- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Two Florida lawmakers motivated by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s dangerous escape from Cuba are trying to change the way Major League Baseball treats Cuban players and are willing to tie state money for stadiums to the issue.

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Matt Gaetz are filing an amendment to a stadium funding bill that would require the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays demand Major League Baseball change its Cuban player policy if they want state money for stadium construction or renovations.

“We are enlisting the Marlins and Rays in our fight against the human traffickers and smugglers,” said Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

Other foreign players can negotiate with all 30 baseball teams before signing a contract, but if Cuban players come directly to the United States, they are subject to the amateur draft, potentially costing them tens of millions of dollars. Teams aren’t allowed to negotiate with Cuban players if they remain in Cuba.

That leads to a situation’s like Puig’s. Instead of coming straight to the United States, Puig and other players have established residency in other countries first to protect their free agent status.

Details of Puig’s escape from Cuba were revealed recently in a lawsuit that described a dangerous journey, dealings with shady characters and Puig and a Cuban boxer being held hostage over unpaid smuggling debts. Puig, boxer Yunior Despaigne and their families have continued to receive death threats and one of the men who smuggled them out of Cuba was shot dead in Mexico, according to a story first reported in Los Angeles Magazine.

“They cannot continue to ignore the reality of their poorly crafted rules,” said Diaz, R-Miami. “This bill really is about equity. Cubans should not be treated differently than any other Caribbean, South American or Central American players.”

The lawmakers hope to attach their language to a bill waiting for a House vote that creates a pool of state funds for professional stadium renovations and construction. The amendment would also require the Florida teams demand Major League Baseball report any information they have on Floridians involved in human trafficking or smuggling of Cuban players to the state attorney general.

“It’s pretty clear that the unintended consequence of Major League Baseball’s draft rules - it has empowered cartels and human smugglers and Florida is right in the middle of it,” said Gaetz.


Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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