While some big-name major leaguers, such as Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado, receive nine-figure contracts, some minor leaguers are scraping by on salaries which dip below what they would make working for minimum wage at another job, according to Forbes. In response, the Toronto Blue Jays agreed to give all their minor league players a 50% pay raise. Let’s take a look at why the Blue Jays made this move, and why Major League Baseball leaders don’t approve.
Why the discrepancy?
The minor leagues potentially feed into the majors, but those who haven’t made it into the big leagues earn pennies compared to what major league players make. Despite a similar workload throughout the season, minor league players have to live on salaries which are less than 1% of many in the MLB. Now, all Blue Jays players, from the AAA affiliate in Buffalo down to their single-A teams will get pay raises.
Part of the pay discrepancy can be chalked up to the smaller status that the minor leagues garner. There are almost 6,000 players in 19 leagues who are part of the MLB’s farm system. Keeping track of all that personnel isn’t easy for a casual fan. Plus, those teams and players are scattered in every corner of the country. However, nobody is expecting MLB bucks for the minor league players. Asking for a living wage is far different than asking for millions of dollars, especially when minor league baseball is a major fan attraction in markets which would never otherwise be known for their sports culture.
Who opposes the Blue Jays decision?
One would think that a multi-billion dollar entity like the MLB could afford to pay its players. However, the minor leagues operate independently of the majors. MLB franchises pay the salaries for players on the farm, but most minor league owners don’t have deep pockets like their big league colleagues to spend on other benefits.
In 2018, the issue of minor league pay reached Congress, which passed the Save America’s Pastime act. The act excludes baseball players from the overtime benefits of a normal employee. It has been maligned for exploiting labor laws to save money for the owners. Despite the long travel, practice, pre- and post-game hours, players don’t receive the same benefits as a retail worker. First-year minor league players who didn’t receive huge signing bonuses make just $1,100 per month.
Minor league partnerships are not exclusive to baseball, but no other American sport relies on its farm system like MLB. The NBA G-League has seen its status grow, but the NCAA is where most future pros play. The NFL, despite attempts from leagues like the AAF to form a partnership, operates without one. However, the average G-League player makes triple what the lowest paid minor league players are paid.
Why MLB doesn’t like what the Blue Jays did
Major League Baseball and its player’s union will renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement soon, so the Blue Jays handing out raises could be seen as weakening MLB’s leverage. If one team admits minor leaguers aren’t earning enough, it bolsters the union’s argument that low-level players deserve more money.
“We have received many questions regarding the decision of the Toronto Blue Jays to increase the salaries of minor league players,” the office of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN in a statement. “While each Club makes its own decisions regarding minor league salaries, the Office of the Commissioner is presently in negotiations with the National Association of Professional Baseball on the terms of a new agreement between the Major Leagues and the Minor Leagues to replace the agreement that expires in September 2020. The working conditions of minor league players, including their compensation, facilities, and benefits, is an important area of discussion in those negotiations.”
For the Blue Jays, giving minor leaguers raises wasn’t meant to anger MLB. Instead, they wanted to take care of the players coming up through the system.
”We just feel like it’s consistent with our values of trying to be a player-centered organization and give them every resource possible to be at their best,” Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington told Forbes.
Will others follow?
Minor leaguers compete for the love of the game and the possibility of major league success. However, most minor league players live below the poverty level. In promising to pay their minor leaguers more, the Toronto Blue Jays are the first team to acknowledge the pay problem. This is, however, the first step in what hopefully can be a reformation of the labor laws in professional baseball.
In 2020, the MLB Players Union will face off with the owners to negotiate a brand new labor agreement. Meanwhile, the MiLB is considering unionizing on its own. Major League Baseball has a duty to ensure that all of its employees get their fair share of the money. The Blue Jays took the first step down that road.