If you’ve been around a while and read this site, or my twitter feed, you’re probably well aware that I often talk about the way that Major League Baseball teams treat, and pay their minor leaguers. To be blunt: they pay them as little as legally allowable, and fight against that.

I don’t want to do a deep dive into how little they get paid. But we can make it simple. They are paid minimum wage for up to 40 hours a week, but are not paid overtime. They also are not paid for spring training or instructional league.

There was a recent set of lawsuits fighting Major League Baseball over illegal pay. One of them is still in the court system. The owners of teams spent nearly $3M on lobbyist to get a law passed that required them to pay no more than minimum wage, with no overtime, to a national bill.

Investing money in athletes makes sense on the surface. Investing money in people makes sense on the surface. Having some sort of financial stability is proven in study after study to lead to healthier lives and more productivity. With an athlete, it may be even more important because to be in the best shape it costs money. Eating healthy isn’t as cheap as eating whatever you can afford. Working out to be in the best shape possible not only costs money, but it also costs time.

When you are not paid for the offseason, it means you have to go get a job. But the odds that you can get a job that pays decently when you tell the boss: I’ve got to go to my other job for 3 weeks in October, then when February gets here I have to quit to go start my other job…. well, those odds aren’t good.

Teams have taken steps to try and improve some aspects of life for minor leaguers in the last few seasons. Most teams are now providing quality meals at the stadiums (the Reds began this a few seasons ago). Bus ride lengths now have rules set for how long they can be in a given day. The Reds, specifically, have changed up travel schedules for road games in the minor leagues to try and maximize the most rest for the players. These changes are minimal, but they aren’t nothing.

Many ask the question: Why doesn’t a team just pay their players more. The short answer is simple: They don’t have to. They don’t want to. The long answer is a bit more complicated.

Over at Fangraphs in this weeks chat, someone asked Kiley McDaniel, a former MLB scout and also former front office employee of the Atlanta Braves if he thought it would be a competitive advantage for a team to actually pay their minor leagues so they can train rather than work offseason jobs. His answer was an interesting look:

I’ve thought about this and I think it’s because once one team does it, then a few more will, then eventually everyone will and then the clubs will give away a financial advantage. A couple clubs would get a benefit for a few years.

Now it should still happen in large part b/c it wouldn’t cost much and will make your players better, but I think it isn’t because owners/GM can see that you’d only get a slight advantage and (anger) the other owners/MLB.

To note quickly, the above quote is edited for language that I’m not placing on my site. Let’s address some of this. First, teams don’t want to anger other teams. What? Why should the Cincinnati Reds care one bit about why the White Sox would be mad at them for trying to improve their players development? That’s crazy. Yet, I don’t think he’s wrong at all with that thought process.

Second is that there’s complete acknowledgement that it would make players better. That’s all we need to know to understand this should be happening. No one out there is arguing to pay minor leaguers $75,000 a year. But $25,000 a year isn’t outrageous. And at that price, for players who are not on the 40-man roster (those guys make more than $25,000 a year already, even if they aren’t in the Majors), or guys who have reached free agency and can negotiate their contracts even at the minor league level, the price to each organization is that of a middle reliever – somewhere from $4-5M a year. That’s not nothing. But it’s also a drop in the bucket. Major League Baseball teams combined for $10.1B in revenues in 2018.

That raise would make a world of difference for a lot of guys and allow them to use the offseason to take better care of themselves and their bodies. Having better players is better for the game of baseball.

There is nothing that would prevent a team from paying their players more money in the minor leagues. It would make sense on a lot of levels to do so. But the incentives, while there, aren’t enough to get anyone to “bite the bullet” so to speak, and write that check. At least not yet.

With the game trending younger and younger, it only makes that much more sense from a financial standpoint. If the plan of front offices is to save money by not paying veterans and replacing them with young, cheap players, having more of those young and cheap players makes all of the sense in the world. And if you can get someone who may have otherwise not made it and turn them into a starting caliber player every few years, you’re saving tens of millions of dollars.

There’s an old saying about being penny wise and pound foolish. It probably applies here. As the original question eluded to, it’s not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it would literally be good for your business. Kiley McDaniels notes that the franchises that did it first would likely have an advantage for a few years. He’s right. But it could be longer lasting than that, too.

Simply because the Reds, for example, would choose to pay their minor leaguers more, does not mean other teams would. It’s possible that the others would. But with how the current way the system is set up, they wouldn’t need to. Players don’t get to just up and leave unless they retire. And they can’t choose where they want to play if they are coming from Canada, the United States, or Puerto Rico.

International free agents can choose where to sign, and that could certainly play a factor. In fact, if you aren’t a player that’s going to get a signing bonus in the $300,000+ range, you would almost certainly choose to sign with a team that’s paying their players more on a yearly basis than other teams that weren’t. This alone could be a very interesting reason for a team to give it a shot. It could alter their entire outlook on how they could approach international free agency.

This post got away from me a little bit as I kept typing. So I’m going to cut it off with this ending: One day a team will take a chance at being the first to try something different. And it will likely be rather beneficial for them in the short term. Just like everything else is. Eventually the rest of the league catches up with the innovator of an idea and the next idea has to be found. I’d love to see a team be the one to implement the next big idea of “taking care of your players better”.

For more reading on this topic, here are a few reference links:

  1. September 2018 on MiLB pay and laws, and what the MLBPA could do to fix it.
  2. December 2017 on how to raise MiLB salary at no cost.
  3. December 2017 on MiLB President devaluing the work of the players.
  4. May 2014 on the harsh reality of minor league baseball pay.

51 Responses

  1. Simon Cowell

    Anger other teams and they wont consider hou for trades so there is that. I believe that there are several cases we can review where rivalry teams refused to help each other.
    It sounds in some ways as if you are advocating for considering milb as a career choice. Shouldnt we see the minors as as the mcdonalds of baseball? No a minor league baseball player should be consider a temporary state that lasts just a few short years. Its kind like a college to learn the game.
    Let me ask you should college players be paid?

    • James Vincent

      They are. A full ride to a good school cost 100k. That’s about 25k a year.

      • Doug Gray

        Don’t confuse benefits with pay. They are not the same thing.

  2. MK

    Everybody seems to be interested in that extra year of team control. The Reds could start this process but within two years the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox would own it. The team control of players in minors would be ruined. The Reds would get none of the quality minor league free agents and guys would leave much more readily when they could. The kids deserve more but a cap that they all agree to is a way to to keep a small amount of competitive balance.

  3. Alan

    No, no, no; this is all backwards. If you write about how people who need more money should be able to get it, then you’re an evil Commie. If you write about how rich people are entitled to “get every penny” – for example, look at the recent spate of tantrums about how Machado and Harper weren’t receiving offers they deemed acceptable, even though there’s zero chance the money difference would make any impact in how they live the rest of their lives – then people are all on board. You’re forgetting the basic tenets of “earning a living”, “worth”, and “capitalism”, Doug, as they’ve been sold to the public in general and sports fans in particular.

  4. Stellavic

    So why do MLB teams have so many players in the minor leagues anyway. Most of the players have no shot at ever making the big leagues. Just curious?

    • Randy in Chatt

      Because every player going into the minors believe they have a chance of making it to the majors. And why not? They are chasing a dream, playing the game they love. Can you blame them for trying?

      I had a chance to talk with Kyle Lotzcar after he had pitched in the Futures Game (for the world team, Canada) down here in Chattanooga. I was very surprised to find out that he had to pay for his own uniform himself to pitch in the game. I felt that that was kind of a cheap, miserly thing to do. I was quite surprised by that.

    • Muddycleats

      Good Pt IMO largely because Reds have a poor track record of developing quality young players & not spending 4 better ML players. Cut overhead & put a better ML team on the field IF a better ML team is what u desire.

    • Stock

      Interesting Statement Stellavic. 2009 was the first year where they put signing date into the data base.

      In 2009 only one player drafted and signed from the 25th round on had at least 10 HR (if he is a position player) or 150 K (if he is a Pitcher). And the one player who did sign and had at least 150 K was Vidal Nuno. Not exactly an impact player.

    • Rich H

      I’d say there are many reasons, but it boils down to one for me, and that is how long it takes for MLB players to develop. That length of time means a few things:

      1) Teams will have to create a larger pool of talent to see who can learn and take steps forward, since pure athletic ability means less in baseball than in football and basketball. Lacking those pure athletic measurables makes it harder to judge overall viability early on.

      2) You need to field many people at each minor league level so you can gauge and grow talent. Without all of the people that won’t make the bigs filling out minor league rosters, there is no way to measure or teach the players who could or will make it there.

      There’s probably a lot more to it, and I bet Doug has thought much more and has a much better answer, but that’s my two cents.

  5. James Vincent

    If the union went after this people would be on their side. However they dont want money for all just a lucky few. It really shows the greed when minor league players are not part of negotiations. I will wait while they guy making 40k a year calls me a socialist.

  6. Bill

    Baseball has a difficult time adjusting. Of course players would benefit tremendously from honing their skills year round. Other sports have adapted to this reality. The NFL has offseason workouts and the NBA developmental league plays in the summer. Heck, most high school sports run year round.

    I understand why you take umbrage with the owners on this issue based on their lobbying efforts. But the players are equally to blame. You mentioned MLB generates $10B+ in revenue. Well the players get half with minor league signing bonuses and salaries bringing the players cut up to 55-57% according to an article on theringer.com.

    The 43-45% the owners keep pays other expenses, too. The point being revenue and profit are not synonymous. $4-5M per team equals $120-150M for 30 teams. That’s another 1.2-1.5% that management would be paying; I don’t think they would agree that’s a drop in the bucket, but I understand why it’s perceived to be. I have no idea what the actual profits are, but we know they are not equally distributed among all 30 franchises. Small market teams are closer to break even and the Yankees probably have difficulty counting their money.

    The solution is for the MLBPA to recognize that MLB is trending towards favoring younger players and adjust how they split their share of the pie accordingly. Just because the grizzled veterans survived the poor pay and grueling bus rides is not a valid reason to require the current minor leaguers to do the same. But if improved pay led to faster player development, it could accelerate the youth movement at the expense of veteran players.

    I think that’s the dilemma…owners aren’t willing to simply fork over another percent plus of revenue to the players and the big league players have little incentive to put minor leaguers in a better position to takeover their very lucrative jobs.

    Like major league service time debates for players like Senzel, I always remind myself that there is actually a collectively bargained contract that was willingly signed by both the players and owners. That’s the law of the land when labor chooses to unionize as is their legal right. To me that cuts into the moral argument somewhat realizing minor leaguers are stuck with the agreement and really don’t get much if any input.

    As a customer, which is what fans are, I want to see the best possible product on the field. I want revenues shared so teams have roughly equal resources to acquire talent, I want roster management rules that put the best players on the field, and I want minor league pay that enables prospects to devote their full energy to developing their talent to their fullest potential. With attendance waning, I suggest both sides do what all smart businesses do — find a way to make a profit while appropriately paying the players so more and more fans will pay top dollar to watch them play.

    If I haven’t said it before, thanks for bringing this issue up … I would have never known about this aspect of baseball except for this site and your passionate reporting.

    • Michael Smith

      Bill,

      The MILB guys are not members of the union and have zero say in the matter.

      p.s. excellent breakdown on your view of things. I agree with Rich H, you did kill it.

      • Bill

        Understood, but nearly all MLBPA members are former minor leaguers and the union has a very strong say in minor league rules. For example, last CBA, they killed the international draft concert. Their lack of membership in the union that represents their interests is certainly hinders progress on this front.

      • RobL

        Bill, killing the International draft was a plus for the kids. It was a blow to ownership, because a draft restricts player options. The only progress stopped was owners’ efforts to further restrict cost for talent.

      • Bill

        I disagree somewhat. The CBA put a hard cap on international free agent spending, so the owners achieved their financial objective of establishing a fixed cost for international player acquisition. What they didn’t get was a method to ensure more equitable distribution of that talent across all franchises.

        I suspect MLBPA wanted to avoid the draft to protect the buscones that act as trainer/agents across the latin american baseball hotbeds. An international draft would fundamentally change the way of life for baseball talent development in some of their home countries. I can certainly understand why the latino players felt strongly.

        That said, my point is that MLBPA can and has affected change for minor leaguers during the collective bargaining process even though the minor leaguers aren’t in the union.

  7. Michael Smith

    Jared Hamilton wrote a great key note address for driving sales 2015. It was about churn and why Costco was killing Sam’s club despite paying at the time about $4 an hour more with benefits. Costco’s turnover was 17%, Sams was 83 %. Cost Sams 250m a year to train and replace their workforce plus less engaged employees. In summary treat your minor league guys like Costco treats their employees and they will reward you.

    • Little Earl

      Going to have disagree with that comparison. Minor leaguers are highly incentivized by the enormous rewards if they make the majors. Not so for Costco or Sams employees.

      • Tom

        Take it one step further, would Costco or Sam’s people work harder to earn a million a year? IMO, neither would work harder, they’d work at the same level. However, Costco people would probably less likely get derailed by financial or health problems by having their basic needs met.

    • Doc

      It won’t change your turnover, though. There are always new people coming in to replace people who aren’t rising to the top. And there are still only 25 positions per team at the top. Paying minor leaguers more will not cause the Joey Vottos of the world to be turned over faster. I’m in favor of a fair wage for minor leaguers, don’t misinterpret. But, if Costco is whipping Sam’s because of much lower turnover, then that is not a valid comparison to baseball, in my opinion.

  8. James Vincent

    We can stand with guys making 20k. When I am having trouble coming up with money to fix my furnace even with a degree I don’t fell sorry for these rich jerks. They need to keep it to themselves and let their unions and agents do it. All this is doing is angering fans. They could easily get this in a deal but only look after their millions. It’s just disgusting.

    Watch the language, James. You’ve been around long enough to know you can’t use that here.

  9. KyWilson1

    While I agree they should get paid more, to say that just raising their salary would keep them from seeking other work in the off season isn’t necessarily true. Unless you can pay them more and contractually make them not able to work outside jobs, they will continue to do so.

    • Michael Smith

      @kywilson1

      It is a smart investment for the owners. True it might still not keep them from picking a job up in the offseason but it might keep them from having to do it to survive.

      Every training guide I have read over the last few years talks about putting your employees first. Train them, make them your first priority and they will take care of your customers. In this case an improved product because you are paying them enough to concentrate on honing their skills is what improves the customer experience on all all levels of baseball.

      USL players make at minimum $2,000 a month. G League guys for the NBA at minimum make $25,000 in a year. MILB starts at $1,100 a month. Not sure why MLB is so far behind the curve on player development. They are just starting to catch up with the little things like catered meals but still way behind the curve in other areas. Yes there will be say roughly 8-10 outlier guys who had large signing bonuses. This is not about the Senzels or Greens or Trammells. This is about the other 200 or so guys in each organization that had signing bonuses well under $100,000 (which by the way they see less than 50% after taxes, agents etc…

      • KyWilson1

        I am completely aware, and completely agree they should be paid more because this is their profession. Any professional sport is a full time job. Baseball is played for 8-9 months a year, then you rest for a month(vacation time for most careers), then you start training to get your body right for the season. But just because you pay someone $100,000/yr to do his job, doesn’t mean hes not also going to try and make more on the side. They are maximizing their intake. So there in lies the catch 22, if teams pay them more can/should they make them contractually unable to work on the side? If it does, does it make offseason workouts with team instructors mandatory? Does in then increase the coaches pay now that they are coaching year round?

      • Bill

        But that’s not really the point. Right now many minor leaguers must take an offseason job to make ends meet. The idea is to pay them enough to focus on improving their craft year round without having to work part time.

  10. Scott

    I was shocked to find out the MILB players get paid $10 per day for spring training. How much does MLB pay for spring training.

  11. Tom

    If MLB wants to attract talent away from NBA, Soccer, NFL, then they should take your number, Doug, and double it. You tell a 17 year old kid that he can start making a minimum 50k next year for the next 6 years, he’ll immediately forgo other sports. The effect on the talent pool will be instant. It would cost 250 million a year, but doing that for 5 years then adjusting it as needed, would be a smart “Amazon” style long play. As you noted, the money is definitely there.

  12. Steve D

    Totally agree that Minor leaguers deserve to get paid more. Even 25K-30K a year is hard to support a family on. I don’t see this changing unless owners take initiative. I don’t see the MLBPA caring about this issue enough with everything is going on with Free Agency. In 2021 I would have to bet that the MLBPA is going to put all their eggs in negotiating a threshold minimum salary Cap that teams must spend. Think this would help with Free Agents getting paid more but it won’t address other issues like pay of minor leaguers and pay of 1-3 year mlb players.

    • Tom

      – Start arb after 1 year
      – FA after 4 years
      – Max salary at 35m/yr with scheduled increases
      – Max contract length of 6 years after arb
      – Salary Cap at 160m with scheduled increases
      – Salary Floor at 100m with scheduled increases
      – Greater revenue sharing
      – MiLB pay at 50k/year average (40 at rookie, 45 at A, 50 at A+, 55 at AA, 60 at AAA) with goal of attracting the best talent in the world. Evaluate results in 5 years.
      – Increase and / or combine international and rule 5 draft pools
      – Trade-able draft picks

      • Tom

        It’s meant to be a sports incubator. The argument is more pay = more productivity & better athletes choosing baseball.

  13. Billy

    What prevents someone from creating a highly competitive independent league aimed at prospects, not has-been prospects like many indy leagues are currently? Provide better pay and benefits for the minor league players and give them a place to develop. When a big league club thinks the player is ready, it comes calling.

    Is the issue that a rival minor league can’t turn a profit doing so? If that is the case, then it speaks to why MLB teams wouldn’t want to pay more for their minor league players. Perhaps the minor league could negotiate a development fee into the players’ contracts, so that if they ever agreed to a contract with a major league team, the minor league would be entitled to some compensation. The trick would be figuring out how to get the major league team to pay it instead of simply passing it on to the player.

    • Bill

      The cost to set up a league in the manner you describe would be very high coupled with lots of risk for failure. Currently, minor league franchises pay nothing towards player salary. To attract the best prospects would require budgets on par with what the majors pay.

      Alternatively, MLB could lean more on colleges where players get an education and expenses such as room and board are included. A deal between MLB and the NCAA could be mutually beneficial.

  14. Wes

    This is America…Any minor league player or anyone able for that matter can go get their welders cert and make 50k a year. There’s unions that u can join and travel and make more than that. Today there are more jobs available in our country than workers willing to do them. Let the market determine their wages. If too many quality athletes leave for something else and mlb will increase their wages. Loose a quality guy like Oakland’s pick and that’s just the cost of doing business in current structure. MiLB is a business expense mostly managed the best it can be. That’s how Corp America works. Minimize expense to maximize profit regardless of how u treat people.

    That being said- these guys get enormous signing bonuses, lodging, and food for the most part. They are young, having fun, and chasing a dream. I don’t feel sorry for em one bit. You want more money- you are part of the wealthiest society in the worlds history- go get it and God bless ya !

    • Scott

      The compensation rules are rigged to prevent the owners from paying market value for an MILB player. Most players do not get bonuses! After the 4th round a player is lucky to get $500 for travel to get the minor league site. The only reason for those players drafted after the 4th round to participate is that it is their dream.

    • Michael Smith

      Wes your thought process on this is flawed. Numerous companies do not follow your quote “that’s how Corp America works. Minimize expense to maximize profit regardless of how u treat people.”

      Also you are wrong about “that’s how Corp America works. Minimize expense to maximize profit regardless of how u treat people.” Your thought process is exactly the opposite of what many companies are doing to retain and keep a happy workforce. They still want to maximize revenue and profit but they realize that they can not do that with high turnover in positions. High turnover leads to poor performance and higher cost because you are constantly training or having to find people to replace the ones you are losing.

      The math is not hard here. If you want to look at this like an apprentice lets look at what the average apprentice welder makes. It is $16.50 an hour. This is $2,860 a month. If they are a 1st year electrician apprentice it is $18.44 an hour. MILB are skilled labor in an apprenticeship yet you find it acceptable to pay them $1,100 a month starting out and $10 a day for spring training.

      https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Apprentice_Welder/Hourly_Rate

      https://work.chron.com/much-first-year-electrician-apprentice-paid-7629.html

      • Cguy

        The math is a little more than that. I know of no trade where if you complete your apprenticeship and work a single day as a journeyman your vested with health insurance for life. I believe it’s that way for pro baseball players. That’s a major benefit & has to be figured in. Lots of MiL ballplayers get a “cup of coffee” or 2 in the ML.

      • Wes

        Just left a guys house who got his CDLs 3 months ago and clears 1200 a week on local routes. I live on the Indiana side of Louisville and I know welders, who are journeymen, that can walk into a place and make well over 25 an hour and a friend tells me of a Chinese company coming to town paying 40. Leaving seymour now and there are 50 factories up here all looking to hire 50 people and the people I speak to are saying wages are going up across the board. One is a 22 yr old college student and she’s making 65k a year w full tuition paid. Amazon is across the street from my house and they’ll start u out at 16 an hour plus sign on bonus. I talk to people about their health and finances for a living and if in exaggerating- it’s ever so slightly.

        @micheal- which Corp America company do u suggest doesn’t base their decisions on maximizing profits ? Show me one and I’ll show u a CEO who’s bout to get fired. That same amazon was paying 13 three years, brought their whole staff in the day after new year, cut all their wages a dollar an hour in hopes to get a bunch of people to quit and it worked. Richest company in world treating employees like dukey- that’s Corp America way

  15. Kurt

    I like were this is going. If somebody can write, publishers need to pay them before they they write their first novel. If somebody looks like they might be able to act some, screw drama school and local theatre, these guys need to be paid by the studios immediately. If somebody can crack a couple jokes the comedy clubs need to kick in and sponsor them and pay them before they put butts in seats. Life would be so much fairer if we paid everyone on potential rather than results. Why does somebody need to drop 45hr a season or have 250 strikeouts in a season to make the Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw contracts. I root for the Josh smiths, Danny Dorn’s, Herb willingham’s, and Razor Shines of baseball. I pay the big $85 a ticket and eat $5 hotdogs to watch these true american heroes.

    • Doug Gray

      This right here is a great take. I’m very glad you shared it.

  16. RobL

    I think a lot of the conversation in this thread actually misses the point of the post. It’s not about, should minor leaguers get paid more. It’s why would you not pay them more if it could benefit the owners.

    I would guess that ownership is relatively happy with the way the minors are producing big leaguers. Really, a team only needs a handful of fresh players a year. If 5 are only needed in a season, yet you are now producing 12 big league ready players a year, there is no gain. Yes, initially having more prospect capital would be great for trades. Just look at how the Reds used there depth of prospects to improve the team this year. But, in a couple years, when everyone is paying better and increasing their depth, then that capital just rots.

    Then, there is the fact that owners are not going to just volunteer to up their overhead for the forseeable future. Or until the owners get tired of competing against each other and put a cap for minor league pay into a future CBA. Especially if they are worried about getting the cold shoulder at the MLB owners Christmas party for driving up costs.

    Now, could it happen, sure. You could see small market teams decide that this is a relatively inexpensive way to try and improve their team. However, the fear that the Yanks and others will come in and outspend them in the next year or two will probably keep that from happening. But, I could see a team like the Dodgers doing it. They have financial muscle, but have chosen to flex it differently. They aren’t trying to break the bank to sign older players to huge deals. They are more inclined to take bad contracts in order to get proven talent and thus drive down their prospect cost in trades. They are very protective of their top prospects. So, I could see them be the team that decides to dive into the minor league pay pool and make some waves. I’m not saying they will, but they seem to be prospect-centric, while having tons of money to spend.

    • Bill

      But if better minor league pay actually produced more legitimate major league talent as you suggest, then MLB expands franchises which grows revenues and creates more jobs for players. There’s no reason to let that new found talent rot.

  17. Jon Ryker

    I presume the first team or two who paid minor league players more would find a resounding ZERO trading partners….ever….so that is something to consider.

    I do agree it would help, but I understand why it hasn’t been done.

    • Doug Gray

      This is like when the Yankees started spending 4-5 times as much money as everyone else and no other big league team would trade with them because they broke the market, right? That’s how that played out as far as I can remember.

      • Wes

        Bingo !

        What do the Mets care about an extra 2 mil a year ?? They are way more consumed w keeping that pitching staff in tact and a competitive team will benefit them greatly. Lowrie goes down and scooter can be had what do they care what reds pay their minor leaguers ?

        On the flip side- minor leaguers making 2 mil more a year per team will probably break jeter the joke broke and he’d have to hit jlow up for loan