Rob Manfred has a complaint.
Yes, minor leaguer players—or short-term seasonal apprentices, as Major League Baseball called them—make poverty-level wages. Unless they’re on the 40-man roster or reach free agency, the salaries for minor leaguers range from around $1,100 per month at the lower levels to around $2,200 per month at the top of the chain. Players are only paid during the season—they don’t get paid during spring training, instructional league or the offseason.
But, the commissioner argued, those salaries don’t account for all of a player’s income.
“Look, I think that it’s important to realize that a lot of the information out there about what minor league players are paid and make ignores things like signing bonuses that are paid in advance, that often are large sums of money,” Manfred said on Wednesday, according to Jesse Spector of Sporting News.
The problem for MLB is that the signing bonus data only further highlights how little many minor league players get when they sign.
When players sign, their bonuses are subject to either the draft bonus pools or the international bonus pools, so let’s separate the data based on the two different entry systems. Since 2016 is still in progress for international signings, let’s study 2015, the most recent calendar year for which we have full signing bonus data.
Nondrafted free agents are subject to the draft bonus pools—any bonus after the 10th round over $100,000 counts toward a team’s pool—so they’re included in the draft data. International data doesn’t include Asian foreign professionals who signed major league deals, such as Twins first baseman Byung Ho Park, or Mexican players whose rights were purchased from Mexican League teams.
Yes, there are players signing for millions at the top of the draft, even though the draft itself and the bonus pools artificially suppress what those players would otherwise be able to obtain on the open market. However, the majority (60 percent) of players subject to the draft who signed got less than $100,000. At the lower end, the numbers are more extreme.
• Median signing bonus: $50,000. • 40 percent signed for $10,000 or less. • 35 percent signed for $5,000 or less. • 21 percent signed for $1,000 or less.
Top international players have more luxuries than their draft counterparts. They have the leverage to negotiate with 30 teams, and unlike in the draft, several clubs are willing to exceed their international bonus pools. Yet aside from the elite prospects, most international players enter professional baseball with modest bonuses.
• Median signing bonus: $30,000. • 37 percent signed for $10,000 or less.
Compared to those who sign through the draft system, a higher percentage of international players (73 percent) signed for less than $100,000. Latin American players also typically give 25-30 percent (and sometimes far more) of their bonus to their trainers as commission. Since many of these players are signing at 16 and 17, they have to stretch that bonus even further because of the longer development time they face.
Most players are not entering professional baseball with million-dollar bonuses. Most aren’t signing for more than $100,000. The median signing bonus—before taxes and commissions—is $30,000 for international players and $50,000 for players subject to the draft, with nearly 40 percent of players entering pro ball on a bonus of $10,000 or less.
First-round picks like Phillies outfielder Mickey Moniak and international bonus babies like Cubs outfielder Eloy Jimenez don’t have to worry much about the size of their minor league paycheck. However, for the majority of players, their signing bonus doesn’t do much to offset the small salary they have to get by on throughout their years in the minors.