Paying people for the work they do is apparently a controversial issue in the baseball world, with hundreds of former minor leaguers having to file a class action lawsuit because they get paid less than federal minimum wage. Baseball has responded by saying they can't do that and they don't want to do that and can lawmakers please write bills saying they won't have to do that. Fangraphs had a good write-up on some comments commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA president Tony Clark recently made about the issue, with Manfred's money quote being this:
When you’re eating in a clubhouse with a spread that the employer provides, is that working time, or is that your lunch break? We can figure out the economics. The administrative burden associated with the application of these laws to professional athletes that were never intended to apply for professional athletes is the real issue.
As long as the players have the option of going out and getting outside food if they want, I would think that eating would count as lunch time, which doesn't have to be paid, but then, I ain't no fancy big city lawyer. The bigger issue is that Manfred's saying as soon as they figure out the admin side of paying the players more, they'll be able to pay them more. I'm going to take him at face value and do all the work for him. I'm sure my check will be in the mail.
The main problem that Manfred brings up is how difficult it is to know how many hours players are working. What counts and what doesn't? The lunch example above is a little reductive, but there's also community outreach such as visiting sick kids in hospitals, travel time on the bus, and all sorts of activities in a fuzzy zone of work/not work. Fortunately, there's a solution: Don't make them hourly employees. The current legal guidelines say that white collar workers who earn at least $47,476 per year aren't entitled to overtime. So what if we just paid everyone that wage?
There are 32 guys on the River Cats roster, 29 on the Flying Squirrels roster, 29 on the San Jose Giants roster, and 34 on the Augusta Greenjackets roster. That's 124 players total (excluding Ehire Adrianza and Matt Cain, who are rehabbing and are currently earning major league money). If each of those 124 players made the $47,476 that exempts them from being entitled to overtime pay, that would cost the Giants about $5.9 million. This is a little less than one third of what Hunter Pence, who has spent much of the year on the disabled list, will earn in 2016.
There are 32 players on the Salem-Keizer roster and another 38 on the AZL Giants roster. Let's take a guess here and say that 35 of them entered the organization mid-year, as draftees or undrafted free agents, and the other half have been with the Giants since the beginning of the year. Therefore, we have 35 at full salary and 35 who, for the sake of simplicity, we'll say started July 1. This works out to, respectively, $1.66 million and $831K, for a total of around $2.5 million. This is half of what the Giants are paying Javier Lopez this year.
The Giants have 41 guys on their DSL roster. According to this paper from 2010, a living wage in the Dominican republic is 235,987 Dominican pesos a year, which at the rate of 1 US dollar to 45.9693 pesos (found here last night) works out to $5,133.58 per year. Therefore, to pay every player in the DSL a living wage, it would cost the Giants approximately $210,476.71, or 60% of what low-odds-of-success-project Daniel Carbonell is making this year.
If Rob Manfred's objection to paying minor league baseball players a fair wage is the hassle and difficulty of doing paperwork, then for the low, low price of $8.6 million, or around 5% of the Giants' Opening Day $178 million payroll, those problems can entirely disappear.
Of course, if minor league baseball players were to be properly compensated for their time, that's not how it would play out. No, baseball would hire lawyers and accountants and experts who would calculate what a minor league player's working hours are, which would then allow them to pay players the minimum legal amount for a person in America who is an employee. This would be far, far less than $47,476 per player, per year, which means that each team would owe all of its minor leaguers combined significantly less than half the $17 million Pablo Sandoval is making this year, which lol.
If you're thinking that I'm naming individual players in order to say they don't deserve their salary, I'm not. I'm trying to give context on what this amount of money means to a major league roster, because it doesn't mean that much. The team with the lowest payroll in the majors is the Rays, and if they paid $8.6 million out to the players in their farm system, that would still only be 12% of their budget, or slightly more than one James Loney, who they released before the season. Every team in baseball could afford this. They just don't want to.
In conclusion, anytime any baseball executive says they can't afford to pay minor leaguers even minimum wage, they're fucking lying, and you should remember that.