For years in this space, I’ve argued that even ignoring any moral imperatives, it is sound business sense for teams to treat the players in their organizations well. That means paying them a livable wage, making sure they can maintain healthy diets, and so on. Healthy, motivated, unstressed minor leaguers are more likely to become productive major leaguers than their less healthy, demotivated, stressed counterparts.
The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing shutdown of baseball across the country has created another way in which teams can separate themselves. Recently, many teams released handfuls of minor leaguers as the league plans to cut upwards of 40 minor league teams. Teams agreed to pay the minor leaguers in their organization a $400 per week stipend through the end of May and all but one team (the Athletics) agreed to extend that at least through the end of June. The Royals pledged to pay their minor leaguers through the end of the season, Jon Heyman reported two weeks ago.
On May 29, Royals GM Dayton Moore was on a conference call with local members of the media. Per The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, this is what Moore had to say this about the minor leaguers:
Understand this: The minor league players, the players you’ll never know about, the players that never get out of rookie ball or High-A, those players have as much impact on the growth of our game than 10-year or 15-year veteran players. They have as much opportunity to influence the growth of our game as those individuals who played for a long time because those individuals go back into their communities and teach the game, work in academies, are JUCO coaches, college coaches, scouts, coaches in pro baseball. They’re growing the game constantly because they’re so passionate about it. So we felt it was really, really important not to release one minor league player during this time, a time we needed to stand behind them.
The 2020 MLB draft is today. According to MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan, the Royals’ decision to do the bare minimum — retaining their minor leaguers and paying them a $400 per week stipend for three more months — is becoming a competitive advantage. Flanagan says the Royals are in “prime position” to attract and sign top non-drafted players. An unnamed agent Flanagan spoke to said, “KC knows how to treat players. They do it right.”
Conversely, teams that chose to take the easy way out may not have as much success attracting talent. The A’s initially chose not to pay their minor leaguers their June stipend but reversed course after receiving a hefty amount of criticism. The Nationals tried to reduce the amount of their minor leaguers’ stipend to $300 per week, but also reversed course upon receiving heaps of criticism. Some players may take notice of the teams’ instincts to take from their players and choose to take their talents elsewhere.
There are many more ways in which players can keep tabs on organizational treatment. Does the team avoid being cutthroat in arbitration hearings? Does the team value players sleeping well and eating healthy? It’s the bare minimum for doing business with other human beings, but because MLB teams have set the bar so low, certain teams are finding opportunities to stand out just by being decent.