Minor league baseball players are on the verge of securing higher pay and improved workplace rights as MLBPA and MLB have reached an agreement on the first CBA for minor leaguers. The move could mollify longstanding criticisms over minor league player pay and encourage Congress to back off periodic calls to end MLB’s antitrust exemption.
The agreement requires ratification, which involves a vote by minor leaguers.
The most significant elements are sizable bumps in minimum pay, as reported in The Athletic. For example, rookie and complex league player wages will rise from $4,800 per season to $19,800, a 312.5% increase, while Triple A players will see slightly more than doubling their current pay of $17,500.
Other player-improvements in the CBA include enhanced housing–for players, spouses and children–increases in per diem and a joint drug agreement that accords procedural rights to players for testing. MLBPA will also engage in group licensing on behalf of minor leaguers and attempt to maximize their NIL and other IP.
“This is a very positive step for baseball and minor league players,” Joe Rosen, a certified agent with ICON Sports, told Sportico on Thursday. “It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully this is just the start.”
The CBA follows two major labor developments in 2022. First, MLB settled a class action Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit with minor league players that will lead to $185 million paid to more than 20,000 players. Each player will reportedly receive, on average, about $5,000 or so. Second, MLBPA offered to bargain on behalf of minor leaguers, who previously were not unionized. Other minor leaguers who have unionized include players in basketball’s G League, and hockey’s AHL and ECHL.
Those moves coincided last year with Republican and Democratic senators rebuking MLB over minor league player pay. Some senators have warned that Congress could repeal MLB’s antitrust exemption, which was already narrowed by the Curt Flood Act of 1998 and no longer pertains to MLB players’ salaries or working conditions. The exemption still protects MLB for minor league baseball business decisions, including its recent reorganization of the minors. The CBA, with enhanced pay and workplace benefits for minor leaguers, might diminish politicians’ interest in spending further time on the antitrust exemption.
Still, the minimum pay levels are low when considering cost of living and ordinary life expenses. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty line for a single person in 2023 is $14,580.
On the other hand, some players have signed lucrative bonuses after being drafted, so the minimum salaries don’t reflect all of their baseball income. The pay also reflects seasons that last about half the year. During the offseason players can (and often do) generate income in other occupations, such as coaching or training.
Minor league baseball and minor league sports in general are normally not regarded as “careers.” If making it to the majors becomes untenable, players often pursue other paths. According to MLB data, the average length of a minor league career is around three years, and the average age when it ends is about 23. The vast majority of minor league players, and 95% of players drafted after the 10th round, never make it to MLB. Increased pay might encourage some players to keep at it longer before hanging up the cleats.
MLB, which according to The Athletic is projected to pay about $90 million to cover the increased wages, has long described the minors as unprofitable. Last year commissioner Rob Manfred estimated that MLB planned to spend at least $1.03 billion to operate the minors while receiving about $25 million in revenue. MLB pays not only minor league players’ wages, but also housing, health care and pension benefits.