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):

Per Month
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
Rookie $1,150 Unknown
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
$100 $112,500
$150 $168,750
$200 $225,000
$250 $281,250
$300 $337,500

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.

18 Responses

  1. Gregmlb

    Also remember these are kids and they for the most part don’t manage the money they do make very well. It’s just amazing that PA will not recognize this group as a whole and make sure they taken care of but they are 100% committed to the MLB guys. At the very least they should be making $2000/month minimum for 12 months not 6. That is $24000/year and that is barely making it in today’s world. I admire these guys for chasing their dreams because it would be hard for me to focus and adjusting to off speed pitches when I have to focus on my financial issues at home. Also it seems to me that these minor league teams could make up a little because they exploit these guys through out the year to help with attendance. It seems they could chip in around $200-$500/month to help make difference. Overall it’s a problem that to me could easily be fixed with all the money going around these days. Great article Doug!

    • Doug Gray

      I think that having to deal with all of this is why fewer MLB players go bankrupt compared to NBA/NFL guys. In those leagues they go right from college to the pros and are making a bunch of money and never really have to learn to manage their money well. In baseball, you really do have to figure it out and you generally spend at least a few years doing it, so you get a better handle on it. Maybe I am way off base there though.

      As for the minor league teams chipping in…. that may work in some places, but a team like Bakersfield averages what, 500 people a game? I have no idea how they make enough money to continue existing, much less pay the bills and employees. Chipping in extra money to the players would cripple a place like that.

  2. Rookie

    One of the things that surprises me is the way each of the teams treat the players on their roster. Clubhouse dues go up at each level. So, from the way I have it figured the clubhouse guy is making more than any of the players at a given level. Also, some clubs have a nice spread for their players at home prior to games and others do nothing. Seems like there should be some equality from team to team. Healthy eating is a huge issue and a pregame spread would help considerably.

    • Doug Gray

      There are certainly a lot of issues at hand when it comes to how all of the teams handle things. Some teams have much better booster organizations than others, and those guys/gals can provide things that others can’t. The clubhouse dues generally aren’t going towards salary. But that is a whole different situation.

  3. Brad Konerman

    I was at the Florence Freedom opener last night, highly recommended if anyone has not gone. What is holding a team like Florence (Independent) or an Affiliated team from paying/treating players better? Is their a rule against paying/treating better or is that something wealthy adults are hiding behind?

    Last night Florence drew 1680 at approx. $10/person. Profit of $16800 for a pretty good crowd. Is it purely financial that teams could not pay more?

    Think of the Reds system, the Dragons are clearly making money selling out every game. Without knowing the daily lives of these players, how are they being treated in Dayton compared to say, Bakersfield which must be hemorrhaging money.

    • Doug Gray

      Let’s take the Freedom as an example. Let’s just round up to $17,000 to make it nice and round. How much did it cost to run the lights? Other electricity? Water? How much did they pay the staff? How much do they still owe each month on that stadium? There is a lot that goes into running just that one game. I have no clue what their operations cost and maybe at 1500+ fans a night you can do that. But there are plenty of teams that can’t sniff that many fans per night.

  4. Rookie

    Speaking of teams that cant sniff that many fans per night, there was talk last year about moving the Blaze out of Bakersfield. Have you heard any more along those lines?

    • Doug Gray

      Minor League Baseball wants to do so, but they can’t make it happen without another team wanting to move to the Carolina League as well. No city in California is going to build a stadium out there. It’s a big issue that they are trying to figure out, but it takes a lot of different things to all coincide.

  5. wally

    I do not want to sound harsh but I will take my chance . What is going on is criminal . I live part time in Pensacola
    these guys have to pay for meals,apartment, travel within pensacola
    They have to pay the Clubby
    They also have to donate time to help with camps and meeting the community

    I have spoken to these guys, some have the support of their family(financially) . It is amazing and these parents are amazing . Living in pensacola is not cheap. Club house food during games days are horrible, In most towns in the southern league they are not even edible. So these players are forced to eat outside.

    Remember also during the off season. These guys are working out 6 times a week , and they have to pay the cost of gym membership, or if they are in a cold weather climate like NYC , you are paying BIG MONEY to do both

    How is this fair, how and why would the players association just ignore this. The MLB has the strongest Union.Why is it not incorporated in the Minor League

    One more thing , in pensacola the games usually start at 7 PM Players are normally there at 1 and do not leave until 11. That is a 10 hour day , 7 days a week , Paying them $1700 a month The math works out to be about $5 an hour . Holy Crap

    • MK

      Wally, at least in Dayton, they do get extra pay for public appearances and camps, etc. I assume it is that way elsewhere. Now that money is paid by the minor
      League team, like Mandalay in Dayton, not the Reds. Similar pay came for PR appearances.

      I think last year when I had Dragons living with me they got $50 a day for working the camps.

      They also had to be ready to go at 2:30 p.m. for 7:00 pm game. Latin guys 1:00pm 2 days a week for English lessons.

      Talked to Dan Langfield the other day he is the first to tell me he is living in a suite type hotel. Tanner Rahier is married and they have an apartment. I would say 90% of Dragons live with a host family.

  6. Kris

    Doug,

    The numbers you have for the guys who have major league time (like the $81,750). I assume that’s per year? They get paid for how many months?

    I’m just curious of the math to know what that works out to a month for those guys.

    • Doug Gray

      Yes, that is per year, not per month. They get paid for 5 months, so bust out a calculator.

      • Kris

        Thanks…I work with numbers all day long.

        That’s $16,350/month. Quite a difference.

  7. Jim t

    Doug the answer may be if your not a HS phenom and your signing bonus is not enough for you to live on go to college. Once ownership realizes the numbers are declining it may force them to raise the pay.

    • Doug Gray

      I have gone into that before. If someone is willing to give you $100,000 and tuition money to play minor league baseball out of high school, do it. You can always go back to school. If you go to college you are getting a partial scholarship, aren’t making any money at all, are dealing with lesser coaching and still living poor.

      I am all for education, I really am. But I am also about good decisions. If a team is willing to give you six figures out of high school and you actually want to play baseball for a living one day, it seems like a poor idea to go on to college. You can always go back to college. You may never get another shot at baseball.

  8. Mel

    Doug the problem with your thought process is it is so difficult to go back to school at 21-24 years of age. I also believe in my heart of hearts that baseball gets these guys through school. The guys that are serious students only sacrifice 3 years of their life .They are the young years of 18-20 . If i had to give my son advise, it would be if it is not life changing money GO TO SCHOOL. In this game of baseball that I love dearly, clubs use the crap out of kids. If you are not a bonus baby , it does not matter your talent, you will not be given second and third chances . That is what is wrong with he game . So if you are reading this and you are deciding between a good education or playing baseball for little money, go to school. I do not want to be used by this game . If you allow it it will swallow you up. Look at some of our guys 29 30 years old playing AA and AAA ball. No education and very little to do in the future . If you are good enough to play this game and are fortunate to be considered, they will find you at any university or college . So you graduate when your 21. If you can play the game you will be in the pros in no time. Look at Matt Harvey, Mark Texiera and the list goes on and on.

    • Doug Gray

      What is life changing money Mel? $250,000? $500,000? Seven figures?

      While there are certainly guys that are 27+ in Double-A/Triple-A and no education, they can go back. If you go to college and blow out a shoulder you are never getting that money back unless you are one of the lucky 10% that can recover from shoulder injuries. There is always a risk/reward that guys need to look at. For me, it would be tough to tell someone to forego six figures + college tuition if they want it in the future to go play baseball for at a school where they have to pay part of their way while risking injury.