Once the CBA deal is reached, visa issues lurk

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If a new collective bargaining agreement goes through this week, next week there’s going to be an insane frenzy of free agent signings, the start of MLB spring training, and the organization of 1,000 details in a short amount of time.

But for a number of international free agents, it’s time to hurry and wait.

MLB players who do not have a permanent resident card (commonly known as a green card) must have a visa to play in the United States. You can’t apply for a visa until you have proof of employment – so free agent players can’t apply for a visa until they sign a new contract.

And this is where it gets difficult.

Processing these visa applications at US consulates in Central and South America currently takes about three weeks, according to several front office officials. Even if MLB ends with a four-week spring training session as expected, a free agent who signs within the first few days after the lockdown ends can only come to camp for the end of spring training session if their visa process goes smoothly.

For established veterans with secure jobs, that’s a modest complication. For players who are on the fringes of a squad, that could be a lot more problematic – it’s hard to win a squad spot unless you attend most spring training sessions.

There is also a second edition for pitchers. Even with a well-established off-season pitching program, it will be difficult for pitchers to be fully stretched out and ready to play with such limited time in spring practice.

Pitchers with options (a rarity for pitchers in the free-agent market) could be sent to Triple-A to expand before being called back to the majors. But for pitchers with no options, there are no easy answers. They can’t be sent to the minors to get themselves into regular-season shape, and it’s difficult to get the innings required to get stretched out in regular-season games.

Historically, the MLB and MLBPA have expanded rosters to deal with these types of situations because it would allow a team to use a starting pitcher for very limited innings in its first few starts if it stretches or it one Team would use a reliever sparingly while they get back up to speed.

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