The last seven months have been brutal for Minor League Baseball. In November, before the coronavirus pandemic caused many businesses to shut down, Major League Baseball was considering eliminating over one-quarter of their minor league teams. The idea received blowback, including condemnation from sitting members of Congress. Then the pandemic happened and MLB shut down operations for the time being. While MLB works on getting some semblance of a 2020 season going, there will be no minor league season. MLB will get to eliminate 40-plus minor league teams after all, aided in part by the coronavirus.
The baseball shutdown has been tough on minor leaguers, who are only paid — and severely underpaid, at that — during the regular season. They are not paid during spring training or offseason. Thankfully, MLB stepped up and agreed to pay minor leaguers $400 per week through May 31. That day is fast approaching. The Athletics announced they will not be paying their minor leaguers after May 31. The Rangers, Padres, White Sox, Braves, Mariners, Marlins, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Mets and Astros announced they will continue their players at least through the end of June. The Marlins, Padres, and Mariners will pay theirs through the end of August.
As part of the March agreement in which MLB ownership and the MLB Players Association agreed on prorated salaries for the 2020 season, if there is one, the 2020 draft was shortened to five rounds. The 2021 could be only 20 rounds. Also part of the agreement, teams can sign an unlimited amount of undrafted players for $20,000, a significant boon for ownership considering sixth-round bonus slots last year ranged from $237,000 to $301,600.
Sadly, there has been more minor league carnage. Many teams have been releasing minor league players recently: the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rays, Nationals, Mets, Brewers, Mariners, Orioles, and Reds are who we know of so far, thanks to reporting from Jon Heyman and Robert Murray. Veteran outfielder Carlos González made the most headlines, as he was released from his minor league contract with the Mariners today. An agent Heyman spoke with called the whole thing “literally a war zone out there.” It’s worth noting that some of these releases likely would’ve happened at the end of spring training. [Update: Heyman says González wasn’t released after all.]
The Athletic’s Emily Waldon spoke to another agent who was more colorful about the issue. He said, “So, they can claim they’re still paying guys, but actually threw a third of the system overboard to save what? Less than 300k?” The agent added, “Also, why aren’t the players and leagues webpages pages updated with the releases? So no one can see the carnage? Don’t need to clear 50+ spots before a five-round draft.”
The shortened draft is going to cause a lot of players who otherwise would’ve been picked today to play for junior colleges. Some will give up on their baseball dream altogether. Eliminating more than 40 minor league teams — cutting thousands of baseball jobs in the process — will cause many to pick other lines of work. Cutting players in the middle of a pandemic will have the same effect. Long-term, why would anyone choose to chase a baseball dream? It was a tough road before, but it will be even tougher going forward. Two-sport star Kyler Murray chose to pursue a career in the NFL rather than MLB; it’s easy to see younger kids seeing a more realistic and lucrative road in other sports as well. The owners get to save a negligible amount of money in the short-term, but the popularity of the sport is going to hurt immensely from these self-inflicted austerity measures.