It can be easy to gloss over the real-world consequences of executive decisions such as the one made by A’s owner John Fisher to end stipend payments to the club’s minor league players after this month.
It’s doubtful any of the players involved had ever met Fisher. They work in obscurity in chasing the baseball dream, and most of them probably haven’t ever been in the Oakland Coliseum.
With no games to be played and no season to be had in the era of COVID-19 coronavirus, all Major League teams had stepped up to pay stipends of $400 per week to their minor leaguers. For some, it was a raise, for some a pay cut, but it was income.
After two months, the A’s have pulled the plug on that. This week a letter from A’s general manager David Forst went to all of the organization’s minor league players informing them of the discontinuation of the payments.
To this point, the A’s are the only MLB organization to walk that path. The Marlins, Padres and Mariners have committed to paying their minor leaguers through August, and others, like the Braves, have made a commitment to continue payments through June at least.
The players are in a nasty spot. Technically, they are still employed under terms of their Uniform Player Contracts, so applying for unemployment is hit-and-miss, depending on the states in which they live.
Zach Erwin, a reliever at Double-A Midland last year, wasted no time going on Twitter after getting the email from Forst.
“Not only is it unlikely that the minor leaguers will not be able to play,” he wrote,” but we will also not make any money from our Uniform Player Contracts until the middle of next April.
“Meanwhile we are still expected to train and stay in baseball shape for the slim chance we play this season.”
Erwin said that without a 2020 season, he would have an income of about $5,600 for the 19-month period from September 2019 through April 2021. And that includes the $1,200 stimulus check he got from the government.
Starting pitcher Bryce Conley, who made the jump from Beloit, Wis., in the Midwest League to Stockton in the California League in 2019, also took to Twitter to call it “A very poor investment on the A’s part.”
And then he spelled out the Catch-22 he and his fellow minor leaguers find themselves in.
“I would go back to waiting tables,” he wrote, “but people still don’t want to go out to eat.”
Peter Bayer, who pitched last season at Stockton, told the Wall Street Journal that the $400 per week stipend had been “life changing.” He’d been able to continue to work out and keep ready in case baseball returned at the same time allowing him to eat and make his rent.
“It would be hard to go back to that team and hear them talk about how they care about their minor-league players,” Bayer said. “It’s all they ever feed us, but in a time of need they can’t even take care of us. I’ve completely lost respect for everyone involved in that decision.”
In talking with the athleticsfarm.com website, Midland outfielder Greg Deichmann, the club’s second-round draft pick in 2017, was clearly frustrated.
“Everyone, especially us players, have been waiting to hear some news moving in the right direction,” Deichmann said. “So, for this to be the first big announcement as far as baseball goes is a little disappointing. Obviously, we’d like the hear some positive news.
The A’s money-saving decision could decimate their performance in June. There will be a five-round draft June 10-11 rather than the usual 40-round draft. The players not drafted will be free agents. With the A’s having financially abandoned their current minor leagues and furloughed most of the minor league managing, coaching and training staff, players who have the option to sign elsewhere probably will.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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