On MiLB’s new, bargained housing policy

A lack of player input into the housing policy helped spur on minor-league unionization, so it should be no surprise that the end result of a bargained housing policy is looking good.

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Thanks to reporting by Evan Drellich at The Athletic, we now have more details on just what the improvements to the housing plan for minor leaguers is, courtesy of their now-ratified collective bargaining agreement. Some notes we’ve seen before, but they were more vague at the time — like the idea that all but the most well-paid minor-league players would have their housing paid for, for instance. What was that threshold, what percentage of minor leaguers would be considered “well-paid,” etc., those details were lacking when news was first announced.

Now, though, we know that the players who will have to provide for their own housing comprise some pretty specific groups. If a player has a major league contract but is in the minors, then the league isn’t going to pay for their housing. If they’re making over $4,666.67 per week, they also aren’t eligible for housing — that’s a very specific group we’re talking about there, considering the annual salary for the best-paid minor leaguers under the CBA, Triple-A players, only just moved up to $35,800. So, we’re talking about players in the minors who are off their original contract and are free agents, presumably with big league service time under their belt: the minimum salary for that player type — Minor League Article VI(A)(2) players — was $114,100 in 2022 and will rise to $127,100 by 2026, thanks to the 2022 MLB CBA. Divide that by the season length for Triple-A — spring training has its own separate pay of $625 per week, up from a smaller non-pay stipend that was meant to be used for finding food, housing, and gas — and you’re right around that cutoff for housing.

As Drellich notes, regardless of whether players are eligible for in-season housing assistance, they’ll have their accommodations paid for during spring training and offseason camps (which will be dorm-style rooming and hotels, maximum two beds per bedroom). It’s only in-season that they’ll have to sort things out for themselves, but at least with the amount of money they’re making, comparatively speaking, it’s something these players can afford to do in a way that even Triple-A players in their near-$36,000 salary (that still isn’t as high as it should be, not yet) could not and should not be asked to do. Plus, they can negotiate housing assistance in their contracts with the team, so it’s not as if they have no chance to partake in a housing program. It’s just going to have to be individually negotiated; the right to open those negotiations is guaranteed, at least. Though I’m curious what it would take for a team to balk at a request.

Just because teams are paying for housing doesn’t mean they own the place: they’ll need a player present in order to inspect a room or even just to enter it. And while this deal was ratified after MiLB’s Opening Day, keeping it from being fully implemented for 2023, teams will apparently make “reasonable efforts” to put it into place in the present, special accommodations for families included, with everything being guaranteed to be in place for the 2024 season.

Speaking of accommodations, Double- and Triple-A players with at least 30 days of service at those levels can opt out of the dorm and hotel housing and receive a stipend to pay for their own housing during spring training instead, minimum $50 per night, but up to whatever amount teams are paying for other players’ housing. Teams can also offer the same deal to players at other levels, but it’s up to them to do so, not the players.

And players with families, ignored by MLB’s housing policy from 2022 that had the players clamoring for a seat at the table in the first place, seems like it’s pretty good:

Once the season begins, Double-A and Triple-A players assigned to an affiliate anywhere besides the team complexes are to receive their own bedroom. Single-A and High-A players may be asked to share a bedroom, but can opt out with sufficient notice and receive a stipend.

Once again, the individual teams determine the amount of the stipend, but it can be no less than $50 per night and no more than the amount the team would otherwise have spent for housing. (Teams will have to be able to demonstrate that cost.)

Players who have a spouse and/or children have to give sufficient notice and are to be accommodated in one of two ways: with a “family-friendly” housing option or with a stipend.

The family-friendly housing option guarantees a married player a private bedroom, while a player with one or more children is guaranteed at least two bedrooms. The stipend would be equal to the actual average rent for players at the affiliate, and no less than $50 per night.

Housing is meant to be furnished already, at least with basics, located close to the stadium to cut down on travel and travel costs, and include the requisite number of bedrooms. Bathrooms, a kitchen, and a shared living space must also be included. Maybe most importantly, players are not to sign leases or utility agreements, which had the potential to leave them stuck with a landlord even after they were promoted. This does make MLB the landlord instead, but with a CBA in place, at least there’s someone around who can legally (and swiftly) handle anything that comes up in the form of the Players Association. This was a more terrifying situation to navigate when it was the players on their own against an MLB that could have done whatever it wanted with only fear of public backlash to keep them from doing so.

While utilities don’t have to be covered by the players, optional things like streaming services are their responsibility. That’s fine, at least they’re in a situation where they all have the same IP address and can share one account. Take that, Netflix.

Not everything was solved with this inaugural CBA, be it pay not being where it should inevitably end up or the fact that there are still considerations to be made to improve travel, but the housing situation seems like it’s received a thorough reckoning. Getting housing a year ago was a win and it can’t be argued otherwise, but the specific details of the housing plan needed work, and for the players to be able to have a say in what was actually needed. That’s what happened in the months that followed, and these are the impressive results.

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