Minor leaguers deserve more money

The overall salary structure in minor league baseball is an absolute joke, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t appear to have any intention of helping out thousands of young players around the country who don’t even make a livable wage.

The minimum salary for a first-year Double-A player is $1,700 per month. On average, let’s say a Curve player is doing actual baseball-related work for 60 hours per week – drills, preparation, games, etc. and not including travel – that comes out to $6.61 per hour.

Even worse, short-season State College Spikes players make $1,150 per month, or $4.47 per hour.

For the past couple of years, there’s been a lawsuit in the works aimed at giving minor leaguers a tiny bit more financial leverage – right now they have no leverage and aren’t part of a union – and the lawsuit could go to trial as early as next year.

Earlier this week, Manfred made what sounded like a threatening comment about minor league money while speaking during the MLB All-Star break. Federal law recently changed regarding overtime for employees, but minor league players currently are not eligible for overtime under federal labor statutes, and Manfred doesn’t want that to change.

“I have to tell you, this is an area where excessive regulation could have a really dramatic impact on the size of minor league baseball,” Manfred said.

That sounds like the commissioner of baseball is basically saying, “You want more money for these minor leaguers, get ready to have a bunch of teams vanish.”

In the same breath, Manfred said the issue “is not a dollars and cents issue,” which rings totally hollow.

Manfred doesn’t believe it would be logistically possible to calculate overtime for a baseball player.

“It is the irrationality of the application of traditional workplace overtime rules to minor league baseball players,” he said. “It just makes no sense. I want to take extra BP – am I working, or am I not working? Travel time. You know, is every moment that you’re on the bus, is that your commute that you don’t get paid for? Or is that working time? Where’s the clock, who’s going to punch a clock keeping track of those hours?

“When you’re eating in a clubhouse with a spread that the employer provides, is that working time, or is that your lunch break? We can figure out the economics. The administrative burden associated with the application of these laws to professional athletes that were never intended to apply for professional athletes is the real issue.”

The commissioner does have a point with some of that stuff. Trying to determine what actually is and is not work time would be tricky.

But where Manfred comes off as sounding cheap is that he’s using logistics as an excuse to keep paying players a paltry wage.

So fine, if they can’t figure out the whole overtime issue, and if Manfred says the whole thing isn’t really a dollars and cents issue, there is a very simple alternative.

Give the players raises.

First-year Curve players not on the Pirates’ 40-man roster make a little more than $9,000 per season. That’s it.

Let that sink in. These are highly skilled professional baseball players – something many of us would give our right arm to be – making less than $10,000. And guys at lower levels make significantly less than that. (Yes, some make much, much more through huge signing bonuses, but we’re talking about the average, run-of-the-mill guys.)

Why not give every minor league player $300 more per month? Big league clubs have about 150 minor leaguers, so over a five-month season, that comes out to a total of just $225,000 extra per club.

A $400 raise per month for every player would cost each big league club roughly $300,000 more.

That’s chump change nowadays in a sport where Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke make more than $1 million for every MLB start they make.

Teams could cut back a tad on signing bonuses to help pay for the increases. That would benefit the masses of minor leaguers more so than just the elite prospects who would still be getting their big checks anyway, maybe just not quite as big.

I’ve had numerous conversations over the years with Curve players who can barely make ends meet with the money they make. At this level, we’re often talking about guys who are looking to get married soon, already are married or maybe have a child, and they have real-world responsibilities.

Occasionally, some Curve players in that position have decided to walk away from the game and move on with their lives. They typically have been fringe prospects who probably weren’t going to make the major leagues, and they came to the realization that they could no longer afford to chase their baseball dream and still provide adequately for their family.

We’re past the point of griping about the ridiculous salaries being doled out in the major leagues. At the very least, can’t this sport treat the players in its feeder system with more respect by helping them out a little more financially?

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.