For years Cuban baseball players who wanted to leave their country for a chance to make it in Major League Baseball had to take a massive risk. The passage to America was dangerous in itself.
Their families back home could be the subject of retaliation. Often times smugglers have engaged in human trafficking to get Cuban players to the United States.
The practice drew the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, who launched an investigation that now involved several individual big league teams including the San Diego Padres.
According to a Washington Post report the Justice Department has sent subpoenas to the Padres, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves asking for documents pertaining to the scouting and signing of Latin American players. The Washington Nationals have reportedly already turned over similar records.
Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler and General Partner Peter Seidler provided a statement on the investigation to NBC 7 SportsWrap:
“We are proud of the work done by our baseball operations team and international scouting department over the past five years. Our optimism for the future of the franchise stems from the commitment and efforts of our scouting and player development groups.
“Along with several other clubs, the Padres have been contacted by the Department of Justice. We have been informed that their focus is not on any individual front office or staff member, and we will respond fully to their inquiry. Due to their ongoing investigation, we cannot comment further at this time.”
The investigation is currently focused on the smuggling groups who have ferried multiple Cuban players to the U.S., often taking large portions of those players' signing bonuses, and not on any wrongdoing by the individual MLB clubs. As part of their 2016 signing blitz on the international market the Padres added six Cuban players, including MLB Top-100 prospects Adrian Morejon and Michel Baez.
A possible solution to the trafficking dilemma seemed to be in place after an Obama-era decision that said the Cuban government does not run the country's professional baseball leagues, effectively circumventing the longtime U.S. embargo against Cuba and allowing baseball players to negotiate directly with MLB teams.
In April the Trump administration blocked that agreement, saying the Cuban Baseball Federation was indeed a government-run entity.