MLB’s funny (read: perverse) relationship with labor hasn’t exactly been a well-kept secret.
We’ve seen it consistently at the established star level, when players who put up All-Star campaigns are vastly underpaid by the team control/arbitration system, only to finally reach free agency once they’re past their primes.
We’ve seen it blatantly at the star prospect level, with instances such as the Chicago Cubs claiming Kris Bryant needed a tad more minor league seasoning in a year where he would finish 11th in MVP voting, only to magically deem him MLB ready at the cutoff to extend an extra year of pre-agency.
And, most corruptly, we’ve seen it at the minor league level, where players from rookie leagues to AAA make wages consistent with the poverty line as they work long hours, with no certain end game, for a lucrative corporation.
The San Francisco Giants are reportedly concerned with that final point, as they damn well should be. And that’s worth praising.
They’re also not concerned with it nearly as much as they should be, and that’s worth criticizing.
You can do one, the other, neither, or both. The choice is yours, and I support you fully regardless.
MLB has already put the wheels in motion to bump minor league pay levels to a not-inhumane-but-still-inexcusable level. According to a report from the Associated Press on Friday, minor leaguers will receive a significant pay bump starting in 2021, though “significant” is extremely relative and still pathetically low.
Players at rookie and short-season levels will see their minimum weekly pay raised from $290 to $400, and players at Class A will go from $290 to $500. Double-A will jump from $350 to $600, and Triple-A from $502 to $700.
Minor leaguers are paid only during the season and don’t receive wages during the offseason or spring training. That means Triple-A players can earn $14,000 during their five-month season, and short-season players at the lowest levels can make $4,800 during the three-month season.
The Giants are taking it a step further, by not only increasing benefits, but implementing them immediately, rather than in a year.
According to a report from Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants are bumping the rookie and short-season players, Class A players, and AA players weekly wage to the 2021 minimum of $400, $500, and $600, respectively, starting this season. AAA players will get bumped to $750 ($50 more than the 2021 minimum).
Perhaps most importantly, however, are the housing benefits. AA and AAA players will receive $500 monthly housing allowances, while low-A players will receive free housing. High-A players will be matched with host families, as has been the case in previous years.
Let’s be clear: These are good steps. Really good, important steps. The housing allowances are believed to be the first in MLB.
They’re also not nearly enough. In total, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi estimates the cost at north of $500,000. In other words, the Giants are investing roughly the cost of one back-of-the-roster minimum contract into their entire minor league payroll, which spans hundreds of players.
In addition to the questionable humanity of the low wages, it’s hard to understand the benefit that being cheap with talent investment has for a multi-billion dollar corporation. The Giants certainly want their future players focused on proper and ideal training and rest, not driving for Lyft and other supplemental incomes. The would surely prefer their youngsters be eating nutritional, well-rounded meals, rather than Arby’s.
It only takes a relative drop in the hat (the team just put $50 million into their new minor league facility, so clearly spending money on prospect investment is something they’re fine with) to give minor league players the financial freedom necessary to live comfortably, and focus on proper training, nutrition, and performance. That, in turn, should result in better players down the line.
The Giants are doing more than any other team. It’s time they do more.