Cuban baseball player Ivan Prieto Gonzalez defected in Miami after Cuba’s 14-2 loss to the United States in a World Baseball Classic semifinal at loanDepot park. Gonzalez served as Cuba’s bullpen catcher for the tournament.
It’s unclear if Gonzalez, 26, will attempt to pursue a professional baseball career in the United States, but if he does, he has an avenue to do so and his defection has essentially no impact on it.
Gonzalez played eight seasons in Cuba’s top professional league, the Cuban National Series (Serie Nacional). Any player who is at least 25 years old and played in at least six seasons in Serie Nacional is considered a professional rather than an amateur.
As such, those players are able to sign MLB or minor-league deals with any team for any amount, just like any other free agent. Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) have similar situations, with players who accrue nine years of service time in either of those leagues becoming free agents who can sign without being subjected to the Korean or Japan posting systems.
It’s a different path from the route for amateur international players to make their way to MLB.
According to MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, players eligible for international free agency need to fit the following criteria:
▪ They must reside outside of the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico and have not been enrolled in high school in any of those locations within the past calendar year.
▪ They must be at least 16 years of age or will turn 16 years of age prior to Sept. 1 of the current signing period.
Any player meeting that criteria becomes eligible to sign a minor-league contract with an MLB organization. Each team is given an allotted pool of money for signing bonuses for their international free agent class, although players who sign for a total bonus of $10,000 or less do not count against the team’s allotted bonus pool.