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Sara’s Diary, Day 81 without baseball: Pay minor leaguers

The Washington Nationals players put some pressure on team ownership by doing the right thing

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New York Yankees v Washington Nationals
Sean Doolittle being taken out of a game in Spring Training in March
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Major League Baseball faces a shortened season with no fans as the best case scenario for baseball in 2020. The owners have proposed draconian cuts to player salaries on top of the pro-rated amount that both sides agreed to in March. The battled between the players and owners on salaries has become a bit of a spectacle as fans wait to see if baseball will return.

However, player salaries are just one of the places that teams have been turning to for cost savings. Perhaps more importantly, they have been absolutely gutting the minor leagues, releasing more players than usual and cutting or eliminating salaries for minor league players.

Late last night the Washington Nationals announced they would join the teams cutting minor league salaries from $400 to $300 a week:

Ted Lerner, the owner of the Nationals, is the richest person in Maryland and Forbes estimated he has a net worth of $5.3 billion. It is obscene to think of him balancing the Nationals books on the backs of players making $400 a week. But here is where the story gets interesting, because according to Sean Doolittle, when the Washington Nationals players heard about this, they immediately jumped on a Zoom call and decided to make up the $100 a week gap for minor leaguers themselves:

First of all, let me just say this is an awesome move on the part of the Nationals. I am beyond thrilled my adopted World Series team appears to also just be a group of awesome people. However, what they actually did was far more effective than I thought it would be when I was tweeting about this last night. Apparently, as of this morning the Lerners changed their minds and decided not to cut minor league pay after all, according to Britt Ghiroli at The Athletic:

When word leaked out Sunday in The Athletic the Nationals would lower the minor-league stipends 25 percent — to $300 per week — for the month of June, members of Washington’s big-league team quickly assembled over Zoom.

The group unanimously decided to make up for those lost minor-league wages out of their owns pockets, an announcement — on reliever Sean Doolittle’s Twitter page — that drew praise on social media and criticism for the billionaire Lerner family who were lowering the stipends in the first place.

Those plans changed again on Monday.

The Nationals, facing significant backlash over the $100 per week cuts for their minor league players, have decided to re-up the stipend, sources told The Athletic. While the team did not issue a public statement, it stands to reason that the reaction from fans, as well as the Nationals own players — including Patrick Corbin, who tweeted The Athletic’s initial report — helped spark the shift.

“Upon further internal discussion,” read the internal memo Monday afternoon that announced the change. It’s important to note that the Nationals stipend is only guaranteed for June, after the big league guys offered to pay the lost wages. The memo, obtained by The Athletic, said the team “will consider future payments on a month-to-month basis.”

Look, month-to-month is not great (it happens to be the same strategy the Ricketts family is using with the Cubs minor league system) but it’s better than cuts. More importantly, it demonstrated that at least some owners are not willing to take a certain type of criticism right now and can be moved on salary considerations for workers.

As I wrote last week, one of the trickiest problems the MLBPA faces in salary negotiations is that baseball players who make millions of dollars rarely find public sympathy on their side. It’s made it easy for the owners to paint them as greedy or unreasonable as the billionaires smile all the way to the bank with their profits. These moments of authentic solidarity with the minor leagues have a real chance to shift that narrative in favor of the players this time around, and Sunday night the Nationals demonstrated exactly how the players can win their coming PR war with MLB: by doing what’s right.