MLB bans playing in Venezuela; U.S. embargo could threaten flow of talent from that country

Sporting News

MLB has banned players from participating in the popular Venezuelan winter league this offseason, complying with a U.S. embargo of the strife-torn country.

While the immediate impact of the ban means players with Venezuelan ties and others will have to scramble to find an offseason league, the embargo could ultimately threaten the flow of Venezuelan talent to the majors. According to ESPN, 95 players born in Venezuela have played in the majors this season, including future hall of famer Miguel Cabrera, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Aug. 5 tightening sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government. Maduro assumed the presidency in 2013, but the once-prosperous country has descended into chaos during his reign and he's been accused of human rights abuses that has included the executions of thousands and led to millions fleeing the country. Trump's administration backs opposition candidate Juan Guaidó for the presidency.

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According to ESPN, MLB officials carefully parsed the economic embargo guidelines to see if they covered players participating in the Venezuelan baseball league, and determined that the league's sponsorship by a state-run oil company posed a problem.

"MLB has been in contact with the relevant government agencies regarding the Executive Order issued by President Trump on Venezuela," the league said in a statement. "MLB will fully adhere to the policies implemented by our government. With respect to the Venezuela Winter League, MLB will suspend its involvement in that league until it receives direction from the relevant agencies that participation by affiliated players is consistent with the Executive Order."

MLB teams can still sign Venezuelan players, but ESPN reports it's possible Maduro could retaliate for the embargo by prohibiting teams from signing players. Many young baseball stars in the country have fled to the Dominican Republic in recent years as conditions in Venezuela have worsened.


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