Cuban athletes will be allowed to sign contracts with teams in foreign countries, according to a new policy announced Friday in the Communist government's official media.

Cuban high-level athletes "have the possibility of signing with other clubs abroad under the protection of the National Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Recreation, without being treated like merchandise."

Those individuals who choose to play abroad must return to the island for the most important annual competitions, according to Friday's reports, which did not identify which foreign countries could sign Cuban athletes.

This policy change was announced shortly after three baseball players were given the green light to compete in the Mexican league as long as they fulfill their commitments to their Cuban teams.

Under the new policy, Gen. Raul Castro's government also will increase pay for athletes, coaches and sports specialists "based on the socialist principle of each according to his ability and each according to his work."

Athletes' basic income will be structured into six categories.

Basic pay will vary from around $18 a month for second-string baseball players to roughly $60 a month for Olympic medalists.

In addition to those base salaries, athletes also could receive bonuses for outstanding results in competitions.

In another change, prize money won in international competitions will be paid out entirely to athletes, coaches and specialists involved in those events. A total of 80 percent will go to the athletes and 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively, to the coaches and specialists.

Several high-profile Cuban athletes have defected in recent years, including baseball stars Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman, who currently star for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds, respectively. EFE