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The minor leagues are brutal

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Dirk Hayhurst continues his winning streak of great stories about the less-publicized parts of baseball. Today he talks about something with which he’s extremely familiar: how rough a go minor leaguers have it.

Hayhurst, who famously slept on an air mattress on the floor of his grandmother’s spare room in the offseason because he simply couldn’t afford anything else, notes the biggest problem with the painfully low wages and extreme physical and psychological demands of being a minor leaguer: no one wants to hear you complain about it:

Being a minor league player is a brutal experience—a brutal experience you, dear minor league player, can never speak of. If you ever decide to tell the general public of your disgust with professional baseball, that it’s paying you in stale beer and day-old hot dogs for the honor of playing among its chosen immortals, expect your words to echo off into the endless vacuum . . . at its lowest levels, professional baseball is exploitation. It has been for years—decades. So long, in fact, that it has become a victim of its own belief system: that a player must sacrifice and succumb to unfair treatment as part of “chasing the dream.”

You can look no further than the news of the past couple of months for evidence of this. Specifically, the reaction to a lawsuit filed over unfair labor practices filed by several former minor leaguers back in March. A suit which quite accurately notes that most minor leaguers earn less than $7,500 for an entire season — well below minimum wage — and are required to work mandatory overtime. A suit which notes that, though players are only paid during the season, they are required to perform duties such as training, meetings and the like all year long, making finding paying jobs in the offseason difficult. Most of the people I saw responding to that gave a yawn at best and chastised the players for being ungrateful at the opportunities they’ve been given at worst. Very few people actually considered what it might be like to spend several years trying to scrape by like that.

And, yes, playing professional baseball is a great opportunity. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t real problems with how minor leaguers are treated and compensated. Hayhurst is probably the person in the best position to point this out, and his words on it are well worth your time.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.