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By midnight entering Friday, the first-ever Minor League Baseball collective bargaining agreement could be ratified. It’s already been initially agreed to by the negotiating parties: now, the larger minor-league player base and MLB’s owners have to vote and agree to what’s been bargained. It’s a historic moment, and one that might take a little time to see some of the effects of —both because these things don’t come to light all at once and because there are some larger, structural changes that are going to take time to see the full effects of — though there are also immediate changes that are far more obvious.
For instance, not only will the new pay structures go into effect before the ink even dries on the new CBA, but there will also be four weeks of retroactive pay for minor leaguers, owing to their having participated in spring training. That new pay setup is pretty good, too — not as high as I’d like it to be, as I’m on the record again and again saying $50,000 prorated for how long a level’s season is made a lot of sense and wasn’t a financial strain on any team — but still pretty good. Per the reports on Wednesday night (which included the above linked Evan Drellich story at The Athletic):
Complex and Rookie-level players will go from $4,800 to $19,800
Single-A from $11,000 to $26,200
High-A from $11,000 to $27,300
Double-A from $13,800 to $30,250
Triple-A from $17,500 to $35,800
Per Drellich, that amounts to minor-league salaries costing around $90 million, which sounds like a big number, but you have to remember that’s split 30 ways: we’re talking $3 million per team here just for pay, which also means there’s room to go up. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, there will be incremental raises starting in 2025, i.e. the final three years of this five-year agreement. As I said, this isn’t as high as the salaries should be, but now there’s a codified foundation to build on next time, a much stronger one to work from than what was just used, which involved MLB still checking in with the state of Florida to see if they could exempt minor-league players from minimum wage laws.
There are also improved bits in the housing policy, now that the players were able to bargain for themselves in that regard instead of just taking what MLB gave them, which itself was one of the events that showed the players were already gearing up to organize on their own behalf. Now there’s accounting for spouses, children, and the option for players to receive a stipend rather than live in the housing that teams provide. Players at Double-A and Triple-A will be guaranteed their own bedrooms starting in 2024, and as said, those with families will have different accommodations so they aren’t living with a bunch of other ballplayers in a space that will feel a whole lot smaller in that situation.
Most of what’s out there now is clearly a positive or at least a good, strong first step in that direction, but there is a concern that requires further scrutiny. As part of the deal, MLB now has the right to decide to shrink the Domestic Reserve List from 180 to 165 in-season, and from 190 to 175 in the offseason. This is better than what MLB originally asked for, which was to trim it down whenever they feel like without needing to ask permission, but still, the shrinking is a problem. One hopes that this is just a way to shrink the number of (domestic) complex players into one larger squad instead of two smaller ones, and not the prelude to MLB getting ready to shrink the minors as a whole further once they’re able to — this CBA and MLB’s own agreements with Minor League Baseball preclude that for some time, but MLB certainly can risk muscling their way around the latter if they really wanted to while hoping Congress once again lets them get away with it.
You have to give up something to get something in bargaining, but still. Was this the right thing to give up? We’re probably not even yet seeing the effects of shrinking the draft and the first round of disaffiliation: cutting another 450 roster spots around the league means a smaller pool of players who will figure it out more than expected if only given the chance, means fewer players who it will be discovered have a future in coaching, whether in MLB or college or high school, and could mean down the line that MLB will ask to shrink things even further, to the point where they can wipe out another wave of clubs, taking pro ball away from those cities. It’s a fraught situation, and like I said, we might not see the full effects of these decisions for some time, but I imagine we won’t be thrilled with what we find once we do.
I’ll be digging into all of this a bit more for Baseball Prospectus on Friday, as well as here and maybe there some more in the near future: again, this is a significant deal, and there are some clear positives and very likely negatives involved. But it’s also a good start, considering where the first-ever bargaining of MiLB’s players began from. You know, with a league that didn’t even want to recognize them as employees or in some cases, people.
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