HAVANA -- The Cuban Baseball Federation released its first group of players able to sign contracts directly with Major League Baseball organizations, and some could be playing in the United States this year.
The 34 players, ranging in age from 17 to 25, are classified as international amateurs under MLB rules and eligible to sign minor league contracts. Minor league salaries start at $850 a month, but signing bonuses for top players can exceed $1 million while hundreds of players sign for $10,000 or less.
The deal announced in December by MLB, the CBF and the Major League Baseball Players Association specifies 25 percent of the signing bonus will go to the CBF as a release fee. Cuban players also pay a 4 percent income tax on foreign earnings.
No likely stars were apparent on the list, but more notable players included 22-year-old Raidel Martinez Perez and 23-year-old Livan Moinelo Pita, who have played professionally in Japan; 17-year-old infielder Loidel Chapelli Zulueta; and 18-year-old pitcher Norge Carlos Vera Aldana.
The agreement, which runs through Oct. 31, 2021, allows Cubans to sign under rules similar to those for players under contract to clubs in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Only players under contract to the Cuban federation are covered by the agreement, and the Cuban federation agreed to release all players 25 and older with at least six years of professional experience. They would be classified as international professionals under MLB's labor contract with the players' association and not subject to international amateur signing bonus pools.
The Cuban federation may at its discretion release younger players to sign minor league contracts with MLB organizations, as it did Tuesday.
"We're doing this in the spirit of moving forward the implementation of the deal, with the goal of developing the potential of Cuban and international baseball, and, above all, fighting human trafficking," the Cuban Baseball Federation said in a statement.
A former Cuban federation player under contract to an MLB club may return to Cuba during the offseason. He can play in Cuba during the offseason only with his MLB club's consent.
Without a formal path from Cuba to the major leagues, hundreds of top players have left the island for good, many making harrowing crossings on rafts and rickety boats in the years before Cuba abandoned an exit permit requirement for most of its citizens.
The agreement comes despite rising tensions between Cuba and the Trump administration, which is accusing Havana of providing military and intelligence support to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom Washington does not recognize. Negotiations for the Cuba-MLB agreement date back to former U.S. President Barack Obama's detente with Cuba, and opponents of the Cuban government, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, have pledged to try to overturn it.