Once CBA Deal Is Reached, Visa Issues Lurk
If a new collective bargaining agreement deal is reached this week, next week will be a furious frenzy of free agent signings, beginning MLB spring training and getting 1,000 details organized in a short period of time.
But for a number of international free agents, it will be time to hurry up and wait.
MLB players who do not have a permanent resident card (known largely as a green card) have to have a visa to play in the United States. You cannot apply for a visa until you have proof of employment—so free agent players can’t apply for a visa until they have a signed a new deal.
And this is where this will get tricky.
Those visa applications at US consulates around Central and South America are taking roughly three weeks to process right now according to multiple front office officials. So even if MLB ends up with a four-week spring training as expected, a free agent who signs within the first few days after the lockout ends will still be only able to get to camp for the tail end of spring training if their visa process goes smoothly.
For established veterans assured jobs, that’s a modest complication. For players who are on the fringes of a roster, that could be much more problematic—it’s hard to win a roster spot when you aren’t at the majority of spring training.
There’s also a second issue for pitchers. Even with a well-constructed offseason throwing program, it will be hard for pitchers to be fully stretched out and game-ready with such a limited time in spring training.
Pitchers with options (a rarity for pitchers on the free agent market) could be sent to Triple-A to get stretched out before being recalled to the majors. But for pitchers without options, there are no easy answers. They can’t be sent to the minors to work into regular season shape and it’s hard to get the innings necessary to get stretched out in regular season games.
In the past, MLB and the MLBPA have expanded rosters to deal with these type of situations, as that would allow a team to use a starting pitcher for very limited innings in their first few starts as they get stretched out, or allow a team to use a reliever sparingly while they get back to full speed.