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A Realistic Approach to Increase MiLB Salaries

There has been a lot of talks lately about Minor League Baseball player’s salaries. That is thanks, in large part, to the lawsuit by several former players against Major League Baseball and their previous teams. While most agree minor league players should be paid more, there has not been any proposals to fix it.

To understand how bad it is, let us take a look at the salaries currently in place. The lawsuit alleges that most minor league players only make between $3,000 – $7,500 a year, which is well below the federal poverty level, currently set at $11,490 for a single person. This, for the most part, is true. Unless you have had time in the majors, the salaries for minor league ballplayers are pretty low. While minor league free agents can earn a pretty penny when they sign, Yangervis Solarte was slated to receive $120,000 in the minors if he did not make the Yankees roster in 2014, the majority are still low-paid.

Many times players are working longer hours and getting paid less than the person at the concession stand. How could they get away with that? Well, it is because minor league players are classified as seasonal employees and are not entitled to the protections afforded to full-time employees. Do not mistake, though; this is their full-time job. From the last pitch of the season to the beginning of spring training, they are focused on getting stronger, faster, and overall better for the next season. Many will even head to one of the Caribbean Winter Leagues to continue to play and earn extra cash during the offseason.

Players are only paid for the regular season and playoffs. So this means for the time they spend at the team’s complex for spring training or instructional league, they are not paid. This could easily add up to three months of unpaid time they put into work on their skills. For teams that do not provide meals at the complex, the players are paid meal money, which is usually around $25 per day.

Presently the salary structure starts at $1,150 a month for minor leaguers playing in at the rookie-level or in the short season leagues. The monthly salary goes up to $1,300 for a full season low A team and $1,500 for a high A team. Of course, if they spend more than one season at a level, their monthly salary will increase by about $50. Players get another bump in pay when they make it to Double-A, where they will earn $1,700 a month plus another $100 each additional year they spend at that level.

The most significant bump in player’s salaries is when they reach Triple-A, where their salary is $2,150 for their first year at the level. It is not until a player is added to the major league team’s 40-man roster that they begin to earn a decent wage, which presently is set at $40,750.

So how do we fix this to where players are paid decently enough and not cause a large cost increase for the big league team? The first step should be to start paying minor leaguers for their time in spring training and instructs. Doing so will help spread out the cost of paying them and give them a more steady income. Of course, there needs to be a rate increase, eight months of $1,150 month is better than five months, but it still only adds up to $9,200 annual salary. A full $2,290 less than the federal poverty level.

Should there be a blanket increase to salaries, say doubling each level’s minimum from one year to the next? No. That would create a sticker shock to the MLB teams, and while they could afford it, we must also remember that we are talking about up to 200 players per each team. The cost will add up.

So how do we adjust salaries gradually over a period of about three to four years to a point where players are no longer below the poverty level and can afford the training and nutritional programs they must stick to?

The first step was already stated. Increase the pay period to include spring training and the instructional league. Paying players for this extra time will go a long way to help elevate the burden. Follow it up with a 25% salary increase the next season, a 20% increase the following season after that, a 15% increase after that and finally a 10% increase in the fourth year. At the end of these four years the minimum salary would have risen from the $1,150 to $2,182, combined with an increased pay period will mean a first-year players could go from $3,450 a year to over $8,000 annually.

Who will this affect? Well, this example is based on the salary for rookie ball and short-season leagues. This is the lowest rung on the ladder, the guys just starting out. An organization like the Yankees that have six teams at this level, with approximately 35 players per team, will see a pay increase for 210 players under contract. The total cost of these salaries will be $3,665,970. For a team like the Marlins, who only have three teams at this level, the cost will be half of that at $1,832,880. That is lower than what the average MLB salary was last season.

At the end of these four years, a player in low-A will make roughly $2,466 a month, which would equate to a total of $690,690 for a single team composed of 35 players. At high-A, the salary will go from $1,500 to $2,846 a month, costing a total of $796,950 for the full team. At double-A, the number of players on the roster drops from 35 to 25 men, so even with the increase to a monthly salary of $3,225, the total cost will be $645,150 for the roster of 25 players. Finally, at Triple-A, the salary will jump from $2,150 to $4,079 for a total of $815,925 for the entire team.

While these numbers might seem like a lot, remember we are talking about a $9 billion industry. In total paying, minor league salaries will equal $6.6 million for a team like the Yankees, which has 10 minor league affiliates. That is a small change, roughly the cost of a bench player in the big leagues. For most major league teams, it will be less. A team like the Marlins will only pay about $4.8 million.

These numbers are just a rough estimate.  When it is all said and done, teams would likely pay less due to new players not signing until mid-way through the year.  Is this a perfect solution? Of course not, but it is a step in the right direction as far as the overall debate goes.

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