Over the past few years, I think a lot more people have become aware of how little minor-league players make. Part of it’s because more players have ways of getting their stories out. Part of it’s because Major League Baseball lobbied Congress to suppress the wages of the non-unionized players, which takes some of the romance out of the bus rides.
I include myself in that group, because Emily Waldon’s detailed breakdown of minor-league payments — or lack thereof — for The Athletic fleshed out the picture even more. It’s worth reading and sharing.
It’d be one thing if every prospect signed sizable six-figure bonuses that they were able to nurse into a sort of fixed income to supplement making $1,500 a month. But when some of those players get four-figure bonuses, then don’t get paid for an entire month of work (spring training), I understand the sentiment of the headline:
“You know what sucks? If I don’t do well this year, I can’t afford to play anymore and I’m done,” an AL High-A player said. “I can’t stick it out an extra year. And it’s because of pay.
“I can’t afford to play this game,” he continued. “I put my body on the line and I work really, really hard and I show up early and I stay up late and I might have to end my dream, because I financially can’t afford it.”
Eloy Jimenez handled his demotion to Triple-A with grace, or at least with the understanding that he could’ve made a better case with his play.
“I tried to do too much,” Jimenez said of his pressing at the plate. “I think that’s why I didn’t have … good results. But I’m going to keep working and I’m going to try and control that.”
Ivan Nova is throwing a cutter, a pitch he hadn’t thrown since undergoing Tommy John surgery with the Yankees in 2014. Two things to note: 1) It wasn’t Don Cooper’s doing, and 2) his previous cutter was uncomfortable for both sides of the battery.
Nova hasn’t thrown a slider in any game over the past five seasons. He didn’t look comfortable throwing the it after having Tommy John surgery in April 2014. He also noticed the slider caused him to lose the feel for his curveball, which got flat and became as effective as a batting practice pitch.
“It was bad. Terrible,” Cervelli said. “That slider-cutter, no good. He knows I didn’t like it. The pitching coach (Rothschild) liked it.”
The White Sox were limited to $300,000 maximum bonuses as they served the second and final year of their penalty for blowing out the budget for Luis Robert. Ben Badler reviews the three biggest signings out of Cuba, along with two Venezuelan position players and a 16-year-old Dominican lefty:
One intriguing, lower-dollar signing the White Sox added last year was Ronaldo Guzman, a lefthander from the Dominican Republic who got $75,000 in October after training with Franklin Ferreras. He turned 16 on Aug. 23, so he’s one of the younger players in the class. He’s grown to 6-foot-1, throwing a fastball up to 89 mph with easy arm action and an athletic delivery that he repeats well to throw strikes with an advanced changeup for his age.
Baseball’s rule changes are an attempt to strike back against specialization, which increases the chances of winning with little regard to watchability. I like how Ben Lindbergh draws upon John Thorn to summarize where the movement stands:
Last November, MLB’s official historian, John Thorn, summed up baseball’s on-field ills when he wrote, “The dilemma for owners and players and fans may be understood as The Paradox of Progress: we know the game is better, so why, for so many, does it feel worse? I submit that while Science may win on the field, as clubs employ strategies that give them a better chance of victory, Aesthetics wins hearts and minds.” In baseball, Science has scored a series of unanswered runs. But Aesthetics may have just gotten its leadoff man on.
The Mariners and Athletics are in Tokyo for a two-game season-opening series starting Wednesday, and all eyes are on Ichiro Suzuki. The 45-year-old will likely play the last two games of his career in his homeland, although previous profiles suggest he’s never going to officially quit.
Per the Athletic, the Blue Jays are set to increase minor league pay 50% of their own volition across all of their affiliates. Progressive stance that I wish more teams would follow suit on. The money spent lobbying for the disingenuously named “Save America’s Pastime Act” could have been better spent on players.
Add to it that most sources of revenue in the Bluejay’s organization comes in the weaker Canadian dollar. Jay’s pay their players in US dollars. That has always been a disadvantage since 2013 (give or take) when the Cad dollar value plunged amid oil price collapse, and it’s yet to recover. Surely prices has been adjusted, but still, the currency volatility is a small hurdle to carry for most Canadian sports teams.
It’s been suggested that 1 cent increase in the US dollar value equals approximately 1 million CAD increase in operating costs for Major Canadian sports.
I really like the green font. You should keep it Jim!
I can say the new blockquotes are here to stay, unless they create unintended consequences.
I like those, too. Very “notes from a college lecture that was actually interesting.”
Needs more Comic Sans.
Are we sure Jim isn’t product testing the UI for his new venture athleticsmachine dot com?
Verified account @JRFegan
53s54 seconds ago
After titling his double play combination with Yoán Moncada “Jordan & Pippen” last year, Tim Anderson said the moniker will carry on to him and Yolmer Sánchez this year.
Looks a bit more like Kukoc and Kornel David.
I would enjoy watching Toni Kukoc attempt to field grounders at short.
A 6’11” lefty shortstop would be fun. Though he’d be bad at turning two being deathly afraid
of making contact with a runner.
And Kornel David was the Hungarian Michael Jordan so he of course would be great.
Hope he stops hitting like Jordan.
Time for the #’s to start matching the confidence.
Minor league full season teams play 140 games over 5 months at $1500 a month equal $54 per game. Can this be right?
Yep, that’s around the Advanced A salary I believe. It’s actually even lower for low-A full season, and lower still for short-season leagues (whether rookie or A) – there’s a reason regular A and short season guys either pile into apartments together or live with host families. Salary is a little higher for AA, but it’s still pretty ridiculous.
It gets significantly better if you are on the 40 man.
Surprisingly, the best article I’ve ever seen on minor leaguer living conditions was in the Janesville Gazette years ago. It detailed the living conditions of four unnamed Beloit Brewers that shared a two bedroom apartment. Four air mattresses, plastic table and chairs from the Walmart lawn and garden, more ramen than are legal to own in six states, thrift store sofa, and a TV and game system for each. I was in college at the time thinking how much that would suck. Now, I can’t even imagine.
“You know what sucks? If I don’t do well this year, I can’t afford to play anymore and I’m done,”
While I completely agree minor leaguers should get paid more, this is not a good argument for that. This is true about a lot of professions.
If organizations are still balking at increasing salary, what should get done is organizations build facilities to house and feed their players well year round. Not only would this improve development, it would mean more money for players to take home, instead of needing to use it for housing and food.
I feel like that’s a fair compromise and nothing more than what any good college program would provide.
It’s a good argument for a league that’s concerned about recruiting/retaining the nation’s top athletes. If the only people who can afford to stick it out have a wealthy enough support system or would struggle to make more elsewhere, you end up with entire population segments shoved out. The situation generates the same self-selecting forces that make unpaid internships really sketchy, legal or not.
Agreed, but it’s not meant to be system where you make a career out of it. It’s a cut throat and very risky choice for athletes, but again, this is true about a lot of professions. Millions take on risk/debt in order to advance in their choice profession and if they can’t make it, they might have to choose another path.
If you are worried about recruiting top athletes, increasing the salary 2x, 3x, heck even 10x, isn’t going to make much difference. Kyler Murray isn’t changing his mind because his minor league salary is now 400,000 instead of 40,000.
You point that out like it shouldn’t also be changed. We absolutely should reverse the broader trend of employers dumping training costs and risk on employees while also suppressing their wages.
And MLB, a $10bn business, should stop paying poverty wages and exploiting the bulk of its player workforce.
It’s also hard to compare baseball to other professions because civilian employees aren’t drafted by companies that control their rights.
I’m not in disagreement with that. There are just two different arguments here.
1) Minor Leaguers should be paid throughout the year, they should be paid more fairly, and they should be housed and fed by their organizations;
2) however, it’s not to be a career or subsidy for those who play poorly, or age out of the system.
They should be housed and fed by their organizations?
Yes, they should. As Jim points out in his comment above, the players don’t choose where they want to play.
I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an organization that tells you to go play in a city A, actually provides minimal necessities like housing and food for you to actually work in city A.
So if you accept a job to “work” in city A, that company should provide housing and food?
You travel, you should get a per diem and lodging costs. I don’t think that’s something we disagree about.
Problem with that comparison though, when I accept a job at city A. I know I’m working in city A, or atleast that’s my main office.
These players aren’t accepting a job in a specific city. They are accepting a job offer, and then being assigned to different cities throughout the year. Often two or three cities throughout the year. They have no say in what city they get to work.
And frankly, I just don’t think it would cost organizations that much to buy an apartment complex in their city and offer it to their players.
They don’t know how the minor leagues work? They don’t welcome a change from city A to city B when it’s a promotion from AA to AAA? That’s the goal.
I worked with a guy that made extra money by housing a Kane County Cougars player every season. Got paid by the club.
How many months a year?
Yeah, and host families have worked with them forever. My parents were friends with a family that did it regularly and one of those years way back in the day they ended up with Josh Beckett.
I should look into this! I’m about fifteen minutes from the park and have three spare bedrooms!
Nick Hostetler was on a podcast last year talking about draft philosophy. First 15 rounds or so teams look for best players available, and the rest of the draft is mostly filling holes from affiliates saying “ get me a third baseman” and the like.
They’re not gonna pay these guys 50 grand a year and they shouldn’t and don’t need to. It’s sort of the equivalent of the kid who backpacks through Europe and Asia after high school or college, staying in hostels and eating on the cheap. Good for them, have some fun, get some valuable life experience – just don’t expect to make a living like that in the long run.
“Poor kid, he plays baseball all day and goes home to his air mattress and eats noodles and plays video games until midnight while making $1500 a month.”
Then limit the MLB Draft to 10 rounds.
Okay. How do you fill out the rosters?
They should get paid for spring training, btw, that’s definitely wrong.
It’s not equivalent at all. Backpackers aren’t part of a talent pipeline providing a core function in a $10bn business.
If MLB is having its workers do a job it should pay them a living wage.
Okay. How much should the lowest level Milb players get payed, per year, per month?
Let’s put it this way. $50k/player in salary and benefits adds, on average, less than $11m in expenses per team. Spending another 3% of revenue on 93% of their rostered workforce doesn’t seem extravagant.
I guess I’m old-school and paid players/people what they’re worth and not how much you’ve got in the bank.
50k or more for every Milb player?
MLB’s product is their rostered workers’ labor. The market says the sum total of that is worth $10bn. Minor league work makes the major league product possible.
$50k/player in total compensation isn’t even asking for an equity stake, it’s just treating them like trained professionals.
How about at least minimum wage, which they currently are not? That’s pretty absurd, considering they’re in the top what, 0.001% of players from HS/college already just by being in the minors?
90% of the minor leaguers aren’t part of a talent pipeline either. They’re extras on a movie set.
And you should see the peanuts most people get paid on movie sets. I know a couple people doing stuff like cleaning trailers and general gopher stuff for when the Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, etc. crews are here and they make less than minor leaguers. But it goes on their resumes. The fact of life is supply and demand – they don’t pay them much because there’s hundreds of people right behind them willing to work for next to nothing.
The problem is the people who can afford to work for next to nothing typically don’t include segments on the population the league has expressed a desire to attract. MLB is allegedly not content to let the game become exclusively the province of those whose families can afford travel ball and showcase circuits. If the league wants it to be more than lip service, this kind of stuff is within its control.
I read this three or four times and I think I might agree with what you’re saying. What does “this kind of stuff” entail?
Any or all of the improvements we’ve talked about. A simple $30-50K pay scale for minor leaguers up the chain. Provided housing or housing assistance. Actual food. Simply paying players for the entire time they’re working, instead of lobbying lawmakers to skirt minimum wage and overtime laws. MLB teams have set the bar so low, relying on players and affiliates to set up their own system for survival, that any of these things would be huge steps in the right direction.
I’m having a tough time with this housing and feeding insistence. Are they in the military?
-“We’re not in Russia, Danny. Are we in Russia? No sir.” –
They’re playing baseball. Can we treat it like a real job? If so, God damn it with all these caveats.
They’re athletes asked to deliver peak performance. That requires a certain baseline nutrition (their ability to get by on peanut butter, tuna, and Chipotle notwithstanding) which is quite expensive to achieve. They’re also traveling almost 50% of the time.
Don’t be silly. They don’t expect peak performance from over 50% of their Milb players/employees, much more than most companies/organizations. They need bodies to fill rosters.
Karko, you gotta start bringing something to the table. Looking through my notes here in our discussions – you’re 0-6! I’m about to declare slaughter rule.
You’ve got Jim Joyce’s ability to get calls right coupled with Joe West’s ego.
I voted you up, Karko. 1-6.
I don’t think you’re having a tough time as much as you’re having fun intentionally warping arguments for fun and profit, so I don’t see a reason to continue.
Wrong. I have a penchant for stoking petty arguments, agreed, but this is not the case here based on content or counter arguments.
@tommytwonines If that’s the case, then I’ll point you to the phrase “any or all” to end the Red Scare red herring. If the league paid players a living wage, then food and housing wouldn’t be its concern. But if the league is intent on paying them below minimum wage with no overtime because the status quo is such a sweet deal, then assisting with housing/food is a way to address the compensation gap without raising the outright cash level involved.
Either way, the league seems to acknowledge the system sucks, as this morning’s Jeff Passan story indicates.
It’s always been lip service. I take it as a good sign that the Blue Jays are raising pay because they want to, the White Sox are making a concerted effort to feed their minor leaguers better, etc. Better that clubs do this of their own volition than being forced to against their will and finding other ways to offset costs forced upon them.
How is it better that clubs do this of their own volition when clearly the vast majority of them are not doing it of their own volition? When kids get drafted they basically have to hope one of the three or four teams even weakly attempting to give a shit about their well being picks them.
They don’t make less than minor leaguers. If they did, that would violate federal law. I think you have to be at least at AA before you’re considered to be making an equivalent to minimum wage.
They’re part of the talent pipeline because, as MLB has set it up, they’re needed to provide reps for the 10% of players who’ll make the majors.
MLB’s treatment of them isn’t any more excusable than Wal-Mart rigging work schedules so their employees qualify for Medicaid instead of employer-based insurance. Things being fucked up in other industries isn’t an excuse.
I’m with you in the Walmart example.
They are needed but incredibly interchangeable in your 10% scenario.
Unrestricted Free Agency.
One of those “be careful what you wish for” ideas. I’d love to go back to all independent leagues. Scott Boras et al would be running a minor league team a la Bill Veeck. It’s evolved this way but the evolution never stops. It’s not like the independent leagues are paying better right now.
I have a comparison here, and it’s theater, believe it or not. “Regional theaters,” i.e., professional theaters in cities without a large actor pool (think Hartford, Sarasota, and the like) get a good portion of their actors from out of town. If those actors are Equity members (Actors Equity Association, the actors union), then they must receive paid housing while at that theater doing that production. The higher quality regional theaters are all operating on Equity contracts, so anybody from out of town is likely union. And companies that produce theatrical tours, both union AND non-union in this case, pay for housing while the company is on the road, as well as a per diem.
This is all because these people are doing a job. They are not all going to be doing this job for the rest of their lives. For many, the money will never be enough, and they will have to do something else. But they are nonetheless professionals doing a job, so while doing said job, they deserve to get paid.
Yes, MLB teams have lots of money. But that’s not why MiLB players deserve a living wage (or subsidized housing to help). They deserve it because they are professionals doing a job. Even the minor league roster fillers are better at their job than 95% of the people who try and play baseball for a living. MLB teams need these guys to fill out rosters? Okay, then pay them.
Depending on the theater size and box office expectations (generally from 3 year’s average receipts) the pay for an Equity member can still be as low as $300 a week, which is similar to minor league pay. And that’s if you have enough professional experience to qualify for union membership.
Locally, yes. (Chicago theater contracts can be quite low, depending on the tier) But if a theater is a member of Leagie of Resident Theaters, the pay is pretty good. For acting anyway.
My reasoning for using regional theaters and touring as comps is not to say those actors are wealthy. But they, like minor league players, do not live in the city where they are currently employed. There’s a reason Equity fought for housing coverage in those situations.
Tough to break into. You have to be a member to work, but you can’t be a member till you work. Like Catch 22.
When you finally break through, the initiation costs most or all of what the job pays.
I’m well aware. My point was about the housing, though, and how that idea is relevant to minor league baseball players.
At the time I was paying for those cards, I was living on Corn Flakes, and a hot dog and fries (1.50). Then no dinner. Just reminiscing.
“And companies that produce theatrical tours, both union AND non-union in this case, pay for housing while the company is on the road, as well as a per diem.”
Do Milb players pay for their own housing on the road? I don’t think so. Do they have a per diem? I think so.
Someone have the answers? If they don’t get motel subsidies on the road or per diem on the road, we’re in agreement.
America in 2019, everybody, where “very successful companies should treat their lowest tier employees decently” is a controversial statement.
This is conveniently timed.
While encouraging, it’s hard to trust in the sincerity of their efforts when they just finished spending millions of dollars lobbying against doing this.