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Major League Baseball will pay minor leaguers through May 31st

... or until the start of the minor league season, whichever comes first.

Surprise Saguaros v. Scottsdale Scorpions Photo by Buck Davidson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Yesterday’s post predicting a half-season slate of games already feels incredibly dated, and somehow, today’s news that Major League Baseball will pay minor leaguers through May 31st (with certain exceptions) feels like another sign that we might not have a season at all.

But before we get too grim with the post, let’s at least breathe a very modest sigh of relief for what has happened: an incredibly wealthy industry will provide pay for its workers adversely affected and most vulnerable to the conditions caused by this global pandemic.

You’ve read before how minor leaguers are basically seasonal workers who get paid less than minimum wage, on average, to nonetheless maintain peak physical condition and professional standing in hopes of, at some point within a six-year span, making it to the major leagues.

Major League Baseball actually got Congress to agree that minor leaguers were exempt from minimum wage laws, which became the prologue to a Jeff “Trash Cans Are Arbitrage” Luhnow-led initiative to kill 42 minor league teams, which was so unpopular with the public that it caused the league to try to make up for the 1 + 1 bad PR by going back and raising minor league pay. They still want to eliminate all those teams, of course, and did I mention the global pandemic that’s predicted to de-employ 30% of the workforce? Oh god, how did it all get so grim?

Anyway, here’s the league’s press release detailing their efforts:

MLB EXTENDS SUPPORT FOR MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS

Major League Baseball announced today that it has extended the league-wide initiative of financial support for Minor League players through May 31st or until the beginning of the minor league season — whichever occurs first. MLB is taking this additional step to continue assistance for Minor League players and their families during this unexpected postponement to the start of the season. All players will continue to receive medical benefits and may continue to use any balance they have in the College Scholarship Plan or Continuing Education Program. This follows MLB’s March 19th announcement that provided interim support to Minor League players through April 8th, which covered the period until the originally scheduled start of the minor league season.

The exceptions to this plan are players who are signed to Major League contracts; players who are already receiving housing, food or other services from Clubs; and players on the Restricted, Voluntary Retired, Disqualified or Ineligible Lists. In addition, each Club will make its own arrangements to provide support to players on Dominican Summer League rosters during the same period.

As a procedural matter, Major League Baseball has informed Minor League Baseball that Major League Clubs are unable to supply their Minor League affiliates with players as a results of the national health emergency. All MLB Clubs are now in the process of informing Minor League players of the suspension of their Uniform Player Contracts. Today’s announcement provides funds for impacted eligible players during the delay.

For the last two weeks, MLB has been engaged in a variety of discussions with stakeholders to identify ways to blunt the wide-ranging impact of the national emergency resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic. MLB has announced a joint $1 million MLB-MLBPA fund to speed food assistance to those impacted by the crisis and a 30-club, $30 million effort to support ballpark workers. MLB partnered with Fanatics to manufacture masks and hospital gowns at the factory and from materials usually used to make MLB jerseys. The much-needed supplies will first be sent to support healthcare workers and emergency personnel in Pennsylvania, where the factory is located, with the intention of expanding. Individual Clubs will continue to announce more details surrounding support for their local communities, and players are coming together to urge fans to take this crisis seriously.

We will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts, and urge all baseball fans to follow suit. MLB extends its best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Jeff Passan is the one who provided the $400 a week figure, which will amount to $3,200 pre-tax and, as he notes in this tweet, a raise for lower minor leaguers.

Baseball America reports that this move does not provide financial support for minor league umpires, who “have been told to file for unemployment. They will not be paid until the season resumes and games are played.”

If you’re wondering if minor league players can file for unemployment, the answer is no. “Players are not eligible for unemployment because they remain under contract, but their contracts normally only pay them when they are playing regular season games.”

I confess ignorance of this condition: “players who are already receiving housing, food or other services from Clubs” and can only assume that this has something to do with the Yankees putting up their minor leaguers in hotels while they wait out quarantine periods.

In any case, here’s the best of a bad situation unfolding before our very eyes. Between this deal and their agreement with the MLBPA to provide $170 million in salary relief for April and May, the league appears to be setting the stage to cancel the season. Throw in the $30 million for stadium workers (which, infuriatingly, has the caveat of not providing direct support to the concession workers), $500,00 (from the league) for the food fund and maybe around $10-$11.5 million for this minor league fund, and around $15 million (per team) for player benefits and owners look like they’ll get out of this with a per-team payroll payout of $25 million, to say nothing of the other losses from media deals, gate receipts, and merchandising.

But we know the owners can survive a one-year hardship. Not all players can say the same. We won’t know right away which players will have the entire trajectory of their lives forever altered — for better or worse — by what’s happening. And just to really bring home how dire this is all looking:

California is projected to peak at the end of April, but the curve shows lasting impact through June.

We know this won’t be the curve for most states, and that alone is reason enough to believe there won’t be a season. This deal covers what would be nearly a third of the minor league season already.

Three months ago, the league showing even a modicum of consideration for the well being of minor leaguers seemed almost impossible, and today’s news doesn’t change my view that they’re seen by the powers that be as merely chattel or do much more than provide slight relief beyond the federal minimum wage for a couple of months when, theoretically, most of these same guys will be needed next March, but it’s something. And more importantly, it sets a precedent for there to be something else in the future.