“Enjoy the strike.”
That message came up often this winter whenever the topic of conversation shifted to free agency. The root cause was how many players waited so long — some are still waiting — for teams to sign them. It also applied to how many players accepted minor league contracts, or deals well below what they would have gotten just a few years ago.
Players are no longer looking forward to free agency, but actively fear it. Nothing is more evident than that, especially considering the wave of extensions we’ve seen throughout the league. So many of them are team-friendly. Owners may have destroyed free agency and are using that to scare their stars into staying.
They leveraged players’ desperation to sign anywhere in order to maximize their bottom line. It could be argued that teams simply got smarter, but we all know what it’s really about. Why pay $12 million now when you can wait and get the same player for $3 million? And why shouldn’t the owners emphasize this line of thinking? Baseball is a business, after all. That’s where the potential strike comes into play.
Baseball’s problem with unfairly compensating minor league players is extremely well-documented at this point. They got away with it thanks to the promise of a big pay day in the future. Now baseball’s not paying them early on or later (superstars like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout don’t count). Players have to use their one weapon in order to force the owners’ hands. It’s simple, really: players want to be fairly compensated if owners expect to make money off of them and the on-field product, or else there will be no on-field product.
Yet, there is some hope. Recently, Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association jointly announced new changes to the game that will go in effect over the next two seasons. The most important piece of the announcement, though, was news that the two sides will start discussing labor issues almost immediately.
That announcement was followed by news that the Blue Jays will be raising wages for all of their minor league players anywhere from 40-56 percent, depending on the level. Obviously the Blue Jays could still do more, but this is a great first step. Minor leaguers’ lives revolve around baseball, and there are far too many stories of players struggling to make ends meet, as this story in The Athletic shows (subscription required).
Toronto raising salaries that much will go a long way for players. In the short-term, it will help them on a day-to-day basis, and in the long-term, it’s a sign of good faith from the team to the players. It’s intangible, but something that could play a role when a player is deciding to sign or re-sign with the Blue Jays. They’re a team that takes care of their players.
Since the Blue Jays’ announcement, other teams have started having thinking about minor league salaries. The Cubs have “internally discussed” raising salaries, though no announcement was made. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have no plans to increase wages, but have discussed the situation. They do at least provide more for their players throughout the minors than a lot of other teams do, and will look to see how they can do even more (without actually giving the players money). Neither of those two teams come out looking as good as the Blue Jays do, but it’s better than nothing.
Now, it’s time for the Yankees to follow in the Blue Jays’ footsteps. The Yankees, along with most other clubs, are probably content with the status quo until the decision gets made for them. For what it’s worth, MLB seems to be doing the legwork already:
“We have received many questions regarding the decision of the Toronto Blue Jays to increase the salaries of minor league players,” MLB said in a statement to ESPN. “While each Club makes its own decisions regarding minor league salaries, the Office of the Commissioner is presently in negotiations with the National Association of Professional Baseball on the terms of a new agreement between the Major Leagues and the Minor Leagues to replace the agreement that expires in September 2020. The working conditions of minor league players, including their compensation, facilities and benefits, is an important area of discussion in those negotiations.”
It’s great that the league is actually looking at making positive improvements, but there’s no reason that the Yankees shouldn’t act now. We’re not talking about making every player a millionaire, but at least ensure these young men (arguably boys) can afford basic necessities like food and shelter.
We don’t know exactly how increasing wages will benefit the Yankees long-term, but it would be a enormous gesture on their part if they did something before they were forced to. Yet, we don’t know what kind of intangibles come into play when a player is deciding where he wants to play. Taking care of them when they’re young, especially when they didn’t have to, would be a great selling point in the team’s favor.
Minor league salaries and living conditions need to drastically increase and improve throughout the league, and it looks like things are headed that way. Teams like the Yankees would be better served by getting ahead of the curve, even if it’s simply a goodwill gesture. The Yankees should embark on this mission, because they can afford to.