Baseball has a troubling practice. Basically, minor league players are paid far less than what would amount to a decent wage. The average minor league baseball player makes between 1,100 and 2,150 a month or about $1,625 per month on avg. That’s not a lot of money, I know, I’ve lived on less. The avg yearly (for 2016) wage was 48,642.15. This boils down to a little more than 4,000 dollars a month. Meaning the avg minor league baseball player makes less than half of what the avg American makes. This is beyond dumb but currently allowed because MLB pays minor leaguers as temporary apprentices, which they are in name only.
There has been pushback from some stating that players spend far more than 40 hours a week playing and prepping for games and that they should be paid overtime for these “baseball related activities.” That pushback has been denied in court in the past but similar lawsuits could be filed in the future that could mean that minor league players would be paid for their time outside of the 40 hour a week maximum. There is legislation in congress right now that would make it completely legal for MLB teams to pay only minimum wage up to 40 hrs a week this means any future lawsuits from minor league players would be doomed to fail.
The idea that players should be paid so little is rooted in the idea of incentive based pay. If a player wants to make more money, it is believed, they need to work hard and hope they make it to the major leagues where the money showers players like the rains down in Africa.
I get that having incentive based pay is supposed to motivate players to work harder but no one is seriously advocating paying minor league players so much that they no longer feel pressure to compete for a major-league job. People making $30,000 a year (less than the avg yearly income, more than the avg minor-leaguer) don’t live high on the hog, but their life is just that much more comfortable than a minor-league baseball player making $20,000 annually. These are professional athletes. Emphasis on the professional. They should be paid at least a living wage.
There are a few people out there saying paying more to minor leaguers would make them better baseball players and it might. If players could go to the gym more during the off season instead of working some low paying seasonal job, the player might get better, or if a player doesn’t have to worry about paying rent back home they can focus more…etc.
Beyond that there’s another reason a team like the Padres would do well to pay their minor-league players a little more. There is a reckoning coming to San Diego. Eventually all the home-grown talent that the team has in their minor-league system will hit free agency. When that happens, the team will have another fire sale which means all these young players are gone and the Padres are left to rebuild again. But, and it’s a big but, if a small market team like the Padres can pay slightly more to their minor-league players, this might instill a modicum of loyalty to the Padres franchise from some of the (hopefully) future stars.
This would mean they might ask for less in arbitration, settle for a more team friendly contract in free agency, or maybe sign an early extension, which would save the team some money while retaining their player. (Again, I know, this is a big ask) Saving that money might mean the difference between signing another player down the road when/if the team is in contention. A small investment now might reap larger rewards down the road, and if it doesn’t, you’ve at least done something good for these young men in your employ which is great for the team’s Karma Above Replace Team Value or KART. Dave Cameron was writing about the KART stat before Preller hired him to work in the front office. Maybe these things are tied together.
Look, the idea that these young players are living a dream playing a game, or doing what kids do every day, or that baseball is a trade not a profession is ridiculous. These are professionals. Are they doing something kids dream about doing? Sure. But kids dream about being astronauts, and no one is underpaying astronauts. (Wait, are we? How much do astronauts make anyway?)
I can see why people make the argument that it’s a trade not a profession, but it’s a garbage argument. These guys train extensively to get to even the lowest levels of the minor leagues. These players commit huge amounts of their time starting before they’re teenagers to even get noticed by a professional ball club. The amount of time they devote to the practice of baseball rivals the amount of time other professionals put into their training. Are accountants made to sit on a bus for six hours, do someone’s taxes for another six hours, just to get back on the bus for another five hours to do someone else’s taxes the next day? Just because this is a job that involves physical prowess, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve the same respect that we give other professions. Downplaying their hard work as “not professional” is insulting to these young men, most of which will never make it to the big leagues. A little relief is all they’re asking for, I think they deserve it.
Follow Nicholas Burmeister on Twitter @PadresHaiku