According to the nonprofit organization Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which aims to provide a voice for Minor League Baseball players, several MLB teams are requiring players to pay for their own housing at the team’s alternate site in advance of the 2021 MiLB Season.
A byproduct of the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each major-league team established an alternate site at an organizational facility near their major league ballpark to ensure minor league players would be ready and able to join the major league teams on short notice if and when needed during the season.
2021 MiLB Season: Poor Conditions For Players
This year, with the 2021 MiLB season delayed to a May 4th Opening Day, the alternate sites are back in action. Crucially, only players at the alternate site can be called up to their corresponding major league team until the 2021 MiLB season officially begins. The sites are a useful way to keep minor league players in shape and ready for game action in case of injury or poor performance at the major league level.
However, as these are not official Minor League Baseball operations, the rules surrounding player compensation are vague at best, intentionally exploitative at worst. According to Baseball America, while MLB teams are required to pay all players at the alternate site on a Triple-A salary (minimum of $700 per week), there are no such obligations for food or housing. This means MLB teams are not required to provide housing for players at the alternate site or reimburse them accordingly while, simultaneously, those currently in minor league spring training are guaranteed housing, provided by the team. Similarly, teams are responsible for providing food to minor league players during the season, a requirement not shared at the alternate site.
Unsurprisingly, some teams are taking advantage of the loopholes. Per the Advocates for Minor Leaguers, alternate site players for the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, and Minnesota Twins are on their own when it comes to housing:
When looking at the power disparity between these multibillion-dollar teams (the Cubs, for example, are valued at $3.36 billion, taking in $163 million in revenue last year even amidst a pandemic) and these notoriously underpaid players in Minor League Baseball, it’s hard to view this as anything besides greed and exploitation.
While some players are lucky enough to work at an alternate site that doubles as the Triple-A stadium—where they may already have housing for the 2021 MiLB season—others are not so lucky, and are typically staying in hotels near the alternate site until the minor league season officially starts. For those earning the Triple-A minimum of $700 per week, a huge chunk of that goes into the food and housing that should, in any other situation, be provided by the teams.
Minor leaguers have been historically underpaid—so much so that a class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Minor League Baseball players, alleging that they are paid below minimum wage. In October, the Supreme Court denied MLB’s appeal to hear the case, marking a victory for the minor leaguers.
In advance of the 2021 MiLB season, a significant salary increase will kick in for minor leaguers, but even with the raise (a victory only gained by losing 42 teams), players are only guaranteed a minimum between $2,000 and $2,800 per month (depending on the level) for a five-month season. Spring Training, for example, is not covered—players are traditionally only given a small stipend to cover food and housing. In an industry that already teems with exploitation, MLB—which in the last full season in 2019 took in over $10 billion in total revenue—is declining to guarantee basic living expenses for players despite in many cases requiring them to work away from home.
Apropos of nothing, here are the valuations of the six teams declining to provide or reimburse housing for their Minor League Baseball players at the alternate site and their 2020 revenue, per Forbes:
- Chicago Cubs ($3.36 billion), $163 million in 2020
- Cleveland Indians ($1.16 billion), $117 million in 2020
- Texas Rangers ($1.785 billion), $111 million in 2020
- Cincinnati Reds ($1.085 billion), $114 million in 2020
- Detroit Tigers ($1.26 billion), $111 million in 2020
- Minnesota Twins ($1.325 billion), $111 million in 2020
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