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Improved pay and housing headline the first ever minor league union CBA

The newly-formed minor league union won a lot of ground in their fight for fair compensation.

Jay Markle/Vox Media

Wednesday night, news broke that the first-ever collective bargaining agreement between the minor league players’ union and the owners has been hammered out, and could be ratified by the players as early as Friday.

Anyone who has been paying even marginal attention to the state of baseball over the past few years knows how difficult the life of a rank-and-file minor leaguer can be. Those who didn’t receive fat bonus checks after the draft barely scrape by while trying to make playing baseball a profession. Many players are forced to live five deep in apartments meant for two and routinely skip meals or consume the cheapest of calories despite working out and playing ball daily.

Things are about to get a whole lot easier. Front and center in the reported details of the new CBA is massively improved pay for minor league players, with salaries doubling at a minimum at every level of the minors. Additionally, pay will be spread through nearly 11 months of the year, rather than just during the minor league season as it had been before.

I spoke privately to a few Tigers minor leaguers about this new deal, and the word each one used was “excited.” It’s easy to see why. For the first time, players will be able to focus on training during the offseason, rather than picking up seasonal jobs as an Uber driver, a meat packer, or cleaning up dog poop at a kennel club — all real jobs various revealed by various minor leaguers across the league to be their offseason gig. Additionally, this means that players not on the 40-man roster will be compensated during mandatory spring training, which had not ever been the case before.

Here’s the fully revealed pay scale:

  • Complex league salaries increase from $4,800 per year to $19,800
  • Low-A salaries increase from $11,000 to $26,200
  • High-A salaries increase from $11,000 to $27,300
  • Double-A salaries increase from $13,800 to $30,250
  • Triple-A salaries increase from $17,500 to $35,800

Aside from the obvious quality of life improvements that accompany no longer making a salary far below the poverty line, nearly year-round pay makes a huge difference for players recovering from long-term injuries, particularly Tommy John surgery. The physical and mental toll that players are subjected to on their 12- to 18-month long road to recovery from elbow reconstruction surgery is made far worse when trying to juggle a second job as well.

Additionally, teams will now be on the hook for minor leaguers’ housing costs, ensuring a bedroom for each player and providing special accommodations for players with spouses and children. With rental prices at an all-time high, providing housing effectively increases the total compensation package for each player by ten to fifteen thousand dollars. It also removes the regular problem of players getting promoted or traded and having to sub-lease apartments. The logistics involved in multiple reassignments, multiple leases, and travel expenses during a season can get quite out of hand.

There will inevitably be a few people who start screaming about player greed, but these changes are far from burdensome for MLB ownership; many teams employ reserve players for more money than the total cost of the raises to every player in their minor league system combined. In exchange, the game will be in a better place, allowing players to give all their energy to baseball and assuredly producing better players as a result.

Of course, the owners had to get their pound of flesh as well.

Starting in the 2024 season, the Domestic Reserve List for each team will be lowered from 180 players to 165. The Domestic Reserve List governs the number of players each team is allowed to employ in its stateside minor league operations. Teams often keep players around as Complex League depth, clubhouse guys, or a liaison between coaches and players without placing them on an active roster.

This isn’t the first time the league has sought to reduce the size of the Domestic Reserve List. While negotiating the current major league CBA, the league suggested granting the power to the commissioner to reduce the list to 150 players over the life of the CBA, though this idea was shot down by the players.

The agreed upon reduction to 165 players means that as many as 15 players per team will lose their jobs at the end of this season, though not every team will have to be so heavy-handed with the axe. In ESPN’s reporting from last year regarding the Domestic Reserve List, a source indicated that two teams were already under 150 players.

Additionally, the quality of life improvements won by the minor league players union will not apply to players on the International Reserve List — players affiliated with an MLB team who play ball at team complexes overseas. Often, but not always, these players live in team-provided dorms, eat team-provided food, and take team-provided English classes while making almost no money.

This CBA is a five-year agreement, and one would expect the negotiations to be much more public and contentious when it expires in 2028. The current structure isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge victory for most players to finally be granted a living wage.