Over the last few months, MLB teams have released spates of players from their minor league system. Now, some of those players will get a second crack at a job with a team … and will get paid again.
The Nashville Sounds, with expected help from Major League Baseball, will host a condensed series of games for professional free agents, starting on July 23 and running for 10 weeks.
What’s more, the Sounds will pay the players the $400 a week minor leaguers had been getting as a stipend while the sport was shut down. That money will come directly from the Sounds and not from MLB or any of its clubs, which marks the first time an affiliated minor league team will pay its players directly.
This plan has been in the works for months—and will need the city of Nashville to do the expected and relax its COVID-related restrictions once more for the games to take place—as a means to get some baseball at First Horizon Park and to get players a chance to prove that they can contribute to a big league club if needed.
“A lot of it was just that we were heartbroken for those guys, and we were just like ‘Man, they were making $400 a week,’ ” Sounds GM Adam Nuse said. “We can take that on and try to go out and get the best set of guys and put two teams together and put them back to work, but also try to keep our staff employed and give back to the city of Nashville.”
Originally, the Sounds had planned to launch the camp on June 25, but the delays with MLB and in Nashville itself forced the team to push back the date until July 23. Coincidentally, that’s also when MLB is planning its Opening Day.
The Sounds are planning on holding games every Thursday through Sunday afterward, and are planning to host fans at up to 25% of their normal capacity. A sellout at First Horizon Park under normal conditions is 10,000 people, so roughly 2,500 would be able to watch a game between the two teams of free agents.
Like the big leagues, the Sounds teams will also play under a set of tweaked extra-innings rules. Instead of placing a runner on second base in the 10th inning, however, the teams will settle the game via a home run derby.
“Almost like the shootout in hockey,” Nuse said. “You’d take two players and they’d get five or 10 balls and that settles the game.”
Unlike other scenarios across the country, the games that will happen in Nashville are not part of a league. There will be just two teams, populated by between 40 and 60 former minor leaguers who have been released.
If MLB is involved as is expected, it will help the Sounds determine which players make the most sense. If it is not involved, then the league will still play, but the Sounds will have to choose for themselves which players make the cut.
“We got a list of all the guys who have been released, and it’s a massive list,” Nuse said. “Ideally, we would just go and try to identify who the top 40 players are, but that’s not part of any of the expertise of people in our office. Usually, the Rangers give us all our players. We don’t deal with players, so we’d kind of do our best to get the best 40 guys.
“Then, about three weeks ago, when we were going through approval processes and making sure that Major League Baseball wouldn’t be mad at us for doing that, as well as Minor League Baseball, the (PCL), and so we pushed it up to MLB to let them know that we were doing this and then the next we knew, they wanted to be involved and help out.”
The Sounds were planning on having two teams of 20 players, for a total of 40. If MLB is involved, that number might get as high as 60. Coaches are not yet in place, but the Sounds are looking at local coaches who might be able to get involved to fill those roles.
As for housing, there may be a stipend if MLB is involved. Otherwise, the Sounds have reached out to the community to see if any families are willing to host players for the nearly two-month season.
“Going back to the original plan, we would take on that expense (of paying player salaries), which we obviously have never done, so it’s a new expense for us,” Nuse said. “It becomes a challenge for them, frankly, because we’re in Nashville and $400 doesn’t go very far in a week, so we’re working trying to find host families, which a lot of other teams do but we don’t do typically, so we’re going to try to get into that and see where we can get people living.
“The other idea is that we’d pay them, but if we partnered with Major League Baseball there’s some early (thought) that they might chip in for some housing of some sort, but all that’s still kind of to be determined.”
Because the threat of COVID is still ever present, the Sounds will need to take precautions for both their fans and the players. The team is already planning on working with Vanderbilt’s medical facilities, but if MLB is involved, all parties will have to adhere to the same set of guidelines as the players and coaches in the big leagues.
“I think there’s two options right now. One is, if we do this without MLB involved, I think there’s — again, we’re a a city-owned facility, so we’ve got to do it right—but probably a lot of the over-and-above stuff that kind of feels like a lot, we might cut out, just from an expense standpoint,” Nuse said.
“But if MLB is involved, I think the last proposal was a like 106-page medical plan, so if they’re involved our procedures and protocols are going to be much stricter than kind of what we would do if we were on our own. If we did it on our own, it’d be very much reliant on Vanderbilt medical telling us what’s the best and what’s the proper way to do everything.”
One of the two teams will play as the Sounds, wearing their jerseys and hats and everything else that goes with it. The other team has yet to be named, and the team may reach out to fans for help in that regard. Once the name is settled, the team will try to expedite the process of getting uniforms made for the second team.
Major League Baseball is just beginning its road to return. If everything goes well over the next month or so, Nashville might be able to celebrate the game’s return at the same time.