Two Cuban baseball players in Puerto Rico defected in the middle of the Caribbean Series tournament, reports Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY Sports.
Pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez, 19, and shortstop Dainer Moreira, 30, left the Cuban team on Tuesday night after the team returned to its hotel following its second loss of the tournament.
Heriberto Suarez, Cuba's national director of baseball, confirmed the departures.
"We are very disappointed," he said. "But this will serve as a platform for us to carry on stronger and more unified. We will continue giving our best and will return to Cuba together."
Several star Cuban players have left their teams for Major League baseball in recent years, including Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu and Aroldis Chapman. Neither Moreira nor Gutierrez is considered All-Star quality, according to USA TODAY Sports. It is also reportedly unclear if they were acting together.
Moreira went 2-for-4 in Tuesday's loss to the Dominican Republic, while Gutierrez did not play. The loss dropped Cuba to 0-2 in the tournament.
The process for international players to become eligible to play in MLB has become easier this year following changes in U.S. foreign policy that eliminated the need for specific unblocking licenses, as long as the international players can prove residency in a third country. Star Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada became a MLB free agent earlier this week through the same process. Moncada, who will turn 20 in May, defected from Cuba for Guatemala in August. His free agency could command a deal that exceeds MLB bonus records.
If Gutierrez and Moreira remain in Puerto Rico, they would be subject to MLB's amateur draft. If they can establish residence in a third country outside the U.S. or Puerto Rico, they would become free agents like Moncada.
"That decision is a betrayal to the revolution, to their family, to their homeland. It's an exchange of shame for money," Jorge Polo, vice president of Cuba's National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, said in a statement published by Cuba's state media, according to the Associated Press.
- Mike Fiammetta