How Much Do Minor League Baseball Players Make? Professional baseball makes a lot of money. Major League Baseball is worth $17.8 billion on average, and the league made over $10 billion in 2018. With this kind of revenue, you’d think that players throughout all levels of professional baseball get paid reasonably well. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
While those in the big leagues rake in millions every year, the same is not valid for their minor league counterparts. Players in the minor league have salaries so low they’re working below the federal poverty line. But how much do they get paid, and how did this happen?
How Much Money Do Minor League Baseball Players Make per Year?
The first thing worth understanding when discussing minor league salaries is that it’s somewhat of a pay scale. How much money you make depends on the level of baseball you play. Generally, the more advanced ball you play, the better your pay-though that’s still not much. While some players get signing bonuses, these are not always as lucrative as those in the Major League.
All baseball leagues pay the least to first-year rookies and Class A players. On average, they make $6,000 per season. And if it’s a “short season,” they earn even less. Per week, they make anywhere between $300-400 dollars.
Double-A is the median level and pays slightly higher. The players are young and high-level athletes whose prospects for the Majors appear bright. The average salary for players in this class is $9,350 per season. On a weekly basis, this translates to about $500-600.
Triple-A players can earn up to $15,000 a season on average. In AAA, players can make as much as $700 per week, and they have the highest chances of making it to Major League Baseball.
Low Pay and Few Perks
With such low salaries, you might think that some job benefits might balance things out. Minor league players don’t receive much in terms of perks and compensation. Minor League players are not provided with any housing or living assistance. When teams are on the road, players get $25 per diem for meals. Their per diem is four times lower than their MLB counterparts. Minor leaguers also have to spend their own money on equipment and contribute to clubhouse dues.
In addition, minor league baseball players are not paid during spring training as part of their contracts. A player is only paid for the 76 games of the regular season from mid-June to early December. So rather than making money for doing their work, players spend 12 or more hours a day in pre-season training on their dime.
Minor league players are adversely affected by the lack of monetary support and benefits. They often have to double up on housing or find other creative ways to live. Players need to work other jobs in the off-season as a result of focusing on training and keeping in shape. There is little to no support network for minor leaguers trying to break into the Majors.
Why are Minor League Baseball Players’ Salaries so Low?
There are several reasons why minor league athletes earn so little money. The majority of them are a result of MLB’s Majors and Minors. But it also comes from long-standing legal protections they have under US law.
Since 1922, the MLB has had special exemptions under the law that allow them to do things other large, predatory corporations wouldn’t get away with. For nearly a century now, the MLB has been exempt from antitrust laws. They are therefore protected from allegations of monopolistic practices. So, they can get away with things such as conspiring to suppress Minor League wages.
The organization has also benefited from other laws that have come into effect. In 2018, the Save America’s Pastime Act went into law, giving the MLB more financial cushion. Major and minor leagues alike lobbied for the act, which effectively strips minor league players of their federal minimum wage protections by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act. Since these players don’t have a union, they can’t stop the law from taking effect.
Although they have ultimate control of players’ wages, the MLB has committed to some improvements in player pay despite this level of control. In the 2021 season, the Major League will raise the minimum salary for Minor League players. These raises range between 38-72% and represent, at least in part, a shift in recognizing the dismal pay minor leaguers receive.
However, there is some context to this move to consider. This salary change comes as the MLB has made moves to replace the now-expired Professional Baseball Agreement while negotiating with the National Association of Professional Baseball. The MLB has proposed cutting 25% of the 160 required affiliated Minor League teams in these negotiations.
Who is the Highest Paid Minor League Baseball Player?
Although most player salaries in the Minor Leagues are extremely low, not all of them are. Several conflicting reports on the highest pay in the minor leagues, but one name is worth mentioning: Rusney Castillo. Castillo was one of the highest-paid Minor League players up until the end of the 2020 season. How he netted such a high salary and what it did to his career are worth discussing regarding the state of minor league pay today and the overall treatment of players.
In August 2014, the Boston Red Sox signed Castillo–a Cuban defector–to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract. At the time, he would be the Sox’s “centerfielder of the future,” according to Sports Illustrated. Such a substantial free-agent agreement was the largest league contract ever given to an international player from Cuba. In 10 games with the Red Sox that season, Castillo hit .333 with a .928 OPS, two home runs, and three stolen bases.
However, Castillo’s success was only for a brief time. He did not secure a spot in the Sox outfield the following season. Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Andrew Benintendi have taken the spotlight away from Castillo. Castillo returned to the Pawtucket Red Sox after the outfield was completed by these three players.
Castillo was sent down to Pawtucket partly to keep his high salary from affecting Boston’s salary cap. Taken off their 40-man roster, Castillo’s $10 per year helped the team stay under the cap and helped them avoid paying the luxury tax.
As of the end of 2016, Castillo was destined for the minors until his contract expired. According to a new agreement between the players’ association and the MLB, once a player is added to the 40-man roster of a Major League team, their salary is considered for luxury tax purposes, regardless of whether they are used. Castillo was permanently removed from Boston’s roster in order to avoid the tax.
Therefore, Castillo was relegated to play out the remainder of his contract in the minors until the end of the 2020 season. And because of the high price-point, the Sox had contracted him at, it hurt his chances of consideration by other Major League teams once he became a free agent. Castillo went on to play in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball after his last season with Pawtucket.
What is the Average Salary in the MLB?
The price of Castillo’s contract was one of the more expensive ones in baseball. In the Minor League, he certainly had one of the highest batting averages, and in the Major League he would have been among the best. The salaries of major league baseball players have increased over 2500% over the last 45 years, while those of minor league players have increased by less than 70 percent, according to ESPN.
MLB salaries are almost dramatically high, with even the lowest paid players making a good living. The league minimum salary for an MLB player is over $550,000. And, as it stands currently, the median reported wage is up around $4.38 million.
If you look at the median salary, you’ll find it’s somewhere around $1.5 million per year. This shows a more accurate picture of how much the average MLB player earns. When you look at the mean average, you must remember that contracts vary based on the player. At least 40 of the 750 players make more than $20 million a year; another 125 make more than $10 million.
You should also take into account how pay varies based on a player’s position when calculating the average MLB salary. Among the best-paid players are pitchers, whose average annual salary is around $5.2 million. Then there are the designated hitters, who play only in the American League. These sluggers have the highest reported incomes of any MLB players, banking an average annual paycheck of $13.4 million.
There is an excellent level of disparity in pay between the Major and Minor Leagues. Where minor leaguers fight for scraps, Major League players rack up millions. Some argue that this is fair, is based on merit and skill. At the end of the day, they’re working the farm system-not the big stadiums. However, Minor League players deserve a fair wage and benefits to maximize their potential. Regardless, all players should be treated with dignity and safety.