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Spring training is officially over, and the Major League Baseball Players Association sent out a memo to its members telling them they could stay at the spring training facility, go home, or head to the city that their team plays in. The allowances teams give to players during spring training, like for housing, are still in effect. The on-field facilities players use to prep for the regular season will remain open to those who stay, as well, and teams will assist in flying out the families of any players who had their families with them in Arizona or Florida, to boot.
According to minor-league players spoken to under the condition of anonymity, MLB’s response was much more terse and disconcerting: go home. It was left up to each individual team to craft their own message to their minor-league players that said as much, but that was what had to be relayed from above. Go home, whether you’re a domestic or international player. Go home, because you, as minor-league players, don’t have the protections and rights to negotiating an exit as unionized players.
Travel back home, wherever it is, will be handled by the clubs, so there is that. Travel costs are about the only thing clubs are willing to help with at this point, according to the players themselves. As feared, it does not sound like players are going to be paid during the postponement of Minor League Baseball’s season — no small issue for players who haven’t been paid since last summer, not even during spring training itself. The answer to just about every question posed by players to their teams, be it about pay or per diems or reimbursements for training, shipping cars, rent, and so on, was, “MLB hasn’t told us one way or the other.”
The White Sox are allowing players for whom it “is unsafe to travel” or for whom it would be “a challenge to return to the US” to remain in Arizona, but each of those decisions must also be determined on a case-by-case basis by the club. They also stressed to their players that they must remain in baseball shape: since they are being forced to go home, and aren’t being paid, how, exactly, are they supposed to stay in peak physical condition in the same way spring training facilities would have allowed, when they no longer have free access to similar facilities? The White Sox don’t have an answer to that question, and neither do the other teams.
The Giants, to their credit, are leaning more on maybes. “Please let me know if you need to stay in Scottsdale and use the facilities. We will continue to monitor the situation, and please be aware there is a possibility that we may shut down the facility entirely at some point if the situation changes” Director of Player Development Kyle Haines told his charges. This diversion from the norm, though, simply signals that teams could figure out more of these details on their own, to help players stay in game shape and save money while they’re not being paid. Instead, they’re happy to just throw up their hands and say, “We don’t know, the commissioner’s office hasn’t told us yet,” as the Braves’ did to their players who were asking why travel money was the only thing they would receive help with. The Rays were on a similar wavelength, telling players asking about pay, reimbursements, and so on that “we’re waiting for guidance from MLB.”
These players being sent away from spring training locations, expected to pay for their own training for an indeterminate length of time, will also not be receiving a per diem to help them cover the unexpected costs of being back home. You might think this could be solved the same way it is in the offseason, by getting a part-time job, but you need to remember the key difference here: players don’t know how long they would need this job, unlike in the normal offseason. They don’t have September through January to work part-time or seasonally: they have no idea if they’re going back to Arizona or Florida or their team’s home city in two weeks, in four weeks, in six weeks, or longer. And they aren’t exactly in a position to burn employment bridges by just getting a job and bailing when it has to happen, either, because they’ll still need offseason employment before the summer is out.
In addition, the players aren’t eligible for unemployment while they wait for their employment to begin. As former minor leaguer and current lawyer representing players’ interests in Senne v. MLB Garrett Broshuis pointed out on Twitter:
The catch 22 MiLBers are in: MLB teams won't pay them since the season has been delayed. Yet they can't qualify for unemployment benefits because they're still under contract with and employed by the MLB team.
And yet the team will still expect them to remain in playing shape.
— Garrett Broshuis (@broshuis) March 14, 2020
There’s no help coming from the teams, nor the players’ home states.
Uber, Lyft, and even food delivery isn’t the temporary solution it normally could be for players’ needs, either, since the same pandemic that has caused the suspension of spring training and postponement of the beginning of the Minor League regular season will also impact how much money can be made from performing those gig economy jobs. And yet, teams aren’t planning to help out at all, because, unlike with the MLBPA, MLB doesn’t have to listen to a word the non-union minor-league players are saying.
This isn’t surprising — it was just Friday that Baseball Prospectus published my plea to MLB to do the right thing and pay minor-league players during the postponement — but the lack of shock factor doesn’t make the situation any less difficult for the players who have to live it.
While there are some initiatives in places to help out the players — a program to “adopt” a minor-league player is gaining steam, and the organization More Than Baseball does what it can where it can to assist minor leaguers — none of these solutions should have to exist, just like how it shouldn’t be Kevin Love and Blake Griffin helping cover the lost wages for arena workers in the NBA. The players should be helped by their teams, by those teams’ impossibly rich owners. This is a time of crisis, and MLB is purposely letting the most vulnerable of their players suffer, for no other reason than that they are able to get away with it.