Rob Manfred dismisses the notion that minor leaguers aren’t paid a living wage

LOS ANGELES — When asked why major league baseball team owners don’t pay minor league players a living wage — because they can’t or don’t want to — MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said those players are actually being paid fairly.

“I reject the premise of the question that minor league players are not paid a living wage,” he said in a press conference with reporters before Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.

“I think we’ve made some real strides over the last couple of years with respect to the pay of minor leaguers, even if we put to one side the signing bonuses that many of them have already received,” he said. “They get housing, which is obviously another form of compensation.”

How much non-union minor league players are paid has been a particularly hot topic lately. Last week, MLB agreed to pay $185 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by thousands of current and former minor league players over past salary claims.

Under the proposed settlement, which must still be approved by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, MLB must formally notify all 30 major league clubs that they can no longer prohibit teams from paying players during spring training. Extended Spring Training or any work period outside of the championship season, which includes the regular season and playoffs.

In addition, both Congress (Senate Judiciary Committee) and the Executive Branch (Department of Justice) have recently taken an interest in MLB’s antitrust exemption and the minor leagues.

Amid a wave of players and advocacy groups becoming more public about their concerns about life in the minors, MLB reorganized its minor league system two years ago, a move it says will also improve working conditions.

MLB raised pay for minor league players in 2021, with Class A minimum wages increasing from $290 to $500 per week and Class AAA salaries increasing from $502 to $700. And this season, it adopted a housing policy requiring all 30 MLB teams to provide housing for most players. (In the past, players often had to pay for their own accommodation, resulting in several being locked in a room.)

Still, according to The Advocates, a nonprofit founded in 2020, the “vast majority” of minor league players “make less than $12,000 — below the federal poverty line.” In a statement released Tuesday, the group’s CEO, Harry Marino, a former minor leaguer, rejected Manfred’s claim that they make a living wage.

“Most minor league baseball players work second jobs because their annual salaries are insufficient to support themselves,” he said in a statement. “The commissioner makes $17.5 million annually. His suggestion that minor league pay is acceptable is both naive and wrong. “

(MLB argues that minor-league players are like apprentices—including in art, music, and theater—temporarily aspiring to break into the major leagues, where they’ll be handsomely compensated. The most talented amateur players can earn bonuses of several million when they sign with MLB teams.)

Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Union, who also met with reporters Tuesday, and Manfred discussed a variety of sports issues, including the state of the annual amateur domestic draft; possible changes to the rules; and competitiveness of teams.

The parties have until Monday to decide whether to submit an international draft, one outstanding clause in the collective bargaining agreement the parties negotiated over the winter.

MLB has long wanted an international draft, while the union has opposed it. But the union also wanted to end the qualifying offer system, in which draft picks are tied to top free agents, because they believe the system has hurt market value for those players. In order for it to be dropped, the union must agree to the draft.

Manfred, who has expressed interest in MLB expanding to 32 teams, said he could not put a timeline on when that might happen, especially since the current stadium battles for existing franchises – the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays – were priorities.

“I have to decide on Oakland and Tampa before we can actually talk about expansion,” he said. “I just think these situations are serious enough and timely enough that they should be our number one targets.”

Added Clarke: “As the game grows, we’re big fans. Expansion, we cheered. “

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