Minor League Baseball

MiLB president Pat O’Conner says teams would contract if minor league players had to be paid more

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As Craig mentioned earlier, a new law is likely to pass as part of a Republican-led spending bill that amends language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The result of that will make minor leaguers exempt from being owed minimum wage and overtime pay, meaning that teams can continue to pay them very little. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball lobbied Congress to do this, as MiLB president Pat O’Conner readily admits, as Josh Norris of Baseball America reports.

Why all this effort? In 2014, former minor leaguer Aaron Senne filed a lawsuit along with Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle, alleging that the minor leagues violated state and federal minimum wage laws. In many cases, minor leaguers earn less than $10,000 a year and only a small percentage of players can be buoyed by their signing bonuses.

O’Conner said, “When the lawsuit came out two or three years ago, we started to put a strategy together. We’ve been lobbying Congress since June of 2016. … We had 94 people in Washington in June of 2016 walking the halls, talking to the elected officials.

Here’s what that lobbying effort looks like in graph form, via Maury Brown of Forbes:

O’Conner goes on, as he usually does, making disingenuous arguments to justify paying minor leaguers unlivable wages. He said, “To me, it’s fairly simple. If Major League Baseball experiences a tremendous increase in its cost of labor, it will reduce the number of players it offers to Minor League Baseball, or it will come to Minor League Baseball and expect us to pay a portion of that increase in cost. Either one of those are catastrophic to our business model.”

O’Conner said, “If the cost of that talent is doubled or tripled, which could happen under an FLSA basis, MLB is not going to pay that much money for the talent. They’re not going to pay. They’re going to do one of two things: They’re going to say, ‘If 160 (minor league) teams is going to cost (this much), we’re just going to cut down on the number of teams. We’re not going to pay for 160. We’ll pay for 80. We’ll pay for 100.’ Then the other 60 or 80 that are left without players, if they want to stay in business, they’re going to have to pay for their own players. … You might lose half of the (league). You don’t know. You might lose leagues. You might lose cities in leagues. Nobody knows, but the fact of the matter is one of two things is very likely to happen: MLB is either going to cut back on the number of teams it provides, or (MiLB) is going to have to start paying salaries.”

Major league teams are responsible for paying the salaries of the players on their minor league affiliates. Minor league teams are only responsible for paying their own employees, including front office personnel as well as ticket-takers, ushers, concession stand workers, and such. But we’ve done the math on this before and giving minor leaguers a livable wage is a drop in the bucket to an industry that saw over $10 billion in revenue last year. The average Major League Baseball team is valued at $1.54 billion, according to Forbes. TV deals and MLB Advanced Media have a lot to do with that.

Let’s go over the math again just so we’re all on the same page. Most teams have six affiliates; some have seven or eight. Players will go up and down through the minors, so the teams are usually dealing with 50 or so players in any given year, sometimes in excess. But generally speaking each team has a 25-man roster. Six minor league teams at 25 players each comes out to 150 players. Guaranteeing them a $30,000 salary comes out to $4.5 million in total for six teams. Obviously, the total is slightly more for teams with more affiliates, and if you want to guarantee them a higher salary. $4.5 million is the cost of a free agent reliever. Fernando Rodney, Craig Stammen, and Jared Hughes signed contracts for exactly that amount this offseason. For the cost of a free agent reliever, every team could guarantee each of its minor league players a livable wage so they could pay the bills. $30,000 in the grand scheme of things still isn’t much, but in many cases, it would represent a pay increase of four or five times what they’re getting now. Teams valued north of $1 billion can easily afford an additional $4.5 million each year.

Furthermore, Matt Winkelman of Crashburn Alley brings up a good point:

As mentioned on MiLB.com, the Tampa Yankees, Springfield Cardinals, and Gwinnett Braves are examples of teams owned by their major league parent team. Which makes O’Conner’s fear-mongering all the more disingenuous.

Major League teams wouldn’t pass on the cost to their minor league affiliates not only because they might already own their affiliates, but also because they would be reaping the benefits of paying their players more. Being able to study film at home instead of working the graveyard shift as an Uber driver would, on the whole, make their players better. Being able to afford gas would allow them to more easily shop for fresh fruit and vegetables instead of constantly walking a block to a pizza shop or McDonald’s. Healthier players are better than unhealthier players, right? Being able to afford a quality mattress, instead of sleeping on a couch, would allow players to sleep better. Better sleep means better production in every industry. Better players means a better hit rate on draft picks, which means more talent making its way to the majors that is cost-controlled for six years. As we’ve seen with the evolution of free agency, teams vastly prefer cultivating their own talent rather than paying a premium for it on the free agent market.

What this comes down to is pure, simple avarice. It’s short-sighted greed on the part of team owners and the people that work for them. Their public justification falls flat and were they capable of feeling shame, that’s what they should be feeling. Beyond their labor, minor league players are the product being marketed to fans. Without them, the owners have nothing.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 13, Rays 5: The Yankees scored seven runs in the sixth inning thanks in part to five walks issued that frame by Tampa Bay pitchers. Thairo Estrada, who I had literally never heard of before reading his name in the box score, had a pinch hit three-run double. That’s just how things are going for the Yankees right now. They could lose basically anyone to an injury, put your aunt Tillie in the lineup and she’d go 3-for-5 to lead the Bombers to victory. As it is New York takes two of three from the Rays — a week after taking two of three from them down in Florida — and takes possession of first place in the American League East.

Marlins 3, Mets 0: Let’s leave the woe is Mets stuff to posts specifically about that and instead focus on just how nice an outing Marlins starter Sandy Alcántara had. He tossed a Maddux, shutting out the Mets on only 89 pitches, allowing only two hits while striking out eight and walking only one guy. The whole game took only one hour and fifty-nine minutes, which made me double check to make sure it didn’t take place in 1937 or something. Curtis Grandrson, who I am pretty sure was playing in 1937, homered for Miami. The Fish came into the series with a seven-game losing streak but swept the Mets in three. The final two games were shutouts with Saturday night’s being a one-hitter. New York has lost five in a row.

Red Sox 4, Astros 3: Houston was staked to a 3-1 lead after three but Michael Chavis‘ homer made it 3-2, Xander Bogaerts singled in a run to tie things up in the fifth and then he doubled in a run in the seventh to put Boston up for good. Mookie Betts had three hits and scored three times as the Sox broke the Astros’ ten game winning streak. George Springer left the game in the fifth due to a stiff back. Been there. Ballplayers: they’re just like us!

Phillies 7, Rockies 5: Before I get to this game I want to share something. As some of you might know, I did some family research a couple of years back and discovered all kinds of bloody drama on my mom’s side of the family. That was certainly fun. Yesterday, realizing I know almost nothing about my dad’s side of the family, I decided to go on Ancestry.com and see what I could see. I got lost in all of that stuff for hours and managed to trace back one direct line that, before I shut down to go to dinner, stretched back to England in the late 1500s. That line got to America in the mid-1600s and settled for two generations in . . . Philadelphia. They left by the early 1700s, but I’ve decided that, in the ultimate heel-turn for anyone who remembers how much I used to roast Phillies fans on this blog circa 2009-10, I am going to claim Philadelphia heritage, start calling everything a “jawn” and get super defensive to the point of insanity anytime anyone even suggests that I’m acting obnoxious. Especially, you know, when I’m actually acting obnoxious. Don’t like it? I don’t care. I’ll boo you and then throw a battery at you. Hey, don’t say anything to me. I’m (kinda) from Philly, buddy, and you just don’t get it. Don’t tase me.

As for this jawn, Bryce Harper homered for the second straight day, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run shot in the sixth and driving in three. He woke the hell up against Rockies pitching this weekend, going 5-for-12 with two homers and six driven in in the three-game set and leading Philly to the sweep.

Indians 10, Orioles 0: Shane Bieber went the distance, tossing a five-game shutout while striking out fifteen O’s batter. Mercy. I know Baltimore is kinda like a Quadruple-A team in a lot of respects but that’s still a hell of an outing. He struck out Chris Davis and Dwight Smith Jr. four times a piece. He had plenty of support here too. Carlos Santana homered, Mike Freeman hit a two-run double and Oscar Mecardo, Carlos González, Roberto Pérez and José Ramirez also drove in runs. Cleveland takes three of four. Baltimore has lost nine of eleven games.

Dodgers 8, Reds 3: Hyun-Jin Ryu shut the Reds out over seven innings to extend his scoreless innings streak to 31. He allowed five hits and issued one walk while striking out five. His ERA is now 1.52. Alex Verdugo drove in three, Russell Martin added a solo homer and Cody Bellinger homered as well and he’s now hitting .405/.485/.791 and is on a 57 homer, 149 RBI pace. I think I said something last week about Christian Yellich looking to repeat as NL MVP but he’s gonna need a big Bellinger slump to make that happen.

Brewers 3, Braves 2: Ben Gamel led off the 10th inning with a solo homer to give the Brewers the lead and, ultimately, the win. All five runs in this game came on solo shots with Yelich and Keston Hiura going deep for Milwaukee and Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman hitting ’em out for Atlanta. Freeman has homered in four straight games. Those two homers were all Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff allowed, scatting five hits over eight innings of work. The Braves lost but they did get some good news as Mike Foltynewicz himself allowed only two runs over six which, given how he’s been shelled of late, was a good sign.

Blue Jays 5, White Sox 2: This one was tied at one heading into the eighth but the Jays plated a pair in each of the last two innings to earn a split of the four-game set. Vlad Guerrero Jr. is getting hot. He homered — his fourth homer in six games — and is 7-for-21 with nine RBI over those six.

Rangers 5, Cardinals 4: Dexter Fowler homered in the ninth to force extras and Paul DeJong hit a sac fly in the tenth to put the Rangers’ back against the wall, but the Rangers rallied with Willie Calhoun singling in Rougned Odor in the bottom half to tie things up and Nomar Mazara hitting a walkoff sac fly to end the game. Texas took two of three from St. Louis, has won four of five overall. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have lost five straight series and haven’t won back-to-back games since taking five April 30/May 1.

Giants 3, Diamondbacks 2: Pablo Sandoval‘s tenth inning pinch-hit homer gives the Giants the W. Fun fact: Sandoval, despite being given up for dead not all that long ago, posting a line of .300/.326/.675 and is on a 25-homer pace despite not playing full time. Every team has to have an All-Star representative. My guess is that it’ll be some rando reliever, but if Dave Roberts has any sense of fun he’ll pick Sandoval. Both because it’d make a good story but also because Sandoval gets a $50,000 bonus if he makes an All-Star team and the Boston Red Sox, still paying on that five-year deal they gave him, would have to pay it.

Royals 5, Angels 1: Danny Duffy allowed one run over six to help the Royals salvage one in this three-game set and snap their four-game losing streak. According to the AP story, Duffy’s father was in the stands, “as part of the team trip for Royals dads.” I’m picturing an entire section of the stadium just rotten with shiny white New Balances, jean shorts, tucked-in t-shits, unnecessary belts and transition lenses.

Pirates 6, Padres 4: Colin Moran hit a three-run homer and El Cajon native Joe Musgrove pitched into the seventh to get the win. I added that bit because I really like to say “El Cajon.” It’s a very satisfying city/boulevard name to say.

Mariners 7, Twins 4: Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run homer and Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach hit back-to-back shots to end the M’s three-game skid. Yusei Kikuchi allowed one earned run in six, striking out six.

Cubs 6, Nationals 5: The Cubs led 6-1 after their half of the six but a three-run homer from Anthony Rendon and a solo shot from Howie Kendrick made things close by the seventh. Joe Maddon called on Steve Cishek that inning and he stayed in the rest of the game, snagging a two-and-a-third inning save, which is not something you see much of these days. That’s some John Hiller stuff there. Don’t know who John Hiller is? Educate yourself, man. The guy had multiple heart attacks one offseason but still came back and, two years later, put up one of the best seasons ever recorded by a relief pitcher. He was unstoppable. He was like the John Wick of 1970s relief pitchers. Yet, somehow, hardly anyone talks about the guy.

Athletics 5, Tigers 3 — SUSPENDED:

Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you