Baseball is almost back, as pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month. There are really only two off-season events most fans are tracking as the calendar nears mid-February. Former Royals ace James Shields has yet to sign anywhere, but his destination will almost certainly be answered before long. The other matter, however, concerns 19-year-old Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada.
More fans are beginning to learn about Moncada, a young player so talented that some scouts have said he would be at least a Top 5 pick if he was eligible for the MLB Draft. More importantly, a number of high-profile teams have been linked to Moncada throughout the off-season, including the Yankees, who recently held a workout for the infield prospect. Moncada won't be cheap, but if the Yankees do sign him, he would instantly become the best prospect in their system. Regardless of where Moncada's ultimate position on defense is (he's a shortstop now but there are questions about whether or not he could stick there), there is little doubt that he would make the minor league team to which he is assigned a must-watch.
The problem is that Moncada is not presently allowed to sign with any major league teams. If he is not cleared before June 15th, then the Yankees will not be allowed to sign Moncada since they spent way over their allotted cap on international prospects last summer. For awhile now, it has seemed that the barrier between MLB teams and Moncada was the federal government, more specifically the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). This morning though, it was reported by Ben Badler of Baseball America that the organization blocking Moncada isn't OFAC, but MLB itself:
The holdup is that MLB won’t let Moncada—or any Cuban player, for that matter—use the general license any more. That wasn’t always the case. Yasiel Puig, for example, signed using the general license. It’s not clear what exactly changed, but at some point in 2012 after Puig signed in June that year, MLB no longer allowed Cuban players to sign using the general license and instead required them to apply for the specific license, which is a written document from OFAC. That goes beyond what the government requires from Cuban players to be able to begin their careers, and with some players waiting six months to receive their licenses, MLB’s policy has added a significant bottleneck for those players.
MLB has made it more complicated than it was before for Cubans to sign with MLB teams. Badler noted that Moncada was not alone in limbo--fellow prospects Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez are among other players who have yet to be cleared. Isn't that wonderful? Talented players have, in several cases, risked their lives and their family's wellbeing just for the chance to sign with an MLB team and some bureaucratic bullshit is preventing them for attaining that goal at the moment.
Badler speculated that MLB's extra security measures are likely to help them avoid problems with false documentation. Questions of age have been present in the past for international players, such as when former Yankees prospect Rafael de Paula was suspended for a year when it was revealed that he had lied about his age. Nonetheless, it seems strange for MLB to add these further clearances when they have already met the OFAC and government standards.
As of now, we can only hope that MLB and new commissioner Rob Manfred get their affairs in order and allow these awesome players to begin their journeys to Major League Baseball as soon as possible. It would be absurd and pretty damn unfair to the players and teams if, for some reason, they remain uncleared past the June 15th deadline. I don't think it will happen, but for all we know, it's still well within the realm of possibility. It's just an annoyance that this process has to be dragged out for so long considering how many months these Cubans have been in the news trying to get signed.
Get it done, Manfred.