MLB Drops Mexican League Player Transfer Ban

photo: Ramon Urias (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

On Monday, Major League Baseball made an announcement which re-established its relationship with the Mexican League. As a result, it has implications to every MLB club, including the St. Louis Cardinals.

Major League Baseball press release

Major League Baseball (MLB) today (Monday, March 4) announced that the 30 Clubs have ratified a new, two-year player transfer agreement with the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB) – the first such agreement ever reached between MLB and the LMB. The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) has also approved the new agreement with the LMB. This agreement follows other recent protocol agreements between MLB and other baseball leagues around the world, including the NPB (Japan), KBO (Korea), CPBL (Taiwan), and FCB (Cuba).

Under the new agreement with the LMB, all players who are under contract to an LMB club will be eligible to sign with any MLB Club the off-season after the player qualifies as a “Foreign Professional” under MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the MLBPA (i.e., at least 25 years old and six or more years of professional baseball experience abroad). LMB clubs may also release players to sign with MLB Clubs before they reach Foreign Professional status. An MLB Club that signs a player who is released by his LMB club will owe the LMB club a one-time release fee of 15% of the total guaranteed value of the contract, if the release LMB player signs a Major League contract, or 35% of the signing bonus, if the released LMB player signs a Minor League contract.

Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said: “Major League Baseball is pleased to further solidify its longstanding relationship with the LMB with this agreement. Mexico is an important market for our game, as demonstrated by our three series in Monterrey in the months ahead. We look forward to the opportunities to develop more Major League players and baseball fans in the country.”

Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLBPA, said: “Mexican players past and present have looked forward to a time when there would be a fair and transparent path to pursue their dreams of playing Major League Baseball. This agreement provides for that.”

Brian Walton’s take

In recent years, the Cardinals have increased their scouting efforts in Mexico. In fact, this announcement should increase the flow of young Mexican players into all interested affiliated organizations in the US.

A further boost to the visibility of the Cardinals south of the border should follow the Major League team’s two-game series vs. the Cincinnati Reds in Monterrey on April 13-14.

Ramon Urias (Diablos Rojos de Mexico)

The most recent addition of a Mexican by the Cardinals is a player who has since earned a 40-man roster spot, Ramon Urias. The infielder became a Cardinal on January 4, 2018.

The now-24-year old had been playing in the Mexican League for five seasons, from 2013 through 2017. Prior to that, Urias participated in the Dominican Summer League in 2011 and 2012 while property of the Texas Rangers.

Though his transaction joining the Cardinals organization states he was signed as a minor league free agent, this is not entirely complete, nor was it how it was represented by his Mexican league club, Diablos Rojos. They announced the Cardinals acquired Urias’ rights from them. I believe that, as there would be no reason for Los Rojos to let a valuable asset simply walk away, especially coming off his best-ever season. In fact, Mexican League teams had owned their developed players in perpetuity.

While Urias is still too young to have qualified as a free agent under the new agreement, his transfer fee (the actual amount which is unknown) would have been governed by the above limits.

In June, Major League Baseball announced a ban of all future signings of Mexican League players. (Note: The date in the prior sentence was corrected from the initial posting.)

The reason cited was corruption and fraud. A core issue is the manipulative contracts players as young as 15 were forced to sign with Mexican League teams that gave clubs up to 75 percent of the bonus received when players were sold to an MLB organization.

Luis Urias (Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports)

Among the three offending teams specifically mentioned in the aforementioned report by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan is Diablos Rojos. Highlighted in the story is Ramon’s younger brother Luis, now a top prospect of San Diego whose rights were sold by the LMB club when he was 16 years old.

Regardless of how it occurred, Ramon Urias is a Cardinal, with a chance to be the most impactful acquisition from the Mexican League since Fernando Salas. It remains to be seen when the next will occur.

At the time of the 2018 ban, MLB expressed an intent to initiate in Mexico a posting system similar to what is used with Korea and Japan which separates the amount the former team receives from the contract the player gets from his new MLB team. However, the LMB resisted, leading to a multi-month standoff.

The new announcement is the apparent conclusion to the negotiations.

Overall, this is a good thing for young Mexican professionals who want to follow their dreams in the US, while fairly and consistently compensating their original LMB teams when warranted.


On a side point, two former Cardinals who departed as minor league free agents this past fall, infielder Alex Mejia and pitcher Edward Mujica, signed to play in the Mexican League in 2019. Mejia is with Monclova while Mujica hooked up with Yucatan.

Because both had earned free agency prior, they will not be affected by the new announcement unless they return to affiliated ball during their LMB contract period – but many others should benefit.

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