If you ever wondered why average Americans don’t especially sympathize with Major League Baseball owners, the Washington Nationals have just shown how penny-wise and pound-foolish billionaires can be.
The Nationals may not have any revenue coming in this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown and the dispute between players and owners on how to proceed, but nickel-and-diming minor-leaguers is an embarrassing way to go about business.
Because of their shortsightedness, players have been left with the responsibility of looking after players.
Minor-league players are taking a beating
The Oakland A’s were panned last week when they announced that $400 weekly payments to players in their minor-league system would cease at the end of May. All 30 MLB owners had agreed early in the pandemic to make payments for at least that long, and several clubs have announced they will continue the payments in June or even beyond.
The A’s are a low-revenue team playing in a bad stadium in a market with plenty of other entertainment options. The organization is the reason sports fans have come to know the term “Moneyball,” so it’s somewhat understandable that ownership felt it could not keep paying approximately $80,000 a week.
The Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, and Pittsburgh Pirates have vowed to keep paying through the end of the season. That is why it’s hard to comprehend that frugality exhibited by the Washington Nationals. The team is saving approximately $2.7 million a week just by not having to pay Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg during the shutdown, never mind the remainder of the big-league roster.
The Washington Nationals suddenly go cheap … by 25%
Family patriarch Ted Lerner’s personal fortune, built on real estate investments, was estimated at $5.3 billion last year by Forbes. Lehner, 94, turned the team over to son Mark Lerner, fully involved in the family empire, in 2018, and the Nationals were valued at $1.8 billion before the pandemic – but also before their 2019 World Series championship presumably boosted that valuation.
In that context, the team’s announcement that they are cutting the minor-league paychecks by 25% to $300 a week is stupefying. Assuming there are 150 players in the system after their purge of several dozen prospects last week, the savings amounts to $15,000 a week. If Stephen Strasburg put in a full season in 2020, he would have been paid more than $1 million per start.
It begs the question as to why a team owned by a wealthy family feels the need to preserve its fortune $100 at a time.
Washington Nationals players step up
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price vowed last week to pay minor-leaguers in the organization $1,000 apiece to help out during the pandemic. Washington Nationals minor-leaguers will also be getting assistance, but it’s through a team effort – just not from the team.
After learning that the Nationals were cutting minor-league pay by $100 a week, Washington reliever Sean Doolittle announced that he and his teammates will make up the difference.
“All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times,” Doolittle wrote on Twitter. “Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled. We recognize that and want to stand with them and show our support.”
Doolittle said his MLB teammates were unanimous in their desire to help, CBS Sports reported.