For the past two-plus months, the ongoing baseball narrative has been around the lockout and the attempts, or lack thereof, to work out a new collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association. However, the MLBPA only consists of players who are currently on a team’s 40-man roster, as well as those who became Major League free agents at the end of the 2021 season. Separate from that, there is a far larger batch of players who also have ongoing gripes with MLB: minor leaguers.
The challenging conditions faced by those in the minors have been the subjects of controversies recently, with many players voicing frustration over their insufficient salaries which require them to find other jobs in the offseason and/or crowd into cramped apartments during the season. The latter issue was the subject of reports in October that MLB will now require teams to provide housing for minor leaguers.
Although that is surely a welcome development for minor league players, there are still other improvements they are seeking to make. Evan Drellich of The Athletic reports on an ongoing legal faceoff that has MiLB players seeking to be compensated for spring training. As part of this lawsuit, which goes to trial June 1st, an MLB lawyer argued that the players should not be given monetary compensation because the training they receive is their payment, which they value at $2,200 per week. “This figure is an estimate of the costs plaintiffs would have had to incur had they attended a baseball prospecting camp instead of participating in the minor leagues,” is how the argument was framed by Denise Martin, senior vice president at NERA Economic Consulting.
The players’ side, of course, disagrees. “All of a sudden they aren’t employees during the time periods where we call it ‘training,’ even though they’re operating under the same employment contract that requires them to perform services, quote, ‘throughout the calendar year,’” said Garrett Broshuis, an attorney and former MiLB player himself.
The players have long argued that their modest compensation, even when they are paid, has knock-on effects on their diet, sleep, mental health and other areas of their lives, which limits their ability to live up to their potential as athletes. Spending a month at spring training without any pay at all surely only compounds those struggles. In the wake of the news about this lawsuit, one minor league player articulated that particular frustration on Twitter. “I wish I could go to the grocery store and pay with ’an opportunity’,” said Nick Kuzia, who pitched in Double-A and Triple-A for the Padres in 2021. “I think most places only accept US dollars. Will keep you updated.”