MLB acknowledges progress in process for Yoan Moncada to reach free agency

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Jeff Passan
·MLB columnist
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Major League Baseball reminded teams Saturday to hold off on signing Cuban players, indicating it could receive “guidance by early next week” from the Office of Foreign Assets Control that should make star prospect Yoan Moncada and others free agents, according to a memo obtained by Yahoo Sports.

Yoan Moncada (MLB.com)
Yoan Moncada (MLB.com)

Recent changes in United States policy regarding Cuba include OFAC’s plan to no longer give specific unblocking licenses to Cuban nationals who qualify for a general unblocking license by establishing permanent residency in a third country. MLB policy requires a specific license, leaving Moncada and two other second basemen, Andy Ibanez and Hector Olivera, in similar limbo.

OFAC on Friday sent a letter to Moncada’s representatives indicating it would not grant specific licenses to those who qualify for general licenses – which Moncada should on account of the permanent residency he claims in Guatemala. That puts the onus on MLB to verify his residency and documents, and until the league does, Moncada, Ibanez and Olivera remain in an awkward place: deemed legal to work by the U.S. government but not legal by the sport that eventually will employ them.

Baseball is seeking clarification from OFAC and other governmental offices to ensure it is protected in case Cuban players in the future use forged documents, achieve residency through illegal means or somehow run afoul of the law, which the league worries would expose it to prosecution under the Trading With the Enemies Act, according to league sources.

In the memo sent to all teams, MLB vice president Kim Ng wrote: “We are aware that Cuban players have begun receiving responses from OFAC regarding unblocking applications under the January 2015 regulations. We are attempting to learn more about the new regulation from OFAC, and hope to receive guidance by early next week. Because of the regulatory uncertainty we now face, do not enter into agreements with Cuban players until you receive further notice from the Commissioner’s Office.”

Moncada, 19, is expected to shatter signing bonus records, even with the winning team paying a dollar-for-dollar penalty for exceeding its international bonus pool that could take the total outlay north of $80 million. Ibanez, 21, likewise would force teams to incur a penalty because he is less than 23 years old. The 30-year-old Olivera, like so many of the Cubans who now star in MLB, will sign a major league contract that comes without penalty.

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