During extended spring training, minor leaguers lament lack of pay: ‘Just a mess’
Every major league team holds what’s called extended spring training, called “extended” for short. It’s a setting that’s out of sight and out of mind for most people who follow the sport, except perhaps those who religiously watch player development. But extending is often a crucial and difficult step for young players, especially those from Latin America, who heavily populate extended rosters.
Unlike just a few years ago, most major league teams pay their players salaries for an extended period of time, during which players practice and play games. But five teams have failed to pay this year, according to the nonprofit Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which identified the A’s, Angels, Brewers, Marlins and Reds as those clubs.
“You think you’re in hell because first thing, it’s hot, it’s really hot,” said a player who has spent time in overtime in recent seasons. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Florida or Arizona, it’s hot. And there are a lot of people. So you don’t have a lot of playing time, or a lot of opportunities to play, so you’re dealing with stress. You have just started your career.
“You don’t earn enough money to eat because it’s not even enough money to eat. … So dealing with all that stress and not being able to eat well, it’s just that nobody likes to stay long. You can ask anyone. If you’ve been extended once, you’ll never want to come back.”
During the extended period, all teams provide players with housing and food at the resort. But for those without a salary, players in overtime sometimes pooled their money for groceries, as they received a small amount of money for meals.
“It was $20 a day,” said the same player, who didn’t get paid during his time in overtime. “The $20 was for dinner because they (the team) gave you breakfast and then lunch. But like sometimes, their lunch was a sandwich. So every time you come back from the game, and then around 8 or 9 p.m., you’ll be hungry again. … You don’t even have a car, so you have to go over it. Each meal on UberEats and Doordash costs around $20 or $25 per meal. So you may be spending $30 a day on meals and only getting $20 back.
When spring training ended this year, most players were assigned to a club that plays a full season schedule, whether it’s the major league team or one of the typical league levels. minors, from triple-A to single-A. But every major league team also kept dozens of players at its resort in Florida or Arizona for a long time, where players trained and played games in April and may, often focusing on specific skills. Then in June, most of those players moved on to a Rookie-level league held outside those same complexes, where salary is required. (In Florida, for example, it used to be called the Gulf Coast League, and is now called the Florida Complex League.)
Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, said that in 2021 his organization surveyed minor leaguers and found that around two-thirds of major league teams were not paying players salaries during an extended spring workout beyond meal money. This created a scenario where players assigned to the expansion only received salaries for about three months of the year. Without pay during the offseason, during spring training, or during extended periods, the only time some players had an official salary was during the complex league schedule. The current salary scale for complex leagues, set by major league clubs, is $400 per week.
Minor league defenders began to press the issue publicly, which Marino says helped produce rapid change – the Giants, Mets, Nationals and Red Sox were among the teams that changed their policy to pay players complex-level wages during extended spring training and also pay back wages for the 2021 season.
The Orioles, a team official said, paid players this year starting in Game 1 of extended spring training on April 21.
What teams are legally required to pay players for an extended period is part of a long-running class action lawsuit, known as Senne against the commissioner’s office, which is currently in settlement talks.
“So clearly what we’ve seen is just based on our awareness and accountability of what teams are actually doing, the norm has gone from not paying a year ago to paying this year,” Marino said. “But there’s still that handful of recalcitrant teams that don’t pay players for a long time, so there are still players in the minor leagues this season who are on track to earn less than 5,000. $ for the whole year.”
Three of the five teams identified by Advocates as paying no overtime wages, the A’s, Brewers and Reds, did not respond to a request for comment. The Angels declined to comment.
“We have made significant investments and improvements for our team members throughout our player development system, including a focus on compensation, housing, nutrition, education, mental health, etc,” a Marlins spokesperson said in a statement. “As with all aspects of our business, we are constantly reviewing how we can continue to improve the work experience and environment for everyone in our organization.”
Said Marino: “There is absolutely no excuse for these five teams to continue to refuse to pay their lowest paid employees for months of work.”
Each team’s roster is different, but the composition of the extended spring training rosters is predominantly Latin American.
“When we examine the demographics of players on extended spring training rosters, whether racial, educational or otherwise, it is clear that MLB teams are taking advantage of a particularly insecure group of players by not paying extended spring training salaries, and that’s very problematic,” Marino said.
Athleticism interviewed four players who were either in extended spring training this season or in recent years, including two players from Latin America. Both felt that MLB clubs took advantage of players coming from afar.
“When you’re 19, 18, you don’t have enough money to buy a car here. And like, you can’t speak English, you don’t know anyone and you’re stuck in a hotel and you don’t know where to go,” said a player from Latin America. “So there will be guys, they go to Walmart and buy a bunch of bread, bread and ham and cheese almost every night, for a professional athlete. We used to do this all the time, maybe four or three times a week so you could have a good meal with the money they gave you.
MLB did not respond to a request for comment.
Another player from Latin America said he felt like he was participating in a system “much like the Hunger Games”.
“Just go your own way and if you win, you hit the jackpot, reaching the major leagues,” he said. “You get the lifestyle you dreamed of. Otherwise, the team just sees that they don’t need your services, it’s goodbye, like that.
“I’ve had cases of friends who as soon as they got the money, went straight to Western Union, sent about $80 to their families back home, $90, stayed with what was left and just bought a lot from Chipotle. Try to get as much rice as possible and try to keep it for a few days in their room.
The lack of salary has hampered the players in different ways. Many players sign up for small singing bonuses, and all have other bills and worries besides food.
“The only good thing is that we can eat at the resort,” said a player who was in the extended spring this season. “But as far as the food you have in your apartment and stuff, if you get hungry at night and stuff like that, that money will definitely go fast. And it’s not just about food. Some people haven’t really signed up for anything.
Lack of pay contributes to attrition in the sport, one player says.
“They understand that we don’t make minimum wage here,” he said of the other players. “They can make more money just by being DoorDash (workers) or just working on construction. That’s why you get a lot of players who just decide to quit baseball who have a lot of potential. It’s just sad , but I totally get it: they have responsibilities, they have a family to take care of. Most of the talk between us is, just kids daydreaming about how things would be when we got to the big leagues and how we’d do this and we’d do that, how we’d help this or that, just a mess.
A Mets player who received back pay for his extended time in 2021 noted how easy it seemed for a team to make a change.
“I was extremely happy to see that money coming back,” the player said. “I didn’t really know when I was going to spring training, extended spring training, that I wasn’t going to get paid, so it was a bit of a relief to see that. Especially having an apartment that I was paying for. It happened overnight on direct deposit. It happened very easily, quickly, and I was also able to pay for some things.
All four players said they hope clubs change their practice and ensure players in extended spring training are paid in the future.
“The only thing that has me in the game right now is chasing my dream,” said one of the players. “Sometimes I wake up and I’m like, ‘What the hell am I doing? Am I doing the right thing?