Like a catcher guarding home plate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio this week decried a recent agreement between Major League Baseball, its players union and the Cuban Baseball Federation that's intended to make it easier for Cuban players to play in the big leagues without having to defect.
In a series of tweets Thursday, the Florida Republican slammed the deal as "a farce," and said he would try to stop it.
Rubio questioned the legality of the agreement – which was announced Dec. 19 -- and questioned whether Cuba's baseball federation is truly independent of the country's government, the Miami Herald reported.
“Legality of recent agreement between MLB & Cuban Baseball Federation rests on Obama era ruling that federation not controlled by Cuban govt. This is not just factually incorrect it is a farce & I am working to get it overruled as soon as possible,” he tweeted.
MLB officials said they had spoken with the Trump administration and there was no indication that the deal was not legal, according to the Herald. The Treasury Department in 2016, under the Obama administration, determined the FCB is not part of the Cuban government.
Former President Barack Obama visited Cuba in 2016, looking to launch a new relationship with the country that was led for decades by the late Fidel Castro. The visit, which drew criticism from U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle -- as well as from some of that year's presidential contenders, including Donald Trump -- included an Obama appearance at an exhibition baseball game in Havana between MLB's Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.
Rubio, a Cuban-American who was a staunch critic of the Castro regime until the former Cuban leader's death in November 2016, said MLB's deal would allow the Cuban government to impose a new tax on players' earnings.
“Under this agreement: - the Cuban Govt controlled Baseball Federation will get 20% of total value of each MLB contract signed by a Cuban player;” Rubio wrote. “The regime will impose a new income tax on the players earnings, even though the income is being earned by playing in the U.S.”
In a follow-up tweet, Rubio references a National Review article advocating for President Trump to put a halt to the deal.
The article was written by Elliott Abrams, who served in the administrations of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
"The deal rewards and perpetuates Cuba’s Communist-style system in which players are the property of the state, not free individuals who can sell their talents on the open market," Abrams writes.
"The [MLB] deal rewards and perpetuates Cuba’s Communist-style system in which players are the property of the state, not free individuals who can sell their talents on the open market."
MLB says its proposed three-year deal with Cuba is intended to curtail the often dangerous sea passage taken by defectors that are arranged by traffickers.
"Knowing that the next generation of Cuban baseball players will not endure the unimaginable fate of past Cuban players is the realization of an impossible dream for all of us," Chicago White Sox first baseman José Abreu said in an MLB statement. "Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player. To this date, I am still harassed."
The agreement would allow Cuban players to sign with North American teams under similar rules in place with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
“We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a news release announcing the deal.
Under the terms of the agreement, Cuban players 25 years or older with at least six years of professional experience in the country would be eligible for release from their Cuban Baseball Federation contract and could come to the U.S. as a free agent and sign with any team.
Younger amateur players could also be released by the FCB. The earliest professional players can sign contracts with MLB teams would be November 2019. Amateur players can do so beginning July 2, 2019.
Clubs who sign a Cuban player would pay a one-time release fee to the federation between 15 to 20 percent of the contract. The fee would be in addition to the contract, so if a player signs for $1 million, the money would go to the players and an additional $150,000 to $200,000 would be paid as the release fee, according to the Herald.
The agreement runs through Oct. 31, 2121.
Cuban players are currently barred from negotiating as free agents while in Cuba. Several have made big inroads in the majors after risking their lives to defect.
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Yasiel Puig became a breakout star with the Los Angeles Dodgers in recent years. He defected Cuba with help from smugglers.
Other players forced to defect to achieve MLB stardom include Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and his brother Livan Hernandez in the 1990s and Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes.