Red Sox show how easy it is to properly house minor leaguers

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Part of what makes MLB’s owners refusing to do more than the bare minimum when it comes to providing housing for their minor-league players is how simple it would be to do the right thing. And inexpensive, too, as the reporting of the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier shows. The Red Sox are one of the teams actually putting together the kind of housing plan that players should have, and it has cost them all of “close to $1 million” to do it.

This year, the landscape has shifted. Last November, Major League Baseball announced a new policy requiring teams to provide housing for all minor leaguers except those on the 40-man roster (who would have a larger salary) and those on minor league deals receiving salaries of more than $100,000. Teams are required to provide players with furnished accommodations, with no more than two players assigned to a room, while also paying some utilities.

The Red Sox wanted to go a step further. At a cost of close to $1 million for the season, the Sox elected to provide every player with a private room (something that 14 of the 30 big league organizations have done), mostly in two-bedroom apartments.

They also wanted to ensure that players with families would have their own apartments. Additionally, the Sox made housing available to all players, regardless of salary and 40-man-roster status.

“The Red Sox have done things the right way this year,” said Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers.

Now, I’m not just writing this so I can pat myself on the back, but I do want to bring up a past calculation of mine to point out that you don’t need to be a brain genius (non-derogatory) in order to see how simple it is to figure all of this out. You can even be a brain genius (derogatory) and still get there with ease! Last May, I wrote about how inexpensive it would be to pay every minor-league player a $50,000 salary (with prorations for short-season ball players, higher salaries for higher-level guys, etc.) and give them each their own bedroom in team-provided housing, too. Per those calculations, the salary portion would cost around $5 million per team, and to provide apartments with their own bedroom for every single minor-league player would be around another $1 million:

The average rent for a three-bedroom apartment in the United States, as of earlier in 2021, is $1,284 according to Statista. Sure, that’s not true at all in Boston or New York or San Francisco, but big-league clubs are in those cities, anyway, not minor-league ones, so let’s roll with it. Well, let’s round up a bit here, anyway, just to prove a point. We’ll say rent for a three-bedroom in a minor-league city is going to be $1,500 per month, and each team needs eight of them. So let’s say there’s a studio for the one other guy, too, at $1,000 per month for five months. Add that all up, and it would cost a parent club $65,000 to set up a minor-league team with apartments for the season.

There are four full-season teams per MLB club, so that’s $260,000 for housing for all of them each year, with another $26,000 to house Rookie League players. So we’re at what, roughly $6 million per year to pay all of these players a legitimate living wage, and house them for the entirety of their seasons? More if the apartments are furnished, sure, but $6 million per organization per year is nothing. Change the rental cost to $2,000 for a three-bedroom apartment instead of $1,500 — it’s over $1,900 to rent a three-bedroom in Portland, ME, home of the Double-A Sea Dogs, so that kind of figure is a possibility — and we’re at $85,000 instead of $65,000 per team, so, $340,000 before accounting for Rookie League housing, and another $34,000 with them included. Still right around that $6 million mark to handle all of this!

For $1 million, teams can provide housing for every minor-league player, not just the ones MLB deems are making too little to afford their own, and can even give each of them their own bedroom and space for families where that’s a need. Sure, $1 million annually is a lot of money for you or me, but it isn’t for these owners. The Mets aren’t providing housing at the level the Red Sox are, even though the only reason Steve Cohen isn’t worth more than the rest of the NL East’s owners all by himself is because the Braves are owned by a mass media conglomerate with $44 billion in assets. You can’t even look at what a team’s operating income or loss was through Forbes or what have you as guidance here for whether teams can “afford” what Boston is doing, because those figures are based on available data only, and not what’s in the books that are closed to the public.

$1 million is pocket change, to the point that even the A’s — a team that simply cannot resist going with the cheapest, worst option whenever possible, regardless of how it will be perceived in public — are giving each player their own bedroom. What’s kind of amazing is that, even outside of it being the right thing to do on, you know, a moral and human level, it’s also just good business, which is the kind of thing that should speak to these people when nothing else will reach the void in their chests where their hearts should be. Per Speier’s report, the Sox saw it as a competitive benefit to do this:

Red Sox manager of minor league operations Patrick McLaughlin worked with the general managers of the club’s affiliates to get six-month leases on apartments that were close to home ballparks and within walking distance of a number of eating options.

“We wanted to provide them with the same type of place that they would want to go out and get on their own,” said McLaughlin. “We saw this as an opportunity to provide something to them and take some of the stress out of some of the other things they had to deal with so they can continue to just focus on their development and focus on playing baseball.”

The players don’t have to stress, and they don’t have to come home to sleep on a pool float in the kitchen, either. They now have more money for themselves, their families, for eating dinner that didn’t come from a fast food value menu or bulk instant noodle box. They’ll be healthier, better rested, better fed, and even get to live close to where they work and eat, cutting down on the stress of travel time in what is already a busy day of training and competing. How could teams not want to do this for their players?

Because they do not have to, and often, that’s enough. The Red Sox see a competitive advantage here, so they’re taking advantage of it, and believe it will pay off as a sound investment. You wish that they were doing it just because it’s good to treat your employees like human beings, but shame and a financial return are basically the only thing that motivates some: at the least, you’d hope all 30 clubs will eventually give in to one or the other, so that at least the right thing can happen even if it’s not for the optimal reason.

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