Blue Jays’ minor league pay raises making a difference

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

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.

Trevor Bauer pulls on No. 96 for Yokohama’s BayStars

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

YOKOHAMA, Japan – Trevor Bauer apparently was shunned by every major league team, so he’s signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars.

Before about 75 reporters in a Yokohama hotel, he slipped on the BayStars uniform – No. 96 – on Friday and said all the right things. Not a single Japanese reporter asked him about his suspension in the United States over domestic violence allegations or the reasons surrounding it.

The only question about it came from The Associated Press. Bauer disputed the fact the question suggested he was suspended from the major leagues.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” he said of the suspension. “But I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to pitch again. I’ve always wanted to play in Japan.”

He said the suspension dealt technically with matters of pay, and he said he had contacted major league teams about playing this year. He said he would have been eligible, but did not say if he had offers.

The 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jan. 12, three weeks after an arbitrator reduced his suspension imposed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred from 324 to 194 games.

The penalty followed an investigation into domestic violence, which the pitcher has denied.

Manfred suspended Bauer last April for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy, after a San Diego woman said he beat and sexually abused her in 2021.

Bauer has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying everything that happened between him and the woman was consensual. He was never charged with a crime.

Bauer joined his hometown Dodgers before the 2021 season and was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts before being placed on paid leave.

Bauer said his goal with the BayStars was to strike out 200 and keep his average fastball velocity at 96 mph – hence his uniform number. He said he is also working on a better change-up pitch.

He said he hoped to play by mid-April – about two weeks after the Japanese season begins – and said he has been training for the last 1 1/2 years.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength training and throwing,” he said. “I didn’t really take any time off. So I’ve had a year and a half of development time. I’m stronger than ever. More powerful than ever.”

Yokohama has not won a title in 25 years, and Bauer said that was his goal in the one-year deal.

“First and foremost, I want to help the Stars win a championship,” he said. “That involves pitching well. That involves helping teammates and learning from them. If they have questions – you know – share my knowledge with them.”

He also repeated several times about his desire to play in Japan, dating from a collegiate tournament in 2009 at the Tokyo Dome. He said playing in Japan was on his mind even before winning the Cy Young – and also immediately after.

“The Tokyo Dome was sold out,” he said. “I’d never played in front of that many people – probably combined in my life. In the United States, college games aren’t very big, so seeing that amount of passion. How many people came to a college game in Japan. It really struck me.”

He said he’d been practicing with the Japanese ball, which he said was slightly softer with higher seams.

“But overall it just feels like a baseball and the pitches move the same. The velocity is similar. I don’t notice much of a difference.”

Other teams in Japan have made similar controversial signings before.

Former major league reliever Roberto Osuna – who received a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy – signed last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines.

He has signed for this season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

In 1987, Dodgers relief pitcher Steve Howe, who had a career plagued with drug problems, tried to sign with the Seibu Lions. But he did not play in the country after the Japanese baseball commissioner disqualified Howe because of his history of drug abuse.

Bauer was an All-Star in 2018 and went 83-69 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 seasons for Arizona (2012), Cleveland, (2013-19), Cincinnati (2019-20) and the Dodgers. He won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.