Known for frequent promotional nights, rising stars, and wacky team names, Minor League Baseball has been bringing joy to families across the country for decades. However, there is a dark side that, until recently, is often not brought up.
In 2001, the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter came to an agreement. The topic? A brand new contract extension worth $189 million over 10 years.
Flash forward to 2014, and Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton snags a monster extension of his own, worth $325 million over 13 years. However, Stanton will see the end of the deal in a different uniform. Shortly after he won NL MVP in 2017, the Marlins traded him to the Yankees.
Three years after Stanton’s trade, there became a new king of contracts. After the Dodgers won the 2020 World Series, they got to work locking down Mookie Betts. Both sides shook hands on a 12 year, $365 million deal.
After looking at those numbers, you’d think MLB franchises could afford to pay ALL of their employees….. right?
Let’s start by looking at the MLB draft.
The Stuff of Dreams
Imagine with me, for a moment, that you are a top prospect coming out of college. Adley Rutschman was in 2019. Drafted #1 overall by the Orioles in the 2019 draft, the Oregon State catcher later signed a deal worth just over eight million dollars.
Believe it or not, it has become commonplace that top prospects sign these bloated deals right out of the gate. Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg signed a 4 year, $15.1 million contract in 2009 after being first in the 2009 draft. After being selected second overall in 2001, Mark Prior signed a $10.5 million deal.
Wake Up Call
However, the rest are not so lucky. In 2018, the average annual salary of minor league players was as follows: $6,000 (Single-A), $9,350 (Double-A), and $15,000 (Triple-A). The federal poverty line for individuals is $12,880. They do not get paid for training or offseason practice, and often have to work another job while playing.
How can MLB franchises get away with paying minor leaguers peanuts in comparison to the Mookie Betts and Giancarlo Stantons of the world?
In 2018, MLB successfully stripped minor league players of minimum wage protections as a part of a $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress. The irony of the bill was in its name, “Save America’s Pastime Act”.
Now, you would expect after lobbying for a bill like that, the minimum salary of major league players would also be trending downwards…. right?
Wrong. In 2020, MLB raised the major league minimum salary from $555,000 to $570,500.
Minor League Baseball teams across the country, alongside Adopt A Minor Leaguer (@adoptmilbplayer on Twitter), have had to design programs to assist their players during the season. Sometimes that involves families hosting a player in their home, or sending care packages or financial aid to players (more information here).
Hope on the Horizon
Fortunately, the players have taken action. Former prospect Garrett Broshuis filed a class-action lawsuit against the MLB. In October of 2020, the Supreme Court allowed it to go forward. As of this publication, no decision has been made.
A few teams have moved to give more support to their prospects as well. In 2019, the Toronto Blue Jays independently opted to raise minor-league wages by 50 percent.
This year, the Astros followed suit and began providing their prospects with fully furnished apartments. This is an incredible improvement from sleeping on air mattresses, or even in their cars, which some players were forced to do. In light of recent events, the Astros made a good first step in rebuilding their reputation.
While the wages are still not fair, it appears that things are moving in the right direction. As fans, we have a responsibility to press our favorite teams, and the league as a whole, to pay Minor League Baseball players their fair share.
For more information, a link to the Adopt A Minor Leaguer site is below.