HAVANA (Reuters) - Two brothers from Cuba’s preeminent baseball family have abandoned a Cuban team traveling in the Dominican Republic, presumably to defect and later seek professional careers in the United States, official Cuban media reported on Monday.
Yulieski Gurriel, 31, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 22, left the hotel where a Cuban team had been staying “in full attitude of surrender to the merchants of for-profit professional baseball,” the report said.
There were a record 150 baseball defections in Cuba last year, according to Cuban journalist Francys Romero, but the Gurriel brothers would be an exceptional loss because of their fame and because Yulieski had always been seen as a loyal player who had shunned potential riches in the United States.
The Gurriels had just concluded playing in the Caribbean Series featuring championship teams from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Those clubs are reinforced with other players from their respective leagues.
The Gurriels normally play for the Havana Industriales along with a third brother, Yunieski, but represented Ciego de Avila as reinforcements in the Caribbean Series.
They are among the best-known players in Cuba and their father, Lourdes Gurriel Sr., was also a star player.
Yulieski Gurriel, a third baseman, was dominating the Cuban league this season with a .500 batting average, .599 on-base percentage and .874 slugging percentage. But his relatively advanced age as he nears 32 could limit his value to a Major League franchise.
Outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., at just 22, could be a coveted prospect. He was hitting .344/.407/.560 for the Industriales.
Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation lack an agreement on player transfers because of the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba. This leads Cubans with big-league dreams to defect.
MLB has applied for special permission from the U.S. government to allow teams to sign players in Cuba and is awaiting a response. Approval would permit MLB to negotiate a player-transfer agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation.
Peter Bjarkman, an expert on Cuban baseball and author of the upcoming book “Cuba’s Baseball Defectors,” said the Gurriel defections indicate Cuba is unprepared to reach a deal with MLB.
“If there were any hopes of one, the Gurriel family would have been the first to know and the brothers would have waited. This would indicate to me that the Cubans are not yet ready to work any accord with MLB and the defections will continue,” Bjarkman said.
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Bernadette Baum