Press "Enter" to search and "ESC" to close.

Team Cuba will look different at the 2023 World Baseball Classic

MLB players will now be able to represent Cuba for the first time at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Does this make them a contender?

The Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) announced on Saturday that the U.S. government has permitted it to invite MLB players to represent Team Cuba in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. This agreement between MLB and the FCB has been years in the making, and now that it’s finally coming together it may give Cuba one of the tournament’s strongest teams heading into March.

But even though this agreement only stands for the upcoming tournament, and even if it doesn’t yield top results for Team Cuba, this decision could have impactful long-term ramifications. If the relationship between MLB and the FCB continues to advance, the WBC, MLB, and Cuban baseball are going to look a lot different very soon.

Cuba and MLB have been trying to compromise for years

In an attempt to curb player trafficking and bring more Cuban talent to the Majors, the FCB and MLB have been negotiating for nearly a decade on terms that would allow Cuban players to play in MLB while retaining their citizenship, allowing them to represent Cuba on the international stage. But federal laws prohibiting Cuban citizens from working in the United States have sabotaged these negotiations, keeping a status quo where Cuban players need to defect to play on the biggest stage.

That was set to change in March of 2016 when the Obama administration announced a plan to allow for Cuban citizens to work stateside days before the Tampa Bay Rays visited Havana to face the Cuban national team in an exhibition game. That plan froze entirely when Obama left office less than a year later and was killed entirely by the Trump Administration in 2019.

But MLB and the FCB have stayed ready, and with this one-time agreement, it looks like the United States has finally got on board. It’s not quite the full exchange both MLB and the FCB were looking for, but now that Cuban players will be allowed to represent Cuba at the WBC it may be the start of an agreement that allows for a smoother exchange of talent between the two countries.

This is great news for MLB, which has been trying for years to end a horrific system of human trafficking that brings players to the United States. This is also great news for Cuba, who can once again demonstrate the top-tier talent they have been developing on the island for the last few decades. And for baseball fans, this couldn’t have come at a better time. With all the top Cuban talent in MLB right now, could Cuba potentially join the likes of the United States, Japan, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic as favorites to win it all?

A fantasy Cuban team would be stacked

There’s arguably never been more Cuban talent on MLB rosters than there is right now. A fully-loaded Team Cuba would feature several MVP candidates and All-Stars at every position. While they may not be the betting favorites, they would easily be one of the five or six best teams in the tournament. And if they embrace not just Cuban-born players but also American players of Cuban descent, watch out. Just look at this:


  • José Abreu
  • Yuli Gurriel
  • Yoan Moncada
  • Nolan Arenado
  • Eric Hosmer
  • Yandy Díaz


  • Luis Robert
  • Yordán Álvarez
  • Jorge Soler
  • Randy Arozarena
  • Lourdes Gurriel
  • Leonys Martin


  • Yasmani Grandal
  • Ariel Martinez

The team’s only weak spot would be on the mound, and even then they would feature All-Stars in Nestor Cortes and Aroldis Chapman at both ends of the game. But even with a less-than-stellar pitching staff, a lineup that features Abreu, Álvarez, Soler, Arenado, and Robert can simply outslug any team you put in front of them. It would easily be the greatest collection of Cuban talent ever, and certainly good enough to win the entire thing.

The only trouble is this roster, while enticing, is not very likely to materialize. Because while this decision has huge long-term ramifications, we aren’t likely to see many significant changes to Team Cuba in the immediate future.

Many Cuban players refuse to represent Cuba

In anticipation of this announcement, the FCB invited Cuban MLB players to represent Team Cuba back in November. White Sox stars Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert both accepted the invitations, but the FCB got a lot more rejections than acceptances, even from players who have represented Cuba before like Abreu and Gurriel.

It’s not surprising that a lot of Cuban players haven’t jumped at the opportunity. For one, the WBC is a notoriously poorly organized event, as they haven’t released their rules yet for rostering players (leaving many countries frustrated at the slow pace). For another, there was no clear indication until this past weekend that the American government would even allow this to happen.

But the biggest reason is that most Cuban players simply don’t want to represent Cuba in an official capacity. Cortes, easily the best Cuban pitcher in the world, is instead playing for Team USA. Arozarena has opted to play for his adopted home Mexico instead of Cuba, as that is where his professional career began and where his daughter was born. Players like Arenado and Hosmer will likely never play for Cuba despite American-born players like Manny Machado representing other Latin American countries throughout the tournament.

Even if Moncada and Robert plus a few others end up on the roster, Cuba will still not come close to the top contenders talent-wise. But if this experiment works well for both parties, then Cuban baseball might be a force that no one is ready for. And in 2027, the WBC trophy just might find a new home in Havana.