Dirk Hayhurst has written an article at Bleacher Report titled “An Inside Look into the Harsh Conditions of Minor League Baseball“. We have talked about it before on the site, even in the last week in comments of a few different articles on the site, about just how little a lot of these guys get paid. This article, on a lawsuit brought by former minor league baseball players trying to change the pay for current minor leaguers notes that when accounting for inflation, minor league players today are making less than minor leaguers made back in 1976.
From reading the comments in Hayhurst’s article, it seems that a lot of people don’t understand exactly how minor league baseball works. I am sure that plenty of the readers at my site do, but I want to get it out there as to how it all works for those who don’t know.
Who pays the players?
As noted above, the comments section of the Hayhurst article, it seems there are plenty of people out there who believe that the minor league team pays the players. That isn’t true. Players are paid by the big league team that they play for, even as minor leagues. For example, the Dayton Dragons have nothing to do with paying the guys currently on their team. The players on the Dragons (and coaches) are paid by the Cincinnati Reds.
How much do players get paid?
This is much tougher to lay out. When a player signs a contract with a professional team they get a signing bonus. Some guys, very few of them, will get seven figure bonuses. Other guys will get three figure bonuses. Neither happens often and there are a wide range of prices in between, but most players signed four or five figure bonuses. Once you get into the system, players are paid depending on their level and their service time at that level. Here is the payscale for minor leaguers with no Major League service time and who still have not become free agents (who can then negotiate their contracts):
|Level||1st Year||Additional Year|
|AAA||$2,150||$2400 (2nd year), $2700 (3rd year)|
|AA||$1,700||Goes up $100 per month for repeating players|
|A+||$1,500||Goes up $50 a year for repeating players|
|A||$1,300||Goes up $50 a year for repeating players|
|DSL/VSL||At least $300||No less than the 1st year rate|
That scale only applies to American players. INS dictates salary for those playing on a VISA, though salaries are usually the same. Players also get meal money, $25 per day while on the road. They do not get meal money while playing at home. The players do not get paid for spring training. They also pay clubhouse duties out of their pocket.
The scale changes drastically once you have Major League service time or if you are on the 40-man roster but not in the big leagues. Being in the big leagues, even for one day, you make a minimum of $81,750, though that number can be higher depending on the contract you may have signed as a free agent. If you are on the 40-man roster, but not in the big leagues you get paid just over $40,000 in your first year and just over $80,000 in your second year. If a player was in the big leagues the season prior, their minor league salary must be at least 60% of what they made in both the Majors and Minors the year before.
As we can see, there is a HUGE difference for players who are and are not on the 40-man roster, or who have spent any amount of time in the big leagues.
How can the pay structure be fixed?
It should be painfully obvious to any adult who has had to pay bills that the guys at the lower levels of the minor leagues simply aren’t making enough money to truly support themselves, much less support a family if they have one. Many players live with host families and split apartments with another player or three to cut into their expenses. What would it cost a big league team to add extra income to the players salary? I ran the numbers for how much extra money it would cost the big league club to increase salary to each minor leaguer by various amounts of money and assuming there are 225 players in each system in a given year. It’s shared below:
|Extra $ per month to all minor leaguers||Overall cost to big league team|
The big league clubs could drastically improve the living ability for minor leagues in their entire system for about HALF of what they pay a player on a league minimum, first year contract (which is $500,000 in 2014 for a full season). It would be even less than that if you didn’t apply that extra money to players on the 40-man or players who have big league service time and are currently making much more than their teammates are and are more in line with a livable wage.
Why don’t the players do something about it?
They can’t. The Major League Baseball Players Association dictates their salary for them with absolutely no representation from the minor league players at all. The Players Association also agreed to cut their signing bonuses on both the international front and in the draft in favor of getting things that they, the big leaguers, wanted from the owners.
How would it benefit the big league teams to improve the pay for minor leaguers?
While I certainly don’t have the best insight into this, having never been a minor leaguer, I have covered the minor leagues for the last nine years. I have talked with players, coaches and scouts alike about certain aspects of the game. One thing that is constantly brought up is diet/training. A lot of players struggle to eat healthy and part of that reason is that healthy food options aren’t exactly cheap. While you can eat somewhat healthy on a cheaper budget if you cook everything yourself, doing so while working from 2pm-midnight half of the time before heading home, and then the other half of the time you go back to a hotel makes that much tougher to actually do. Upping the pay would make it easier for guys to not only eat healthier and better during the season, but also help give them a little more leeway during the offseason to eat and train better. Second comes from the whole mental side of things. While more money doesn’t always mean you have less to worry about, when you can increase a guys pay by 20% it certainly helps when they aren’t making much to begin with. When there is less to worry about when it comes to making rent, car insurance, food and things like that, maybe you can get slightly more focus during practice and that helps develop things a little easier over the years. I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I am simply missing out on, but I am already pushing 1200 words in this article.
There are certainly guys who are able to get by just fine in the minor leagues, but they are few and far between. Most guys are working jobs in the offseason. Several former players that I know of worked as bouncers in the offseason. Is that really the job you want a professional athlete working? As a guy who has to potentially fight drunks each night from September-January? Wouldn’t it be quite beneficial to the players and the teams if these guys were able to train throughout the offseason, or even get some rest rather than be out working regular jobs or even two of them just so they are able to scrape by? Baseball has a problem on their hands and most people don’t know or really care about it. The big leaguers don’t seem to care about it even though most of them went through it themselves. Baseball can fix the problem rather easily, but for now, is choosing not to even though it would very likely benefit from doing just that.