COVID-19 Roundup: A’s Minor Leaguers Take a Big Pay Cut

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Oakland A’s Make Drastic Cuts to Minor League Compensation

With the odds of any kind of minor league season being played away from team complexes getting increasingly long, the Oakland A’s announced that they are ending the $400 weekly subsidies paid to their minor leaguers effective June 1; all 30 teams had previously agreed to pay such subsidies until the end of May.

“Unfortunately, considering all of the circumstances affecting the organization at this time, we have decided not to continue your $400 weekly stipend beyond May 31,” Athletics General Manager David Forst wrote in an email to the organization’s minor league players. “This was a difficult decision and it’s one that comes at a time when a number of our full-time employees are also finding themselves either furloughed or facing a reduction in salary for the remainder of the season. For all of this, I am sorry.”

Given the minimum salaries in the minors, which range from $290 a week in rookie ball to $502 in Triple-A, the team could have paid all of their minor leaguers the minimum for just over $1 million. (Note that this comes at the same time MLB is trying to effectively memory hole $1 billion in revenues in their public battle with the MLBPA.)

Team owner John Fisher, who Forbes estimates has a net worth of more than $2 billion (a figure the publication further estimates has increased by $40 million since Tuesday), had this to say about the cuts in a letter to fans and team employees Tuesday:

“Baseball is more than a job — it is a way of life,” Fisher said. “People who work for our team are our family — our very foundation — and they work tirelessly to help the A’s compete in this most precious game. COVID-19 has brought a tragic loss of life and sickness to so many in our community, and it has impacted us all in ways we could have never imagined. Our organization, like so many others across the country, has had to make tough and painful decisions.”

Meanwhile, the letter the minor leaguers received was careful to remind them that even though they won’t see a paycheck from the A’s until April 2021, they are still bound by the terms of their contract with Oakland, and are not permitted to play for another organization. Gotta love that antitrust exemption! Players will continue to receive health benefits through what would have been the end of the 2020 season.

Other teams have taken a milder approach to minor league pay cuts. The White Sox are extending the subsidy through the end of June, including to the 26 players already released from their minor league rosters. The Phillies are also extending subsidies through June, though it is unclear if the subsidy will be the full $400 per week. And in a surprising move given how aggressive they’ve been with scouting furloughs, the Marlins will reportedly continue their subsidies to minor leaguers through August.

Nippon Professional Baseball to Start on June 19

I know that my birthday is headline event on June 19, but since this is the strangest baseball year in memory, I’m ok sharing it with the start of the NPB season, the biggest league yet to start play in 2020. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended Japan’s official state of emergency on Monday, ending the economic curbs on five prefectures, to go along with an economic stimulus package totaling 40% of the country’s GDP.

As in Taiwan and South Korea, Japan’s games will initially be fanless, with an eye to allowing fans, at least on a limited basis, as the summer progresses. The season is expected to consist of 120 games, down from the typical 143.

“We’ve caused a lot of problems and worry for the players, staff and, first and foremost, the fans by constantly changing the schedule,” NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito said during an online news conference that followed an emergency meeting of league representatives. “But we hope to provide encouragement to the public, which has had to endure the feeling of being locked down during the quarantine period and also give guidance to other sports.”

The Orix Buffaloes already held a practice game and the league will start extensive practice games on June 2.

Meanwhile, Japan’s soccer league, the J-League, has been cooperating with NPB to plan prophylactic measures for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to resume play in late June or early July. The J-League initially suspended games on February 26, less than a week after the start of its seasons. Some J-League teams in areas that were not under emergency measures wanted to start earlier, but the league did not want to restart until the restrictions were lifted for all prefectures. Thirty-nine prefectures had previously been opened on May 14.

The Preeminent Winter League Gets a Summer Restart

We still don’t know when or where, but the NHL announced some of the “what” involved in resuming the 2019-2020 season. Assuming the health protocols can be worked out and agreements made with the NHLPA, the NHL will scrap its remaining regular season games and go right into a 24-team playoff system. All regular season stats are frozen as of March 11. Only the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning voted “nay” in the 29-2 vote approving the playoff system.

Canada currently has a 14-day quarantine in effect for all international travelers, a problem for hockey given the high percentage of foreign-born players. If these policies are still in effect at the start of the NHL playoffs and no waiver is given, the NHL may have to play all the games in the United States.

The league also announced changes to its draft lottery. I don’t speak whatever language the new rules are written in, but perhaps you will be more fortunate.

Furloughs, Salary Cuts, Normalcy

Baseball’s piecemeal strategy on how the staff across its 30 teams will be treated during the COVID-19 shutdown continued over the holiday weekend and Tuesday, with teams taking drastically different approaches with their employees.

The Milwaukee Brewers have taken the tack of cutting salaries for top executives and as a result, the team will be able to keep the entire baseball operations staff on for the rest of the season with no pay cuts and no furloughs.

It’s not all good news, as the team furloughed some business operations employees , something the team was obviously less excited about announcing to the public.

The Toronto Blue Jays also announced that there would be no staff layoffs or furloughs through October 1. There are unspecified pay cuts beyond a “low-earning threshold,” and team president Mark Shapiro confirmed that the Jays were able to obtain funding through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Shapiro confirmed that the Blue Jays — “as a business that incurred zero revenue” — are receiving aid from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program, set up in April to help businesses suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For businesses with 30 percent or more lost revenue because of the pandemic, the Canadian subsidy provides 75 percent of an employee’s salary, up to $847 per week.

The Oakland A’s are taking an aggressive route, furloughing their pro scouts next week, their amateur scouts after the draft, and half of the team’s front office. Lest anyone receive their full salaries, the non-furloughed employees will also take pay cuts through Halloween.

(This is solely my personal opinion, but I’d be quite happy to see the City of Oakland and Alameda County announce that they now intend to furlough any taxpayer subsidies, discounts, or favorable tax treatment for the A’s future ballpark.)

The Dodgers, like the Blue Jays, will not lay off or furlough employees, but will institute salary cuts starting June 1.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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