MiLB’s New Economic Landscape Makes It A Viable Option For All Players


Image credit: Zack Showalter (13) celebrates with catcher Maikel Hernandez (37) after the final out of an MiLB Florida State League baseball game against the Jupiter Hammerheads on May 7, 2024 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

When Major League Baseball began operating the minor leagues in 2021, it ushered in a new era for players.

Even before MLB and the newly-formed minor league division of the MLB Players Association reached a deal on the first-ever minor league collective bargaining agreement in 2023, pay and standards of living had improved.

Once the CBA arrived, the transformation was complete.

Players who remained after the minor leagues were scaled back and reorganized are now experiencing the best working conditions any minor league player has ever experienced.

Food? Two meals a day are now provided, and nutritious snacks and protein powder are also available whenever players are at the ballpark.

Weight rooms? Upgraded.

Batting cages? Covered and upgraded.

Stadium lighting? Improved.

Salaries? Year-round, and at the highest level in minor league history.

This does not mean that minor league players are living the easy life. It’s a pressure-packed job in which success or failure is apparent to thousands of fans every time they step on a field. The pressure to perform is even more intense now, because stricter player limits require players to justify their roster spots like never before.

For players who didn’t receive a large signing bonus, salaries are still modest, but even those are dramatically improved from where they were five years ago. And players no longer face the decisions that tormented them in past decades.

Today, players can focus on playing their best, instead of figuring out whether they can afford to keep playing.

No longer do players have to rely on a spouse’s salary, family help or an offseason job to figure out how to earn enough in the offseason to support their main job: playing professional baseball.

No longer does getting married or having a child create a decision point on whether a player can continue to pursue his dream of a big league career.

“The old system was pay-to-play,” said Chris Betts, a catcher who spent 2016 to 2022 in the minors.

There have been tradeoffs. Significantly fewer players get a chance to play in affiliated baseball. As part of the minor league CBA, major league organizations may have 165 active players on domestic minor league rosters. As recently as 2019, some had 240 or more minor league players under contract.

But overall, minor league players have never had it better.

“I think the CBA had mostly pros. The cutting of dozens of teams was the tradeoff, it seems. And being on the wrong side of that stinks,” said lefthander Rob Kaminsky, a 2013 draftee who reached the majors in 2020 and then played in the new minor league system until 2023, when he was released.

“But, for the greater good of the game and unreal talent in the sport, I think (the CBA is) a net positive.”

As recently as 2019, a professional player on a short-season or Rookie-level roster could make less than $4,000 for the entire year. They wouldn’t get paid for spring training, extended spring training or instructional league. With meager per diems, clubhouse dues and housing costs, playing affiliated baseball could be a money-losing experience.

Today, that same player will make a minimum of $19,800. Anyone in full-season ball earns a minimum of $26,200. Those numbers will increase for cost-of-living adjustments in 2025.

That’s still a modest salary—though it does allow players to continue to work a second job for part of the offseason—but it also comes with numerous new benefits.

In 2019, there were no guarantees of team-provided housing. There could be host families in some situations, but players were generally responsible for finding a place to live in-season. Usually, that meant cramming a large number of players into a small apartment.

If a player was promoted or demoted, he was responsible for breaking the lease and finding new housing with his new team. It created the bizarre scenario in which a player had no control over where he lived, but could be responsible for housing even if a team shipped him to four different cities in a single season.

Now, teams are required to provide housing for all minor league players throughout their seasons. In Class A, players can be asked to share a bedroom, but in Double-A and Triple-A, each player is guaranteed his own bedroom. Utilities are paid for by their MLB teams as well.

The per diem has been increased from $25 to $30 per day when teams are on the road. But more importantly, players are guaranteed two team-provided meals per day, as well as snacks for every day that there is a game or workout.

Clubhouse dues—paid to clubhouse attendants to provide pre- and post-game meals for players—have been banned. Before, that could take most or all of a player’s per diem, leaving them little or no money for their other meals during the day.

For decades, life in the minor leagues was a labor of love for the players. But when it came to the labor itself, it was often a money-loser.

The other aspect of the player-team relationship that has changed is an alteration in how decisions are made.

Prior to 2021, many of these decisions were left to the 30 individual MLB teams. Teams could decide to provide housing, food or increased salaries to players, but there were no mandates that pushed them to do so. And since free agency is such a small aspect of the minor leagues, the quality of life for the vast majority of a player’s career was left to chance.

A player drafted by one team might find that they got paid to attend spring training, or might find that the team provided nutritious meals. The same player might find himself paying out of pocket to eat if drafted by another team.

None of this was under a player’s control. Minor league players did not get to choose their employer until they had played seven professional seasons. And MLB largely let teams make their own decisions regarding their minor leaguers’ working conditions. There were minimum standards as far as salaries and travel, but teams could decide whether to go above and beyond those levels.

So in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the entire minor league season, teams were left to individually decide whether to pay players. Most teams immediately decided to pay players a stipend, but the Athletics announced that they would cease paying players at the end of May of that year.

After much public pressure and ridicule, Oakland reversed that decision and joined the other MLB teams in paying its minor leaguers during the lost season.

That situation would never happen today. With a players’ union, a CBA and the MLB takeover of minor league operations, the dynamic has changed.

Multiple people with knowledge of minor league players’ thoughts said that MLB is responsive when players bring up issues with facilities, travel or other things that need to be fixed. And instead of each MLB team making those decisions, they are viewed at more of a league-wide level. Certain organizations may still have better training tools, housing or food, but the floor for the worst environments in the affiliated minors is significantly higher than it was a decade ago.

“We’re trending in a great direction,” Betts said. “The standards have changed. It’s moving in the right direction. It’s so much better of a work environment.”

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone