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The dispute between Major League Baseball and the Players Association has loomed large over the sport essentially since the 2020 season was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not the lone story out there. Minor League Baseball players aren’t sure if they are going to have a season, either, and the temporary pay solution put in place to help get them through their own postponed 2020 is set to come to an end… with no real sign that it will be extended, either.
Said temporary solution — $400 per week — came in the wake of MLB being criticized for essentially forcing their minor leaguers to pack up and go home, but stay in game shape to be recalled at a moment’s notice, and all without any financial support from the league. Minor League players, still under contract, couldn’t apply for unemployment, and with no idea of when they were coming back, couldn’t necessarily apply to other part-time or temporary jobs, either. That’s still the case, and yet, after May 31, their $400 per week will come to an end.
As Advocates for Minor Leaguers pointed out on Twitter earlier this week, it would cost each team all of $750,000 to make these $400 per week payments through September. Advocates for Minor Leaguers, as you might recall, is a group organized by former MiLB players Garrett Broshuis, Matt Paré, and Ty Kelly, with the aim of giving a voice to the minor leaguers who otherwise lack one. This hasn’t been their only concern — Advocates also wants these “taxi squad” minor-league players involved in MLB’s and the MLBPA’s expanded roster reopening plan to receive MLB contracts and service time for their part in ensuring a 2020 season happens, as well as reactions to the shrunken draft — but it’s the most significant one in sheer size and scope, considering there are over 6,000 minor leaguers, and only so many of them have the protections of a 40-man roster or will be involved in one of those taxi squad arrangements, should those actually prove to fairly pay.
Mitch Horacek, a pitcher in the Twins’ system, spoke up on Twitter about the pay issue as well. In response to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, who was tweeting about the Twins and Cardinals “keeping their full staffs on full pay through at least the end of June,” Horacek said, “I’m a Twins employee being paid 13% of my salary to be 100% ready to play baseball at a moment’s notice. I’m also locked out of MLB/MLBPA negotiations because MLBPA doesn’t represent minor leaguers.”
Passan was referring to the furloughs of baseball operations staff, scouting departments, and so on that many teams are planning for June 1, but Horacek’s point is well taken. Minor League players aren’t even going to get a furlough, which would mean they would still have health insurance and then be able to file for unemployment. No, Minor League players, as of this writing, are just being paid through May 31, and then, uh, well, I guess we’ll see. They might continue to be paid. MLB might just say, “well, tough shit,” because no MiLB games are being played, but that won’t release the players from their contracts, making them eligible to apply for unemployment, and it still doesn’t release them from having to spend what money they do have on staying in game shape in case the season does end up beginning for them eventually.
The money MLB makes from Minor League Baseball is in its exploitation of the players, the revenues from selling tickets, and the eventual value extracted from the system that produces players worth far more than they are paid in the majors as a whole. With no gate to split with Minor League Baseball owners, there is no immediate financial benefit to MLB’s owners in paying minor-league players even their usual pittance, so believe that there always exists the possibility that they just won’t pay these guys. That might sound cynical, but please remember MLB just shrank the amateur draft by 35 rounds to save about $1 million per team, and that they’re claiming $16M worth of draft spending in 2020 is actually the same as $440M in draft spending, because accounting like that will help them force more of the burden of 2020’s lost profits on MLB’s players. These are not inherently good people with good motivations we’re talking about here.
And, as Horacek says, the MLBPA is only so much help to minor leaguers looking for a hand here. He’s not represented by them — only minor-league players who are also on a 40-man roster are — so it’s left to the players to speak up for themselves. Advocates for Minor Leaguers can help, yes, but they’re also a relatively newer venture that hasn’t built its power to its full potential yet. Groups like More Than Baseball can lend a hand to a degree — they’re currently partnering with some MLB players like Adam Wainwright and other orgs to raise money to help minor-league players during this crisis — but this non-profit work, while good and necessary and notable, is focused on treating a symptom, not the root cause. So, we’re less than two weeks out from Minor League Baseball players just no longer receiving any pay, with no word about an expansion of the temporary program that has kept them afloat, and there is no one to speak for them except a brand new org focused on doing just that, as well as whatever players have Mitch Horacek’s bravery to speak up on the issue.
There is also external pressure from fans and the media, the kind that helped get the $400 per week plan to exist in the first place, and that in conjunction with Advocates for Minor Leaguers spreading the word and empowering players like Horacek to speak up might be the best bet to get it extended. There isn’t a whole lot of time to do so, though, and obviously, other stories have taken precedence. This is a vital one, though, the one that will ensure these players who even when there is a season make poverty-level wages, are able to shop for groceries, pay their rent, and keep in shape to avoid being punished by their club or even cut when games do inevitably return.
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