Back in March, we covered the Blue Jays’ plan to raise minor league pay “more than 50 percent for any player who is on a roster of an affiliated minor-league club, from the lowest rung in the Dominican Summer League to the highest level at Triple A, club.” This came one year after Congress exempted minor league baseball players from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which effectively said that the players were not entitled to a minimum wage and overtime pay. Major League Baseball spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress for this legislation and it worked.
Minor leaguers are severely underpaid with many making less than $10,000 per season — and that’s just between April and August. Minor leaguers do not get paid for things like team events, spring training, fall leagues, and offseason training. They are expected to pay for their own equipment as well, not to mention their living expenses like rent, food, and transportation. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2019 poverty line is $12,490.
Needless to say, the bigger paychecks are making a difference to the Jays’ minor leaguers. As J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group notes, it’s not life-changing money, but it allows the players to live more comfortably. Cavan Biggio, who made his major league debut on May 24, said, “For them to really kind of show that extra step, of giving that 50 percent increase, makes our lives a lot easier.”
Pitcher Jacob Waguespack said, “We were super excited that we were the team who did that. I got buddies on other teams who were like, ‘Why the hell aren’t we doing that?’ They were frustrated. Hopefully, it’s something that can be brought across the board.”
What the Jays have done should be lauded, but it’s only the first step in the right direction. Per The Athletic’s John Lott, Triple-A Buffalo players will make just over $15,000 with their raises. That’s barely over the poverty line. As Hoornstra put it, the raise will allow a player to go from sharing a four-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom.
There is a clear moral imperative to pay minor league players more. Paying them peanuts while the teams take in billions of dollars in a league that saw over $10 billion in revenues last season — continuing a streak of record-setting in this department — is incredibly unfair. But the morality argument doesn’t sway everyone, which is why there’s also an incredibly strong business imperative to pay players more. A player who doesn’t have to deprive himself of sleep by working additional jobs or living uncomfortably will perform better. A player who can afford to shop at the grocery store and make nutritious meals at home will be much more likely to perform well compared to players who subsist on fast food and Ramen noodles. A player with more free time — time not spent driving for Uber or mowing lawns, for example — has more time to spend reviewing film, working on mechanics, or just thinking about his game.
Teams spend, in many cases, millions of dollars on the potential for these players, why wouldn’t they do everything possible to ensure those investments have the highest chance of becoming profitable? Raising Triple-A players’ salaries by several thousand dollars is a relatively minor expense (pun not intended) for teams. Even bringing all minor leaguers up to $30,000, for example, would hardly be felt by the organization. And $30,000 is still not just. Beyond improving the lives of current minor leaguers, the increased pay and work conditions would make the sport more attractive. The next Kyler Murray might actually choose baseball over football, becoming an instantly marketable star for the league. More kids may choose to focus on baseball over other activities, increasing the overall talent pool for the MLB Draft (which should be abolished, by the way).
The other 29 teams in the league need to follow the Blue Jays’ lead, raising their minor leaguers’ salaries. And then they all need to raise those salaries even more. And keep raising them. A happy workforce is a productive workforce.