Minor league baseball functions as a farm system for the major leagues, which pay the players and set their salaries and bonuses. Players in the majors start at $545,000 per year this season, and the pay goes up from there, thanks to the Major League Baseball Players Association.
In the minor leagues, players don’t have a union and perform under a standard league contract that provides a fixed salary starting at $1,100 per month. Major League Baseball is considering a significant increase in salaries for minor league players, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported in March.
According to Passan, MLB officials suggested raising the pay for minor league players during a recent meeting with the group that oversees the minors. But the pay situation is likely to remain as is for now, thanks to a deal the team owners got from Congress in the omnibus spending bill passed in March.
There have been years of criticism and lawsuits regarding minor league wages. The Toronto Blue Jays are reportedly in the process of considering a 50% pay increase for all players affiliated with their MiLB clubs. “We have received many questions regarding the decision of the Toronto Blue Jays to increase the salaries of minor league players,” MLB said in a statement to ESPN.
The major league commissioner’s office is presently in negotiations with the National Association of Professional Baseball on the terms of a new agreement to replace a contract that expires in September 2020. “The working conditions of minor league players, including their compensation, facilities and benefits, is an important area of discussion in those negotiations,” the league said.
With rare exception, major league clubs do not own minor league teams but have affiliation contracts with them. The Fayetteville Woodpeckers organization is one of the exceptions. The team is owned and operated by the Houston Astros, which is beneficial to the Woodpeckers organization and the city of Fayetteville. The city has a 30-year agreement with the Astros to provide minor league baseball at the new stadium.
Parent major league clubs pay minor league players’ salaries and benefits and provide bats and balls. The minor league teams pay for in-season travel and other operational expenses. The maximum a first-year minor leaguer can make is $1,100 a month. After the first year, there is no monthly maximum so the player can make more.
The major league teams negotiate all the contracts. Hometown families sometimes adopt minor league players and provide sleeping quarters and meals. “The Woodpeckers are all living in a high-end apartment building in Fayetteville,” team President Mark Zarthar said. He would not say whether the players pay rent.
At the Single A level, it’s difficult for a player to make ends meet. This is the reason that when players are drafted, they often ask for larger signing bonuses. As players move up in the organization, new contracts are negotiated. Minor leaguers are not paid well until at least the next level. AAA players make much higher salaries.