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The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has come to Major League Baseball. After consulting with the Obama administration, the league has told teams that they no longer need permission from the Treasury Department before signing Cuban players. The League says Cuban players will be required to sign statements certifying that they don't plan to return to Cuba. The new rules appear to clear the way for baseball's hottest Cuban prospect, 19-year-old Yoan Moncada. But NPR's Greg Allen reports there may be a hitch.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Yoan Moncada is the latest in a long line of talented Cuban players who've excited Major League Baseball scouts here. He's a switch hitter with speed, batting .375 with the Cuban national team in a 2013 tournament. He's now a free agent waiting for permission to sign with a U.S. team for a contract that's expected to be in the tens of millions.
YOAN MONCADA: (Speaking Spanish).
ALLEN: In November, Moncada worked out in Guatemala for dozens of scouts for Major League teams. The Yankees, the Dodgers, the Red Sox - really, most teams are interested in him. David Hastings is his agent.
DAVID HASTINGS: We've had workouts with a lot of the Major League teams so far.
ALLEN: Under U.S. law and rules of Major League Baseball, before signing, Moncada first sought approval from the Treasury Department. That approval was pending. But on Friday, Hastings says, Treasury officials told him that under new regulations adopted by the Obama administration, Cuban players no longer need to apply for government permission.
This week, Major League Baseball sent a memo out to teams saying they could make deals with Cuban players as long as the players signed affidavits. Players have to certify their permanent residence of a country other than Cuba and that they're not members of the Communist Party. They also have to certify they don't plan to return to Cuba and that they would not be welcome there. That's the part that's problematic for Moncada. Joe Kehoskie is a former baseball agent.
JOE KEHOSKIE: He's, as far as I'm aware, the first player who will be signing a Major League Baseball contract supposedly with the blessing of the Cuban government.
ALLEN: Because of the amount of fraud, even human trafficking that's gone on around Cuban players smuggled off the island in the past, Kehoskie says Major League Baseball is just trying to protect itself. The rules changes will now make it easier for many Cuban players to sign with teams. But Hastings says for his client, they may be a roadblock.
HASTINGS: I've got to get that cleared up before he can sign with a team.
ALLEN: It's a problem, but given Moncada's talent and the desire of teams to sign him, it's one observers expect Major League Baseball should clear up soon. Greg Allen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.