2018 UCB Spring Roundtable question

UCB_11The United Cardinals Bloggers organization (to which this blog belongs) holds two roundtables annually, where a member asks a question and the other members answer the questions.  The spring roundtable usually takes place in March and the fall roundtable takes place in October (or November if the Cards are in the playoffs).

I volunteered to ask a question, so here it is:

Good morning fellow UCB’ers!  There have been discussions lately about minor league players and their rate of pay. It’s been said that minor league players aren’t paid well so as to make them hungry to get to the major leagues, but there’s a fine line between hunger to get to the major leagues and hunger because you don’t make enough to afford food. I’m sure there are some players who have had to stop chasing the dream because they can’t make ends meet.

Hopefully, this will be rectified in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, due next year, or maybe sooner.  Should the parent club pay more money to the minor league teams?  Should major league players contribute, say, 1% of their yearly income to help pay minor league players?  Most of them were, at one time, minor league players themselves, so they know the pain of trying to juggle their expenses at a low rate of pay.  

So what are your suggestions to help get minor league players a living wage?  Thanks for your answers!

Mark Tomasek of RetroSimba  answered:

Hi, Diane. Interesting question with no easy answer.

One aspect impacting my thinking is, “Don’t some, or all, of the players who are drafted receive signing bonuses; in some cases, significant amounts of bonus money?” Shouldn’t that factor into a formula for salary? Should a non-drafted player who didn’t get bonus money have a different salary tier than one who did get bonus money?

I also question whether playing baseball in the minors leagues is a career or whether it is an apprenticeship/internship. I think very few, if any, athletes plan to make a career of playing baseball in the minors. The whole point of the minors is to be a testing ground to determine whether you qualify for big leagues. In other professions, compensation for an apprenticeship, or internship, wouldn’t be the same as compensation for a full time career professional.

Rusty Groppel of the Bird Law podcast answered:

First and foremost, the MLBPA has to step up and actually fight for those players.  With the realizations that they have to shift the compensation model, maybe it will open the door for that.  I don’t think they need to contribute any of their salary, because it frankly would not cost the MLB that much to pay all of their minor leaguers a decent wage.

I quickly scratched out a pay scale that goes as follows: DSL – 30K, GCL, Appy, NY/Penn – 40K, Midwest – 50K, FSL – 60K, Texas – 75K, and PCL – 100K. Multiplying by roster size, it came out to $13.425M to pay 175 minor leaguers in regards to the Cardinals system. That’s not even 10% of their current payroll.

That’s an aggressive model and compensates them well in real-world dollars. The low level guys may still need an offseason job, but the high level guys, that are expected to put in their baseball work year round, would be in good living shape at those salaries. It’s fair.

Even if you cut it in half, it’s livable (though again, low-level will need a winter job) and a better situation than the current system. It would only cost the Cardinals $6.7125M in that scenario, which is just slightly more than they will pay Kolten Wong this year and $1M less than Brett Cecil. The Rays get almost 5 times that much just from revenue sharing. So it’s a relatively small financial investment for teams to just take care of those guys. It’s just a matter of someone forcing teams to do it.

Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the Bat answered:

Mark makes a good point, but I think Rusty’s scale of pay still makes a lot of sense.  In this field, the minimum salary is $555,000 right now, I believe.  Even apprentices and interns (usually) get paid and Rusty’s 30K for the rawest of these is 5% of what that minimum is.  That would seem reasonable enough for a living wage.  While perhaps these players don’t plan on it being their life’s work, it is their work right now.  (And I think a lot of athletes plan to make it to the bigs or plan to make this what they do as long as they can do it, especially after the first couple of years.)

At the very least–and I reiterate, the VERY least–the big league teams could help alleviate some expenses to make the minor leaguers salaries go farther.  Reimburse for clubhouse dues.  Make sure that there is a way for them to eat quality meals at the ballpark.  Provide some equipment to them–Tara’s story about minor leaguers that won’t swing at an inside pitch because it might break their bat and they can’t afford another one is pretty telling.

My guess is that those in the lowest levels of the minors put more work into their job than I do to mine.  (Maybe that’s a low bar, but still….)  Just because they might not wind up on the big stage doesn’t mean to me they can’t have a reasonable pay scale relative to their industry.

Thanks to all for your answers! The link to each person’s blog/podcast is in bold above – check them out! You might find something new and enjoyable to read.

I’m so excited – the regular season is less than 2 weeks away!  It’s been great watching the spring training games on TV. I enjoy watching the minor league guys, even if they don’t hit or field very well.  They have to start somewhere.

Thanks for reading! See you next time!

Diane

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