The entire MiLB season is delayed, and MLB should still pay the players

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There will be a Minor League Baseball season in 2021, unlike in 2020. (At least, that’s the plan, anyway: who knows what fresh horrors await us this year.) It won’t start until May, which we already knew for the levels below Triple-A: now, though, the Triple-A season is also going to get a late start, as it’s been pushed back another month.

The idea is that many of those players are already going to be in spring training, and others will end up in the returning alternate sites, where they will be, in theory, safer from coronavirus or spreading coronavirus than they would be with the kind of freedom just being on a minor-league team would bring. The idea is also that MLB couldn’t get the Players Association to agree to delaying the start of MLB’s season into May, but they have complete control over the minors, and can make them start when they wish. May means a better chance for fans in attendance with less potential to spread coronavirus since that many more vaccines will have been distributed by that point, and more fans means more money.

Speaking of money and complete control over the minors, there is no word in Jeff Passan’s story about whether the players, Triple-A or otherwise, will be paid for April even though there are no games. It’s not a given that they would be, considering that noise had to be made every single month of 2020 to get players stipends, as late as in what would have been the last month of that year’s regular season. They should be paid, though, because none of them have received a paycheck from MLB since August of last year, unless they took part in the fall instructional leagues, where MLB mandated that participating players must be paid for doing so.

Even the minor-league players who participate in spring training won’t be paid, because they are never paid to do so. They get minimal stipends, but there is a reason that players like current MLB pitcher Randy Dobnak spent their off hours during spring training in gig jobs like Uber driver while they were in the minors. So, without MLB paying players for the month that won’t have baseball in it that usually does, all of these minor leaguers are going to have gone from August until May without a paycheck from their employer.

In 2020, MLB paid $400 per week to minor-league players, which was a huge raise for many low-level players and a drop in pay for ones on a higher rung on the ladder. In 2021, minor-league salaries have been increased. As has been discussed in this space, they’re still shit: only players repeating the Triple-A level will make wages that clear the poverty line. As it’s unclear whether MLB will pay players before the season officially begins, it’s also unclear whether any possible stipend would be at the 2020 rate of $400 per week, or if MLB would up the stipend alongside the general increase in pay across the minors. It’s obviously a necessity, but being necessary doesn’t mean it’ll happen. At least, not without MLB feeling pressured to do it, since their primary fear with the minors seems to be public relations. It’s tougher to justify not paying players in April than it was to justify gutting a quarter of MiLB’s teams, especially now that there are fewer players to pay.

For that reason, it’s possible MLB already does have a plan in the works to pay MiLB players for April, since they’ve already taken a public battering for shrinking the minors, but continued to justify it as necessary and actually a good thing. While that’s all a lie, of course, there’s a logic to it that can be defended. “Well we just don’t have the money to pay minor-league players for a month” doesn’t track even a little bit, though, not when revenues from 2021 are going to be obviously higher than revenues for 2020, and everyone got through 2020 just fine. (Teams might suggest otherwise, but you already know how to feel about that.) And not when what MiLB players make is so low, not when MLB would love for those figures to not be shared in a negative light, since that increases the likelihood they are pressured to increase wages yet again in the future.

Then again, it would not be surprising if MLB hasn’t truly considered paying minor-league players for April, that it’s all fine because they’ll still be playing pretty close to or what is actually a full season, depending on level, just one that starts and ends later. By the time the discourse really ramps up on things, around the time it becomes obvious on a larger level that the players are not being paid, the start of the regular season and paychecks would be just a few more weeks away. Weeks MLB might decide they can afford to wait out. Basically all of their financial decision making is based on what they think they can get away with without taking an economic hit in the near future, so if they believe they can make it until May without anyone rioting over minor-league pay, then maybe there won’t be stipends this time around.

As said, it’s difficult to know which way we’re heading, because there is no direct word about whether players will be paid for an April without games. These seem like the paths, though: MLB wants to avoid inviting further criticism of their MiLB pay structure, so they get ahead of things and pay for one month of no games. Or, MLB says, hey, it’s just one month, what’s the worst that could happen, and leave MiLB players to their own devices, whether it be continuing their offseason job or trying for unemployment again or extending their spring gig economy role that much longer. You hope for the former, but given, well, everything MLB does, the latter is too realistic for comfort.

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