How much money do minor league baseball players earn?
Anyone who has ever put a glove under their mattress has dreamed of playing minor league ball on their way to the Show, but be careful what you wish for
For most American kids, there are two roads to the big leagues. One sees you go to college and then to the draft and the other sees you get drafted straight out of high school. Either one of these will see you stopping off in minor league ball, but hey, that is still a professional baseball contract, right?
The focus in the media is usually on the top end of the financial stories, the Juan Soto $400 million contracts, but for every one player making big money, there are a thousand barely making ends meet.
When you hear that the minimum salary for MLB is $700,000 a year, you might scoff and say, “These guys are all rich!” But when you consider that the MLB is simply the razor-sharp tip of the baseball iceberg, you may reconsider.
The 26-man roster sees a total of 780 players in MLB at any one moment. Of course, things are more complicated with players being called up and sent down, placed on the injured list and you get a number more like 900. When you take into account the 40-man rosters and you can get a top figure of 1200 players in major league baseball.
Now let’s look at the minor leagues. There are 206 teams affiliated with the major league farm system, 120 of them are deemed minor league and 86 are rookie leagues. They rank from Triple-A down to Rookie and can have between 28 players for Triple-A and Double-A, and 30 players for High-A and Single-A on their rosters.
Rookie Leagues can have any roster size that they choose, with no limits placed on them. For the purposes of our figures, though, we will assume that they keep to a 30-man roster as well.
So with a quick referral to our trusty calculator, we can see that there are a total of 6060 players in the MLB’s official minor league pipeline. We are, of course ignoring any international leagues that are not affiliated with MLB, since they will have their own countries’ labor laws to contend with and fall outside the scope of this article.
If the MLB minimum is $700k, then the minor league minimum must be some multiple of that, right? Perhaps 20%? $140k? Maybe it graduates down so that the Double-A guys get half that, then the High-A guys get half that, something along those lines?
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.
In 2018, the laughably paradoxical Save America’s Pastime Act was passed, exempting baseball players from the federal minimum wage and overtime pay. MLB owners lobbied congress hard for this for years. Well, “lobby” is the polite American word for it. Elsewhere it is known as “bribery and corruption”.
The resulting situation is that salaries in the minor leagues range from around $4800 to $14000 per year.
If you work full time at a minimum wage job, you will make $32,344 per year. You would be earning more than double what most professional baseball players earn.
Of course, numbers can be skewed by the fact that some of the Triple-A players will have spent at least some time in the Show, bumping their salary up to the $100k-plus range, but the fact that anyone, absolutely anyone, could work in a full-time job and get paid the equivalent of $2.30 per hour should outrage everyone. Save America’s Pastime indeed.
In recent years, and mainly as a result of bad press, MLB has made very tiny baby steps toward reparations, eliminating the vile Clubhouse dues that once were standard. Organizations like More Than Baseball have been started to demand that minor league players get a minimum salary of $35,000 per year, and have picked up support from Senators Bernie Sanders and Josh Becker.
And while those Senators’ names will certainly divide readers along political lines, baseball should surpass those political divisions. Baseball is America’s pastime, and it needs to be saved, from itself if nothing else. Perhaps, if we made enough noise, we could convince the league that they could funnel even a fraction of a percent of those eternally skyrocketing salaries paid out at the top end to balance out the bottom end. Juan Soto can still earn more money than he could ever spend, but what about paying the rookies enough to feed their families? Is that too much to ask?