Under the protection of Major League Baseball’s (“MLB”) longtime antitrust exemption, Minor League Baseball (“MiLB”) has continuously redefined and reshaped itself according to Baseball’s overall needs. But while MLB salaries have increased dramatically since the MLB reserve clause was broken in 1975, the salaries of minor league players have not followed suit.
On February 7, 2014, a group of minor league players led by former minor leaguer Aaron Senne filed a class action complaint against MLB and three MLB clubs alleging violations of minimum wage and hour laws. According to the complaint, most minor leaguer earn between $3,000 and $7,500 working between fifty and seventy hours per week during the five month season. The wage and hours violations alleged in the complaint state that MLB has “conspired to pay no wages at all for significant periods of minor leaguers’ work,” including during instructional periods such as spring training, instructional leagues and winter training. But unlike forty years ago, the escalation in competition for opportunities and the need for necessary winter instruction leaves players little time to earn income outside of baseball activities.
Senne has raised interesting theories about minor league compensation. Most MLB clubs have around two hundred active players in their farm systems at any given time, spread across between seven to nine minor league affiliates. But none of these players earn a yearly salary above the National Poverty Line of $11,670 for a single person household.
When daily meal allowances of $25 per day for the approximately two hundred day season included, players in the AAA and AA levels barely break the poverty line, while players in A, Short Season A, and Roo...
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... difficult to manage.
Cutting two leagues would save clubs over $600,000 per year in player expenses alone (See Figure 3). And while there are many benefits to adopting the NHL model in regards to draft rights retention, having more players in college would decrease the amount of players in the lower minors and decrease the amount of competition. Having college baseball in effect replace the lower minor league levels will remove the need for these levels as well as giving MLB a way to balance out the costs of increasing salaries.
It is unknown at this time whether the claims in Senne are viable enough to stand up in court. But by drawing from what has worked elsewhere, MLB can be ahead of the curve. By proactively improving the minor leagues, MLB can both address the plaintiffs’ legitimate concerns and make life better for their young talent.
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