The minor-league housing situation is even worse than realized

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About a month ago, it was revealed that MLB teams weren’t allowing their minor-league players to spend the season living with host families. While that made sense for COVID-19 protocol purposes, teams didn’t provide any kind of financial relief to these players who relied on the host system in order to save — or, more accurately, redirect toward another need — money from their paltry paychecks. The solution, to me, was that MLB teams should be paying for MiLB player housing.

A week after that, it was revealed that some teams aren’t paying for the hotels or the meals for minor-league players at the alternate sites. The reason? Nothing said that the teams had to do that, so, some of them decided they weren’t going to spend a dime on something they were not required to.

Now, we’ve got More Than Baseball dropping a Twitter thread full of the poor treatment players are receiving from MLB, just a few days into the 2021 MiLB season. Much of it isn’t surprising if you’ve followed along with these kinds of stories for a while now, but there is a specific section I want to point out, since it aligns with the stories linked above:

Teams have asked players to minimize the number of players per apartment due to COVID but failed to provide additional funds to cover the lost savings on rent. In past years, players would often live 6 to a 3-bedroom apartment.

The only way some players can afford to live on their salaries is by sharing a small apartment with a large number of teammates. Former player Ty Kelly discussed with me just last year about how he didn’t even get a bedroom one year, and had to sleep on an air mattress in a living room that otherwise had no furniture, nor blinds or curtains, in it. As More Than Baseball tweeted, six players to an apartment meant to have half as many people was not uncommon.

Like with getting rid of host families for 2021, it’s understandable that teams would want minor-league players to limit the risk of spreading coronavirus by making it so fewer people share a living space. There are two problems with this, though, with the first obvious one being that these living spaces cost more the fewer people live in them, and MLB is not helping to offset the costs in any way. The second issue is that MLB’s expectations for player safety off the field do not match up with how they treat player safety in MiLB clubhouses. Here’s More Than Baseball on that note:

For example, MiLB clubhouses are tiny compared to MLB ones. This means that following COVID protocol is entirely impossible inside a clubhouse. MLB has provided no assistance to address the facility shortcomings but expects strict adherence to the protocol nonetheless.

Again, there should be strict protocols, and MLB is making the right call with these decisions in a vacuum, but like with everything else, they’ve also just told MiLB players to figure out how to make these decrees work on their own. Players are on top of each other the entire time they’re in the clubhouse since there is no other way to exist in that cramped space, with MLB not finding any kind of workaround or solution that might cost them money to make their expectations ones that can be met. And yet, the players making nothing to begin with have to spend more money than usual in order to meet the living space safety expectations of the teams, because MLB said so. Hardly seems fair, no?

Players have to spend more of their paychecks in order to participate in the 2021 season. Players who haven’t received a cent outside of meager spring stipends from MLB since last August, players who, typically, try to save some of what little they earn in-season to help them through the offseason, or to send to their families back home.

All of these issues could be solved if MLB was willing to actually invest more in these players. Subsidize their housing, and you don’t need to worry about six dudes in an apartment not built for that many breathing down each other’s necks. Do what plenty of other businesses were forced to do while operating during a pandemic, and spend money on figuring out solutions that might better keep people safe: why weren’t any kind of temporary, clubhouse-expanding structures built at these ballparks? Some kind of mobile locker room, be it contained within vans or UHaul trucks or modular spaces, to help alleviate some of the sardine-like conditions of a minor-league clubhouse?

And, most importantly, just pay the players a living wage, and a whole bunch of these concerns about treatment would vanish. As I wrote just a couple of weeks back for Baseball Prospectus, it would cost all of $5 million per team per year to pay every minor-league player in an organization’s care a salary of $50,000 per year. Like with the hotels and meals at the alternate sites, though, MLB teams aren’t going to spring for that unless someone tells them to. And since the “someone who tells them to” is the MLB commissioner and he works for MLB’s owners, well, don’t hold your breath.

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