Cuban Defectors Remain In Limbo

MIAMI’"Although Cuban defectors Alay Soler and Kendry Morales already
have received their signing bonuses from the Mets and Angels,
respectively, neither organization is certain when they’™ll see what
they paid for because both players were stranded in the Dominican
Republic with immigration problems.

Morales, who defected to Miami last June then moved on to Santo
Domingo in the fall in order to become a free agent, needs to become a
Dominican citizen before he can apply for a passport and a visa, a
process that normally takes about two years. And after months of
bureaucratic delays the Angels, who have been working with Dominican
government officials and the player’™s agent, say they finally are
making progress on that front.

According to Angels farm director Tony Reagins, the 21-year-old
switch-hitter took a citizenship oath in mid-April. Agent David Valdes
then flew down from Miami to help take care of the remaining
passport/visa process, which could take anywhere from a few days to
several months.

“It’™s progress, but we’™ve been hearing encouraging things for three
months and he’™s still not here,” Angels general manager Bill Stoneman
told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. “We’™re in the mode of when he gets
here, he gets here. We can’™t predict anything.”

Morales was considered by many to be the best position player to
defect since Fidel Castro came to power. The Angels signed him to an
incentive-laden six-year deal on Dec. 1.

The Mets are less optimistic about Soler, who signed a three-year,
$2.8 million contract on Sept. 1. A squabble with agent Joe Cubas,
which led to Cubas’™ suspension by the MLB Players Association after the
Miami-based agent seized some of Soler’™s immigration documents, has
left the 25-year-old righthander in limbo, and the Mets aren’™t even
willing to guess when they might see him.

Working in the Mets favor, however, is the fact that Rafael Perez
recently joined the team as its director of international scouting. As
Major League Baseball’™s point person in the Dominican for three years,
Perez became a master at negotiating the sometimes Byzantine ways of
the island’™s political institutions.

A recent accord between the Dominican Republic and Cuba’™s sports
ministries could be complicating matters for both teams. The agreement
calls for Cuba to send coaches and trainers to the Dominican as part of
a sports-exchange program, and the fledgling administration of
Dominican president Leonel Fernandez is unlikely to do anything to
anger Havana now.