By Dylan Schoknecht, columnist
While unable to do much else, Congress could just alter how Major League Baseball pays minor league players, and not in a good way.
A $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by the U.S. Senate in March includes the Save America’s Pastime Act, legislation that would strip minor leaguers of the title of “minimum wage employee.”
While this might not sound like a big deal, this re-classification would allow teams to employ the players for less than minimum wage by avoiding the requirement of paying overtime. Overtime might include off-season workouts, post-season play and spring training, to name must a few examples. With this bill, MLB teams would be able to pocket more money, and baseball would regress in how it treats its minor league players.
Minor leaguers are currently paid an average of $1,500 per month. In other words, roughly the national poverty line. And minor leaguers only receive payment during the months they are playing, forcing many to find off-season jobs to support their families. For a minor leaguer to be asked to perform at a high level, where is the financial support necessary to do so?
Where do solutions lie? Look north.
The Toronto Blue Jays wanted to make a statement against the proposed law. According to their published statements, the Blue Jays see their minor leaguers as an investment in the future, an investment worth financial commitment. Toronto’s views, and the club’s geography outside of the United States, give the organization a great opportunity to increase pay for minor leaguers and, by being the outlier, force baseball executives in the United States to follow suit.
The idea of paying minor league players a base salary of $50,000, for example, would come to an annual outlay of approximately $9 million per club, or 6.7% of the league average per club payroll for 2019.
Such an increase in minor league investment could easily provide a return on such an investment. International free agents would be inclined to sign with the ballclub that is progressive with respect to paying its minor league players. Player retention would be less of a concern, and player performance would likely see an improvement as players would be less anxious about their financial futures. Certainly the likely return would be better than most short-term free agent signings.
Hopefullly, minor leaguers having to get a second job in the off-season will soon be a thing of the past, and that extra time can be spent focusing on their own development, further benefiting the organization.
We should look for a small- to medium-market team that struggles to attract big-time free agent signings as the type of team to first implement the proposed structure. It might be a risk, but the biggest risk is often failing to take one.