Minor leagues: Player raises shouldn’t result in contraction

Sports

San Diego Padres players stretch during spring training baseball practice Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Minor League Baseball says planned salary raises for its players in 2021 paid by Major League Baseball should not lead to contraction, and it has sent a proposal to MLB as part of negotiations for a new agreement between the levels.

The commissioner’s office sent a memo, obtained by The Associated Press, to all 30 teams Friday announcing wage bumps for minor league players between 38% and 72%.

The raises come as MLB is negotiating with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minors, to replace the Professional Baseball Agreement that expires after the 2020 seasons. MLB proposed cutting 42 of the 160 required affiliated teams during those talks, a plan criticized by minor league team owners, fans and politicians.

MiLB said in a statement Saturday it “fully supports MLB’s decision to raise the pay rates for players in affiliated Minor League Baseball” but added it “believes MLB can afford these salary increases without reducing the number of players by 25 percent.

“We have provided MLB with a specific proposal on how we can work together to ensure improvements to older facilities and reduce travel between series through limited realignment. We look forward to continued good faith negotiations with our colleagues at MLB and our principal goal remains to preserve Minor League Baseball in as many communities as possible.”

Minor league player salaries are paid entirely by MLB teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the winter meetings in December that the league would like MiLB to share some of the costs associated with “player-related improvements.”

MLB has voiced frustration that bargaining stalled following that proposal and has urged the NAPBL to resume negotiations and “commit to working in good faith toward a better, more modern working agreement for our two leagues.” The sides are scheduled to meet next week.

Response from minor league players to news of the wage increases was largely positive. Concern remains that the raises — which will bring minimum salaries to between $4,800 and $14,000 per season, depending on the level — may not be enough to help players fully address issues around housing, nutrition and training hours sacrificed in the offseason as they take on other jobs.

Anxiety also remains that the raises could be a precursor to a reduction in affiliates.

“What does it mean for us? I’m not sure,” said Jeremy Wolf, a former minor league player who founded More Than Baseball prior to last season. His organization raises funds and provides other services for minor league players, including assistance with housing, equipment, food and post-baseball plans.

The group has also tried to provide some level of representation for minor league players, who are not eligible for the major league players’ union unless they are placed on a 40-man roster by a big league team.

“I do know that what we’re doing for the game is incredibly important,” Wolf told The Associated Press. “We’re showing that minor leaguers have value. That baseball has value. In the middle of all of the problems within baseball, we’re that bright spot bringing the game back to people and communities that love and want it to thrive.

“The owners are going to do what they’re going to do, but as long as we make sure players have a voice in all of this, we’re doing our job.”

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