international signing guidelines, in which each team is allotted a certain amount of cash to pull in talent from abroad.
If a team exceeds that amount, they’re subject to a 100-percent tax on their overage. The Red Sox had already exceeded their pool prior to signing Moncada, which means that Boston actually paid $63 million for the Cuban star.
Fangraphs also points out that he’ll receive the $31.5 million in a lump sum due to the fact that he was prohibited from signing a Major League deal, which prevents the Red Sox from spreading the cost of his bonus out over the course of his time in Boston, making the payout even more costly.
Theoretically, this makes Moncada worth more than some of his Cuban counterparts, like Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodges and Yoenis Cespedes, now with the Detroit Tigers, who have far more playing experience. The only other player who received a comparable signing bonus was fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman, who received $16.25 million from the Reds when he was 22.
Anyone who follows baseball player development knows that there’s a huge difference between 22 year olds and 19 year olds in terms of mental and physical ability, but Moncada might buck that trend.
He’s reported to have the maturity and physicality of a player far beyond his years. In fact, his talents — which include switch hitting and multiple infield positions — are so well developed that he could jump to the Majors almost immediately.
The way Moncada left Cuban baseball is also unprecedented, as MLB.com explains below:
Moncada was on Cuba’s preliminary roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. His story is unique. While many Cuban players are known to leave the island in late-night escapes or defect from the national team during an international tournament, the 6-foot, 210-pound Moncada was granted his release from the Cienfuegos team last year and was later cleared by Cuba’s National Baseball Commission. He was granted a visa and a passport by the Cuban government, and he left on an airplane to an unidentified Central American country last summer, where he trained for months before joining agent David Hastings in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area late last year.
To give readers some context I’ve listed some other top Cuban contracts in MLB, including Jose Abreu’s, Moncada’s former teammate on the Cienfuegos. The teams listed with each player are the organizations who signed them to their first MLB contract.
- Rusney Castillo (Red Sox, 2014): Seven years, $72.5 million
- Jose Abreu (White Sox, 2014): Six years, $68 million
- Yasiel Puig (Dodgers, 2012): Seven years, $42 million
- Yoenis Cespedes (A’s, 2012): Four years, $36 million
- Aroldis Chapman (Reds, 2010): Six years, $30 million