x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

There are more talented players still on the island. But their fate is now in the hands of the US, not Cuba anymore.

The LA Dodgers Cuban player Yasiel Puig. Thearon W Henderson / Getty Images
The LA Dodgers Cuban player Yasiel Puig. Thearon W Henderson / Getty Images

In a landmark policy change, Cuba has set up ground rules allowing its athletes to compete professionally in foreign countries.

That news conjures up images of ballplayers flowing easily to Major League Baseball, in the footsteps of such fresh Cuban stars as Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes.

Not so fast, fellas.

There will have to be landmark policy changes in the United States, as well.

The new Cuban laws are aimed at stemming the tide of defections, which have plagued national teams for years.

Athletes will still be required to play for Cuba in international competitions, and their pay-cheques will be funnelled through the government.

Here is where it gets sticky for MLB. American embargoes, in place for five decades, prohibit financial transactions with Cuba and their residents.

That is why ballplayers who have defected have been required to establish residency in other countries first, before they can play for MLB teams.

The journey from Cuba to the United States has always been treacherous, with defectors risking their and their family’s safety. Still, the lure of big money is strong. Twenty-one Cubans played in MLB this season, the highest number since the 1960s, when Fidel Castro closed the emigration door.

No doubt, there are more talented players still on the island. But their fate is now in the hands of the US, not Cuba anymore.