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Major League Baseball might be taking steps to improve the living and working conditions of present-day minor-league baseball players, but what about those that were already ground into a fine powder by those horrors? Consider, for a moment, that after essentially doubling minor leaguers salaries, making it so they were no longer responsible for paying the clubhouse attendant’s wages via tips, providing for at least some of the players’ food, and recently promising to pay for the housing of “certain” minor leaguers, Minor League Baseball is still nowhere near the situation they should be: housing covered for all players, a living wage, equipment paid for by the clubs instead of the players, and so on. Now, consider that the minor-league players who were around for years before all of MLB’s recent upgrades didn’t even have access to that much.
MLB upgrading the conditions is necessary, but it’s also an admission that the conditions themselves were lacking, that they were a problem worth fixing. It’s not exactly the kind of admission MLB wants to have to be making while they are preparing for a trial that will see them defending their past treatment of minor leaguers, but you won’t see me shedding any tears for them over that. Aaron Senne et al v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp, known more by its shorter name of Senne v. MLB, is a class action suit that will be brought to trial in June of 2022. There was a little bit of news regarding that trial reported by The Athletic earlier this week, however, having to do with Mets’ owner Steve Cohen and his tweeting habits.
Cohen has a real poster’s mentality, to the point that he said he was going to log off after receiving (rightful) criticism from others on Twitter, but came right on back shortly after, and it might end up being a bit of a problem for MLB’s defense. According to The Athletic, Cohen’s tweet that he fired off shortly after the Mets refused to even submit a formal offer to their first-round draft pick, Kumar Rocker, from this past summer is now part of the class action suit:
Education time – Baseball draft picks are worth up to 5x their slot value to clubs .I never shy away from investments that can make me that type of return.
— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) August 1, 2021
Unsurprisingly to everyone but Cohen, this was immediately latched on to as an owner saying the quiet part loud, and admitting that draft picks are heavily exploited, value-wise, even when they are of the first-round variety pulling in multi-million dollar bonuses. So it should not be shocking to find out that this open admission of the system and how it works is now going to be part of the suing party’s attack against Major League Baseball. How could it not be? Per The Athletic’s report:
One of those tweets caught the attention of Dr. Erica Groshen, whom the players hired to write an expert report on why MLB has allegedly been illegally paying sub-minimum wage salaries (MLB does not dispute the low pay, but does dispute the charge it legally must pay a minimum wage to minor leaguers).
“One recent indication of the value of a minor league player comes from Steven Cohen, owner of the New York Mets,” Dr. Groshen, Senior Economic Advisor for the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and former Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrote in her Sept. 27 report, which is attached to the players’ summary judgment motion asking the judge to rule for them. “He asserts that baseball draft picks are worth up to five times their slot value to Clubs.” (“Slot values” refer to limits set for MLB Clubs’ signing bonuses in the player draft.)
In highlighting the tweet, Groshen is underscoring the value of the minor leagues, and arguing that all who play there offer upside to MLB.
It’s worth pointing out that first-round picks, like Rocker, certainly provide surplus value to their clubs by eventually making it to the majors on a league-minimum, standard contract that pays well below what they would have been able to secure in an actual free market scenario. However, players like Rocker — and all of the others who are drafted and signed — perform a tremendous service simply by being in the minor leagues. They are the competition that sharpens the tools of the next generation of MLB players. Rocker might have a better chance of making it to the bigs than someone drafted 20 rounds later, but they need to face off against those players in order to prepare themselves for the most competitive, most talented professional baseball league in the world. In order for Rocker and others like him to be the best they can be on the field, they need to face off against their fellow minor leaguers, honing their skills and preparing for the life of a professional athlete. And they do all of this while making worse than poverty-level wages, while paying for their own housing, while buying their own bats and gloves and cleats, while living off of the cheapest foods they can afford and a road per diem that essentially guarantees value menu fast food is all that can be eaten.
All of this was known, of course — it was covered in this space quite a bit, even, when discussing how MLB viewed much of the minor leagues as “waste” prior to their forced downsizing of it — but there is a difference between this all being presented as evidence to convince a judge that it’s the case, and one of the 30 owners of a Major League Baseball team just… admitting it where everyone can see.
Four of MLB’s owners reportedly opposed Cohen’s purchase of the Mets, and as the Twitter account for labor-friendly baseball podcast Tipping Pitches reminded everyone, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf even voted no in the official count. The word at the time was that Reinsdorf was just a big Alex Rodriguez booster — A-Rod and then-partner Jennifer Lopez had put in a bid for the Mets, too — but it wouldn’t take much to convince me that Reinsdorf feared someone like Cohen would end up causing problems for MLB in the end, either. Not that this is me siding with Reinsdorf — that guy sucks out loud, between his obsession with reducing amateur spending, his close relationship with former commissioner and owner Bud Selig, his role in multiple rounds of collusion against the players, and his refusal to actually pour his resources into the White Sox — but the guy has been around the block, and probably thought Rodriguez was a safer pick than Cohen, more likely to stay in line and not do something like, say, send out a tweet that would be used in a class action suit that will likely end up costing MLB’s teams buckets of money in backpay.
To which I say: lol. lmao.
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