Emilio Pagan
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Padres acquire Emilio Pagan from Rays for Manuel Margot, prospect Logan Driscoll

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The big trade we’ve all been waiting for has finally been made official. That’s right folks, the Rays traded reliever Emilio Pagan to San Diego in exchange for outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher/outfielder prospect Logan Driscoll.

What, you were expecting Mookie Betts? Read the headline next time.

Even if this isn’t about a former MVP, it’s a fun little trade. Pagan broke out in a big way with Tampa last year. The right-handed put up a 2.31 ERA over 70 innings and struck out 96 men while walking just 13. He was one of the most important weapons in the formidable Rays bullpen, and he’ll now partner with Kirby Yates and Drew Pomeramnz for the Padres. San Diego’s bullpen was already sneaky good, and now it’s even better. AJ Preller has done well here.

As far as the Tampa side of the deal goes, it’s an interesting fit. The Rays already had no shortage of outfielders. In addition to incumbents Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa had already gotten Hunter Renfroe from the Padres earlier in the winter and signed Yoshi Tsutsugo. They also traded for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena from St. Louis, although Martinez is more of a 1B/DH type. Arozarena has options so he’ll probably start the season in Triple-A, and Martinez and Tsutsugo will compete for DH time given that Ji-Man Choi already has the first base job.

There’s too many pieces in place here, which makes me think that the long-rumored Kiermaier trade might happen at some point in the next few months. Kiermaier is an unquestionably great center fielder, but he makes enough money and misses enough time that he’s not the sort of dude the Rays like to keep around. Margot is essentially a slightly worse (but healthier) and much cheaper version of Kiermaier, making the subsequent trade all the more likely.

The prospect in the trade, Driscoll, was a 2019 second-rounder out of George Mason where he absolutely tore the cover off the ball. As noted above, he can both catch and play the outfield, which between that and his power makes him an Extremely Rays player indeed. This is the sort of dude the Rays like to inject their own special brand of Cardinals Devil Magic into so that he can come up and be an above-average regular for three years before trading him when it’s time to get paid in arbitration, so yeah, expect him to be knocking some dingers into the stingray tank before long. He feels like the real prize here, beyond the Margot-shaped insurance policy Tampa now has for a Kiermaier trade.

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Agent highlights injustice of spring training for minor leaguers

Joshua Kusnick
Joshua Kusnick
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On Wednesday evening, agent Joshua Kusnick (pictured) tweeted about an injustice one of his clients, a minor league player, is facing at spring training. He wrote:

Have an milb client who showed up 2 weeks ago

He isnt being paid because spring training didnt start for milb 10 dollars a day per diem.

They have a 1200 deposit for the hotel. The player. Making 6k a year.

Player has no choice in staying at hotel Pays own way to field!

No gas reimbursement. If player has a car he must stay at hotel

This is insanity. Someone has to change this

As we have mentioned here before, minor leaguers aren’t paid during spring training. Despite this, teams place significant restrictions on their behavior, including how they travel and where they stay. Teams do provide a per diem for meals and will reimburse the player for his hotel stay, but that a player making so little is expected to take on the up-front cost of the deposit, as well as is quite unfair. According to Kusnick, the hotel will release the deposit when the player checks out.

I asked Kusnick to elaborate more on the issue facing his client as well as minor leaguers in general. He said, “These guys make less than minimum wage and they’re sold the lie that if they have a uniform they have a shot to get paid.” He emphasized, “It’s ownership’s oldest lie.”

Kusnick’s client, like many other minor leaguers, has to pick up a part-time job in the offseason to help make ends meet. His client gives lessons. Kusnick said, “It’s embarrassing to see pro athletes in America with part-time jobs in 2020 in an $8-10 billion industry.” He added that the players “have the anger but they don’t know what to do.”

Kusnick pointed out that his client got a bonus, and despite the injustice in question, his client generally has it better than most other minor league players in spring training. He urges us to think about the “undrafted free agent guys” who didn’t get a signing bonus, earning $6,000 per year and facing similar circumstances. “That’s not a fair shot,” Kusnick says. “It doesn’t make guys hungrier. It’s bulls***. It’s ownership selling bulls***. And they’re the kings of it. Ask Jim Crane.”

Asked about potential solutions, Kusnick suggested that the more prominent agents like Scott Boras use their “immense platform for good” to “establish real change.” He also suggested that minor leaguers could benefit from the MLBPA looping them in, especially “since they bargain away draft rights.” Kusnick doesn’t have faith in commissioner Rob Manfred even though he is “the only man who can do something now unilaterally.” An exasperated Kusnick tacked on, “Given the Astros situation, I’m not holding my breath.”

One thing is clear: Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball benefit from minor leaguers’ lack of unionization and their leverage deficit, forcing them to take on undue burdens just to go to work. Kusnick’s client and others like him shouldn’t be taking on the up-front cost of lodging and travel (“no gas reimbursement”). They should be paid a livable wage during the season, as well as during spring training and in the offseason when they are still responsible for training, nutrition, working on mechanics, watching video, etc. There are rarely days off for those in the minor leagues. It’s high time they are taken care of by teams that can, without question, afford to do so. Major league teams, not their minor league affiliates, are responsible for the salaries of the minor league players in their system.

Kusnick insists we “keep fighting and bringing attention to these issues so maybe one day the public pressure forces change. Until then, fight the bastards at every turn until they notice you and do something, if only to shut us up. It’ll work.”