Forbes has released its annual team valuation list. Surprise: the Yankees are the most valuable team at $3.7 billion, followed by the Dodgers ($2.75 billion) and Red Sox ($2.7 billion). One very interesting finding, per Mike Ozanian of Forbes, is that the average MLB team is worth $1.54 billion, an increase of 19 percent from one year ago. As Ozanian explains, it has a lot to do with local TV deals.
Nick Stellini of FanGraphs made this observation, however:
You may recall the various news items we wrote about here last year pertaining to the fight for minor leaguers to make a living wage. Last summer, Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Cheri Bustos (D-IL) introduced H.R. 5580, also known as “Save America’s Pastime Act,” which sought to amend language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In short, the bill wanted to reclassify minor league players as a “short-term seasonal apprenticeship” — to use commissioner Rob Manfred’s exact words — so that they weren’t protected under the law.
This has been an ongoing battle, though it reached prominence in 2014 when minor leaguers Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odle filed a lawsuit against MLB alleging that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited. The trio has hit some bumps in the road in their legal quest, but had their case recertified as class action last month.
Just how little do many minor leaguers make? Tony Blengino, a former front office executive with the Brewers and Mariners, wrote for ESPN last year that “a first-year pro can expect to make barely more than $1,000 a month in wages.” Attorney Michael McCann wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2014 that “most [minor leaguers] earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season.” He added, “Many minor league players earn less than the federal poverty level, which is $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four.”
Last summer, Crashburn Alley’s Adam Dembowitz did some back-of-the-envelope math, approximating what it might cost the league to properly pay its players:
With Major League Baseball having seen significant growth, that percentage is even smaller using today’s numbers. You can even reduce the hypothetical $50,000 salary for minor leaguers if you feel like it’s too much (it’s not), significantly cutting down on the figure. The above figure comes out to an average salary cost of $1.25 million per minor league team. With about eight minor league teams per organization, that comes out to $10 million. Per Forbes, MLB teams posted an average operating income of $34 million.
Even beyond the math, it makes sense for major league teams to foster a healthy lifestyle for its players. Last year, the Phillies became the first team to make a significant investment (about $1 million), making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. Catcher J.P. Arencibia, who was in the Phillies’ system last year, said, “Food is an integral part of everything you do. They’re going to pay millions of dollars for players and then have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?”
Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball. When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”
Teams should follow the Phillies’ lead not just when it comes to diet and nutrition, but in other aspects of their players’ lives. Paying them a living wage will reduce their stress, allowing them to concentrate fully on baseball rather than making sure the electric stays on in the winter. It will allow them to spend the offseason focusing on maintaining a good workout regimen, rather than taking an offseason job in manual labor that can potentially result in a career-ending injury. It will allow players to afford a reliable car, rather than driving a 20-year-old beat-up car that can break down on the highway at any second. It will allow players to afford their own housing, rather than cramming in with six other players in a three-bedroom apartment. They’ll sleep better. Even sleep is something some teams are just now realizing is important.
Congratulations, Major League Baseball, on continuing to make money hand over fist. Now pay your minor leaguers.