Rob Manfred, Tony Clark On Minor League Pay, An International Draft, NIL And More
LOS ANGELES—Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark met separately with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America on Tuesday. They addressed multiple topics facing the game including on-field rules changes, minor league pay, the international draft, Black participation in the game and the amateur baseball landscape.
Here are their statements on those topics and others from their annual address to the BBWAA.
MINOR LEAGUE SALARIES
Major League Baseball agreed to pay $185 million last week to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by former minor leaguers over unpaid wages. As part of the settlement, the league also agreed to remove restrictions that forbade teams from paying minor leaguers for spring training, instructional league or other activities outside of the regular season.
The minimum annual minor league salary ranges from about $4,800 in the Rookie leagues to roughly $14,000 In Triple-A. The 2022 federal poverty line for an individual in most states is $13,590.
In response to a question about whether minor league salaries were so low because of a lack of will from owners or a lack of resources, Manfred said the following:
“I kind of reject the premise of the question that minor league players are not paid a living wage. I think that we’ve made real strides in the last few years in terms of what minor league players are paid. Even putting to one side the signing bonuses that many of them have received, they’ve received housing, which is obviously another form of compensation, so I just reject the premise of the question.
“I reject the premise that they are not paid a living wage.”
Clark, who spoke before Manfred, addressed the issue by speaking in terms of the strides minor leaguers have made. Organizations such as Advocates For Minor Leaguers have brought widespread attention and awareness to minor league salaries and living conditions in recent years. Last offseason, team owners agreed to provide housing for minor leaguers for the first time.
“It is exciting to see players recognize and appreciate the power of their collective voice in affecting positive change in things that they live day to day,” Clark said. “Harry Marino and Advocates For Minor Leaguers have done a tremendous job of engaging and educating the minor leaguers in helping them to find their voice. There aren’t too many major league players that didn’t come through the minor leagues and remember what it was like. Hell, it’s not much different than 30 years ago when I went through it.
“So helping those guys find their voice and not just make it better for themselves in the nearest term but for the next generation, which is something that players are, and our fraternity has, historically been committed to, is great to see. So I say all that to say we are watching. We are providing support when and where possible and are very interested to see what the conversation continues to lend itself to.”
MLB has implemented a series of rules changes in the minor leagues in recent years, including a pitch clock, restrictions on infield shifts and, in select leagues, the introduction of an automated ball-strike system in which technology is used to tell umpires whether a pitch is a ball or a strike.
While many of the rules changes are in discussion to be implemented in the majors as soon as next season, Clark said the automated ball-strike system, known colloquially as “robo-umps,” is not one of them.
“The rules that are part of that dialogue right now don’t include the automated balls and strikes system,” Clark said. “We assume at some point in time it will be part of the conversation. It wouldn’t be for 2023. It would perhaps be for 2024. But players have weighed in, obviously it’s not the first time we’ve talked about the ABS system … and are very opinionated about the system, about what it may do and what it may not do.
“And my guess is those that have experience with it, particularly those in the minor leagues that are making their way to the big leagues, we’ll continue to garner input from them as well. But we also have a number of major league guys that when they go down for rehab are experiencing those things, such that the input is no longer the concern about what it might do. Guys are offering tangible evidence of what it’s doing and what it may do moving forward with the game and are taking positions accordingly.
“So we haven’t had a proposal on it. We don’t expect to have a proposal on it. But when and if we do, I’m sure it will come in 2023 ahead of 2024.”
MLB and the MLBPA recently exchanged proposals regarding the implementation of an international draft. The issue was a point of contention during Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations last offseason, but both sides agreed to table the issue.
The sides have until July 25 to come to an agreement to implement the international draft. Otherwise, the current international free agent signing system will remain in place.
“We made a proposal … and we recently received some response back,” Clark said. “We’ll have to see whether, or to what extent, there is any common ground to be found there. Players have been willing to have a conversation despite the fact that there are players on each side of the equation, but everyone can agree that the system that would need to be considered here for a draft needs to be much better than what has otherwise been contemplated to this point, and that is why our proposal reflected did what it did.”
MLB has attempted to trade the implementation of an international draft in exchange for removing the qualifying offer on free agents, which can depress their markets. Clark made clear he did not view that as an even trade during his address.
“As I stand here, I would love to remove it, knowing that the benefit for the players that would otherwise have that qualifying offer would be improved,” he said. “Having said that, it being attached to the conversation that we’re having related to the international draft does not mean that we’re going to mortgage the future of international players and the next generation of players that comes behind just to remove it. We want to remove it, we are committed to removing it, but we’re not going to do so at the expense of further damaging the international market and the international player opportunities. It’s not worth that.
“And that’s why as we continue to negotiate, it’s imperative that some of the things that would otherwise need to be a part of that conversation remain a part of that conversation. If they don’t, then it’s going to be difficult to find common ground.”
MLB pushed the draft back from June to All-Star Weekend beginning in 2021 in an attempt to create greater visibility for the event. The change has created much frustration amongst scouts and team officials, who have noted pushing the draft back to mid-July creates conflict with preparation for the trade deadline.
Below is Manfred’s statement on the draft being moved to July and his response to those concerns:
“It’s more than making the draft into an event. We think the combination of the combine as an introduction to prospects, an introduction to our fans of prospects who are going to be really important to the game, and then following it up with the draft. Increased coverage of minor league baseball as a result of the reorganization there is part of a larger plan for marketing players early in their career and building fandom. I am familiar, I understand, that there are people who have expressed the view … about the timing of the draft. Frankly, everything in life is a balance between competing objectives. We like, and ownership likes, the idea of building the draft as part of All-Star Weekend.”
Clark, for his part, expressed more reservations about where the draft currently falls in the calendar.
“Having the draft during the All-Star Game presents some challenges,” Clark said. “It’s understandable that as part of a marquee event that it would be part of the festivities. But the later it happens, the more challenging it is for everyone that’s involved. And when I say everyone, whether it’s the players themselves, whether it’s their advisors, whether it’s the colleges and the college teams that trying to appreciate who they have, what they have and what resources they may have for those that they continue to recruit. So it’s great to have it as a marquee event, but the timing is remarkably challenging for all those that are involved and we’ll have to see whether or not or to what extent there are any adjustments moving forward.”
“We provided flexibility for the draft to be in a window or period of time, and with that are fine with the decision that the league decides to make about what it believes is in the best interest of the game and the industry. I’m simply suggesting that there are challenges around it being this late.”
Four of the top five picks in the 2022 draft were Black, the first time in draft history that many Black players were selected in the top five picks. Asked about baseball’s diversity efforts in the aftermath of those selections, Clark said the following:
“We are a better game when we have talent from a number of different areas, and Black ballpayers have been a part of the fabric of this game for a long time. Not as long as we should have been, but for a long time, nonetheless. So it was exciting to see talented ballplayers that looked like me be a part of the draft in the fashion that they were and being recognized for their talents that they have.
“Now, what I do think is going to be very interesting is to see what happens now moving forward with the changes that are happening in the amateur and the college landscape, patricianly as they relate to football and as they relate to basketball and where baseball sits in that conversation. So as excited as I am as to what we saw, what we’ve seen the last couple days, I’m still very much concerned about the opportunities that are going to be in place and the story that baseball can tell as part of those opportunities for the next generation of young Black ballpayers. So positive, happy about what we saw, particularly as the league engages and we engage in the youth area and trying to provide more and more opportunities for those who are underserved in a climate where, as I stand here, I believe the entire amateur experience is broken.”
In his remarks about the draft, Manfred said:
“The big news for me from the draft was the diversity. Four of the first five, nine of 30, it was a really good year. I feel like the guys at the top of the draft were all products to one extent or another of the MLB development system. (That) demonstrates that if you invest in that space, create playing opportunities, you get a return on your investment.”
NIL AND COLLEGE BASEBALL
As part of his remarks about the draft, Clark expanded on his thoughts regarding the introduction of NIL rights in college and what effect they may have on baseball.
“I am concerned as we move forward in the changing landscape in college, particularly as it relates to NIL rights, which I am fine with, but how it’s going to affect the major sports is going to be very interesting. How it sways some of the decision-making is going to be very interesting.
“To say we’re challenged in our game with attracting many of the top athletes to play our great game is an understatement … When you’re drafted in the other leagues you find yourself in prime time immediately and with other financial opportunities that are much different, if not much higher, in those sports than ours. Those challenges still remain, and with the added adjustments and changes on the college landscape, like I said, I’m interested to see how it manifests itself moving forward.”
Youngest Players By League, August 2022
As the MLB and MiLB seasons head into their final months, we update the youngest players in every affiliated league.
Clark described the amateur baseball system in the United States as “broken” during his remarks. When asked to elaborate on that characterization, Clark said the following:
“I’ll offer a perfect anecdote as the best way to show: My son is 20 years old. He has been part of the youth system from the time he was four and he was a part of the travel ball since he was nine … Going through that and watching that, what’s being taught and what’s not being taught, where the commitments lie in regard to the travel ball system and those that are involved in ‘development’, I put up air quotes in development and I say that because I do not believe the system is designed to develop. The system is designed to move players along and monetize the value of those young people and what they bring to the equation, such that we have a lot of players that throw hard, hit the ball far, run fast, but don’t necessarily know how to play the game.
“And as more and more baseball people are removed from the equation, the less and less likely it is they are going to receive the instruction, and the commitment to that development, that they otherwise could or should. And so watching my son go through it, watching other people go through it … I’ve experienced it firsthand, I’ve seen it firsthand and it’s why after going through it over the course of the last give or take 11 or 12 years, and having a number of staff that have dove in as well, having children of their own that have gone through it, the development system is broken. The value derived from that system is unnecessarily ridiculous. And for the betterment of the whole, for the betterment of our game, for the next generation that’s coming behind, there are some fundamental changes in that system that I believe need to happen.
“As a part of organization, the main thing will always be the advancement and protecting the rights of our members. But to suggest to that our own members, that often find themselves in the teaching space and the instructional space and the coaching space when they’re done playing, every one of them that moves on from where they are now as an active player, and all those that we come in contact with, say the same thing, see the same thing and is committed to the change that they believe and we believe needs to happen in that space. And to the extent that we can be a part of that conversation, we are committed to it.”
OAKLAND’S STADIUM SITUATION
“The condition of the Coliseum, I was there myself recently, is a really serious problem for us. I’ve said it, this is not news, it is not a major league quality facility at this point. I think Mayor Schaff continues to work hard to try to get an arrangement, an agreement to develop the Howard Terminal site. I’m hopeful that can still happen, but I’ve said this recently and I’ll say it again, it needs to happen now. It needs to be done. There needs to be a binding agreement in done in Oakland quickly.”
Later, Manfred added:
“Mr. Fisher (A’s owner John Fisher) has to make the decision as to whether he wants to make an agreement or can make an agreement that is approved by the city council that would keep the A’s in Oakland. If that’s not possible, then we have a process that deals with an application for relocation, and I assume that’s where it goes if in fact no agreement can be made in Oakland.”
While MLB has expressed interest in expanding to 32 teams, Manfred has consistently stated that expansion will not happen until the A’s and Rays either get new stadiums or relocate to other markets. He re-iterated that point when asked about expansion again.
“I can’t do better on timeline than I need to get Oakland and Tampa resolved before we could realistically have a conversation about expansion. It’s just those situations, in my view, are serious enough and timely enough they have to be our No. 1 focus.”
ADVERTISTMENTS ON JERSEYS
Advertisements will be placed on MLB uniforms for the first time beginning in 2023. The Padres were the first team to announce a deal, signing an agreement with Motorola in April.
Manfred addressed the change and how it conflicts with baseball history and tradition.
“I think that jersey patches, advertisements on jerseys, are a reality of life in professional sport,” he said. “It’s a revenue source that is significant enough that it is really impossible for the sport to ignore over the long haul. I think that’s the truth.”
CUBAN PARTICIPATION IN THE WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
Under current rules put in place by the Cuban government, players who defected from Cuba are not allowed to represent the country in international competitions, including the Olympics and World Baseball Classic.
A group of former and current Cuban players, businessmen and lawyers recently formed a group and attempted to petition multiple governing bodies, including MLB, to allow Cuban players who have fled to represent the country in the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Manfred said that while he was sympathetic to their cause, there was nothing he could do.
“There are rules that apply to international events like the WBC in order for them to be sanctioned,” Manfred said. “One of those rules is that the federation, the Cuban Baseball Federation, controls who is on that team. I met with the group … of Cuban players that are playing in the big leagues. I’m sympathetic to their desire to play in the WBC, but the rules are the rules.”