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Before minor leaguers unionized under the MLB Players Association umbrella, MLB teams were reluctant to spend pretty much anything on them. The pursestrings loosened in recent years, sure, with player housing and raises and such becoming part of the norm, but all of that was done in an attempt to stave off public relations issues and the “danger” of player organizing. That was more of an investment in maintaining as much of the status quo as possible than it was in the players themselves.
Things are a bit different now with the collective bargaining agreement in place, however. (Some things are the same, because this is MLB, but hey.) For instance, the Red Sox have put up some job postings of late, looking for a dietician for each of their minor-league affiliates, as well as a roving nutrition coordinator. The dieticians are likely a pseudo-requirement, as the CBA states that teams must provide “high-quality” meals both before and after games for players, but these clubs could also just order better catering. Having a dietician planning out these meals will help ensure that they actually are “high-quality” instead of merely “not garbage,” which is significant.
And the kind of thing that should have already existed, if the goal was… well, these are teams run like businesses, so morality and ethics and compassion were never going to be part of the equation. But at the least, even a cold, hard business sense should tell you that feeding your players better food might put them in a better position to succeed. When no one was required to do this, though, none of the teams wanted to be the first to go all-in on the notion. The CBA has forced a change in approach, and spending on players isn’t as verboten as it was, which means the Red Sox can go to these lengths to improve the quality of life and working conditions for their players even beyond the basic requirements of the CBA.
Remember, meals were provided by teams well before the CBA, but they were lacking since there was no real oversight or expectation for the actual quality of them. Which is why the Mets could serve their minor leaguers a sandwich that was a single piece of ham and one slice of cheese on plain white bread and call that a meal, and the A’s could sprinkle a bit of pepper and chicken onto a tortilla and claim taco. Basically, there’s a reason this was addressed in the CBA.
This isn’t the first time the Red Sox have gone ahead and done more than was expected of them for minor leaguers, either. Not to say they’re innocent in the entire league-spanning culture and philosophy that existed before the CBA, because they certainly were not. But during the 2022 season, they went with a greatly expanded housing plan compared to what other teams were up to, and the costs were much lower than other teams wanted to make it seem like. So it’s good to see this continuation of that approach here. Given that this is still the team that traded Mookie Betts to free up salary, they, again, are not perfect when it comes to financials. But at least they’re willing to recognize when something truly isn’t a great cost and carries no risk, either, something that there’s just no good reason not to do, and then they do it. First it was the housing, now it’s this large-scale nutrition plan.
Given Craig Breslow has just been hired as the team’s Chief Baseball Officer, it’s difficult to know if this was something that was already in the works or an initiative of his, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find out it’s the latter. Not to be all stats vs. scouts, analytics vs. gut or whatever other argument that no longer exists anywhere besides in the pages of opinion columnists trying to recapture their glory days of yelling about sports, but a former player who spent time in the minors experiencing all that was terrible about them is probably going to have different opinions about what would be beneficial or useful down there, as opposed to someone who was hired specifically because they were willing to do unpopular things that would save money even if they made for a worse product.
Regardless of whether this was originally a Chaim Bloom plan that he didn’t survive in the role long enough to put into practice, or something Breslow saw as somewhere he could potentially improve the life of Red Sox prospects and maybe their production and promise, too, doesn’t quite matter for our purposes. No, the key takeaway here is that, because of the collective bargaining agreement, the Red Sox don’t have to worry about 29 other teams becoming infuriated at them for breaking the sacred, unspoken covenant to not give a shit about the welfare of minor leaguers, to not ruin a good thing, where the good thing was not spending any money you absolutely did not have to on them. The Sox might be doing this more for their own benefit than that of the players, but even that level of self-serving behavior would have been an improvement on the previous era for minor leaguers, so it’s a welcome and promising change nonetheless.
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