Just picture it: it’s the top of the ninth inning and the Toronto Blue Jays are holding a slim 2-1 lead over the New York Yankees. Up to bat is Derek Jeter with Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez on deck. Cito Gaston, in order to shut the door on the game and the series gets on the phone and brings in the big gun, Pedro Luis Lazo, winner of two Olympic Gold medals with Cuba and current closer of the Blue Jays. And even if he gives up a run its okay, because leading off the bottom of the ninth for the Jays is Alexei Bell, who hit 30 HR with 100 RBI with Santiago del Cuba last year.
Sound impossible? Maybe not.
MLB teams, through the United States trade embargo with Cuba, are not allowed to import Cuban citizens onto their teams unless the players manage to escape the country and claim refugee status. While this has prevented such players as Jose Contreras from playing in their prime and currently prevents players like hitting whiz Bell from ever stepping foot on Fenway Park dirt.
While this provision halts team such as the Yankees from building a catapult on the broken down fields of Havana straight to AAA Scranton, what about the playing-baseball-in-Canada Blue Jays?
In a recent series with the Jays, Cuban-born White Sox second basemen Alexei Ramirez wasn’t allowed to leave the country for Visa reasons (for fear that he would leave his life as a MLBer and escape to Canada) and the White Sox put him on the inactive list so that he could rejoin the team once his team finished playing across the border. As long as he breaks no laws, he is allowed to remain on the team. Couldn’t the Jays then do the exact same thing with any Cuban born players?
What if the Jays, through the welcome-in-Cuba airline Air Canada, were to send a delegation to a local ball field and pick up every player that walks by with a baseball glove and bring them straight to Canada to begin the immigration process? Put out a notice for every player that wants a chance to play in the big league and sign them up. At the very least, set up a school/prospect camp in the area. For a chance like this a signing bonus might not even be required! Have them train in Canadian facilities while earning their new citizenship and let them play in games that are played in Toronto. When a home stand is over, place them on the inactive list and wait until the big club comes home again. I don’t think Amnesty International would mind. The Cuban players would also retain their ability to play for their national team at the Olympics and Pan Am games, a win-win for club and country.
The other route is to have them play on an independent league team in Canada (Calgary Cannons anyone?) and simply wait till they are naturalized citizens and let them join the team on a full time basis. After all, the average time in which a drafted player reaches the show is over four years anyway, so we might not even notice a difference.
While this may sound strange, is it any worse than having a 3 headed monster at DH composed of Kevin Mench, Brad Wilkerson and Matt Stairs? Think of it as a platoon situation. Have one or two pitchers act as the 4th and 5th starters and let them play only home games. When the series is over, put them back on the inactive list. That would give them an average of 17 starts per year and a chance to make a real impact on the season.
Why not? Are you telling me that the best pitcher in Cuba isn’t any better than current 5th starter and walk machine David Purcey? Where would Cuba’s national team ace rank with Scott Richmond or John Parrish? Even if a flown in player only spot started in emergency situations I have to believe that he would give the Jays a better chance than Brian Tallet does when he leads off the occasional a game. And no offence to the Jays organizational depth, but I have to believe that there is a second basemen who could do a better job at filling in at second than Hector Luna.
Imagine a top 50 prospect list littered with Blue Jays. A team that didn’t worry about losing AJ Burnett to free agency or whom to play at shortstop if David Eckstein and John Macdonald get hurt. Suddenly, every lauded prospect from across the Florida Keys becomes the next potential big thing to don the bluebird.