- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida House is telling Major League Baseball that it must change the way it treats Cuban players or its teams in the state won’t be eligible for state money.

The House voted on Thursday to add the provision to a bill that sets aside $12 million in incentives for professional sports franchises seeking money for stadium construction or renovations.

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.

The amendment sponsored by Reps. Matt Gaetz and Jose Felix Diaz would require Major League Baseball to change its rules so Cuban players are subject to the same rules as players from other countries.

“If baseball continues to turn a blind eye then they should not receive the generosity of Florida taxpayers,” said Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

The provision came in the wake of reports about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s dangerous escape from Cuba, details of which were revealed recently in a lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, the journey entailed dealings with shady characters and said both Puig and a Cuban boxer were held hostage over unpaid smuggling debts. Puig, boxer Yunior Despaigne and their families have continued to receive death threats, while 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.

Both Gaetz and Diaz said that Major League Baseball’s current policy regarding Cuban players was encouraging human trafficking and smuggling.

Florida has two Major League Baseball teams, although pro teams also come to the state for spring training. The Miami Marlins has already moved into a new stadium, but the Tampa Bay Rays are currently expressing interest in moving to a new stadium.

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