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Oakland A’s will stop paying minor leaguers at end of May

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Including a response from Zack Erwin, minor league pitcher

Zack Erwin, 2018
Photo provided by Meghan Camino and the Stockton Ports

With the coronavirus pandemic now consuming the first two months of the 2020 MLB season, and no concrete plan in place for the resumption of games, the Oakland A’s began making cost-cutting moves on Tuesday. First came word that they would be furloughing many full-time employees, and then Jeff Passan of ESPN added a report that they would also stop paying their minor league players.

All MLB teams had previously committed to paying their minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend through May 31, but with that deadline approaching in a few days, the A’s have elected not to continue those payments. The players will still receive health benefits for now, and they remain under contract with the Oakland organization.

These moves by the A’s now put them toward the forefront of slashing personnel costs during the pandemic, and make them the first club to completely shut out their minor leaguers. However, Passan notes that “other decisions from organizations should arrive in the coming days,” implying that other teams might make similar cuts.

Regarding the minor leaguers, Passan offers the following context: “Just some rough math. Say there are 200 players in a minor league system. Paying each $400/week for [June], July and August is $5,200 per player. To pay every minor leaguer would have cost the Oakland A’s a hair over $1 million. Owner John Fisher is worth an estimated $2 billion.”

General manager David Forst sent the following letter to the minor league players, via MLB insider Robert Murray:

To all A’s Minor League Players -

I hope this email finds you and your family safe and healthy during this time. This period has been difficult for everyone in the game, and I want you to know that your health and safety has been, and remains, the priority for all of us.

As you know, on March 31, 2020, the Commissioner decided to exercise his authority under Paragraph XXIII of the Minor League Uniform Player Contract (“UPC”) to suspend the operation of all Minor League UPCs indefinitely as a result of the COVID-19 national health emergency. As Commissioner Manfred said, our Club relies heavily on revenue from tickets/concessions, broadcasting/media, licensing and sponsorships to pay player salaries. In the absence of games, these revenue streams will be lost or substantially reduced.

Recognizing the hardship that not receiving a paycheck would have on you and your families, the Oakland Athletics agreed to continue to pay all of its players on Minor League UPCs the sum of $400 per week through May 31. In addition, as Commissioner Manfred said, all players will continue to receive medical and health benefits pursuant to the terms of their Minor League health insurance at least until the beginning of a partial 2020 regular season (and, if no season is played, through the original 2020 regular season calendar). 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. 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.

Please note that the Baseball Assistance Team (“BAT”) is available to consider grant applications on an expedited basis for those players facing significant and immediate financial hardship. With respect to medical issues relating to the Coronavirus, you should contact Nate Brooks or Travis Tims if you or a member of vour family ... [missing a line of text here] ... complement of Team Doctors are available to those who need medical care and MLB has a team of medical experts that are on standby to help the baseball community weather this crisis.

We all hope that the suspension will be short in duration and we can all get back to making our contributions to this great game. As a reminder, your UPC remains in place during the period of its suspension, and you are not permitted to perform services for any other Club. The compensation provisions of your UPC will be reinstated under the terms of your contract upon the Commissioner’s decision to end the suspension. Your contract will continue in full force and effect for the remainder of its term once the suspension ends.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Ed, Keith, and Grady are available to you at any time and they will provide a list in the next few days of additional staff that are able to work and communicate with you during this period.

Be well and stay safe,

David Forst

Later Tuesday evening, A’s minor league pitcher Zack Erwin responded to the situation on Twitter. Erwin, who has spent four seasons in the organization and excelled last year in Double-A, said the following in a series of six tweets (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4, Link 5, Link 6):

Today I received news that Oakland Athletics minor league players will no longer receive our $400 a week paycheck. Meaning that unless I make the Major League squad for this season, assuming there is a season, my salary from September of 2019 to April of 2021 will be roughly $5,600. This includes the $1,200 Covid-19 stimulus check I qualified to receive from the government. 19 months bringing in only $5,600.

Not only is it likely that minor leaguers will not be able to play, but we will also not make any money from our uniform player contracts until middle of next April. Meanwhile, we are still expected to train and stay in baseball shape for the the slim chance we play this season and should we be blessed to resume baseball in 2021. As you can imagine the expenses required to remain at a championship playing level are expensive.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for my opportunity to play a sport for a living. I love baseball and am thankful everyday that I am able to play. Tough times ahead for everyone in the baseball world, especially the players in the minor leagues and just in general for anyone affected by this Pandemic.

Let’s stay positive and please pray with me for everyone effected by Covid-19. I can’t wait to be able to play again! #INeedASideHustle #AnyoneHiring?

Bill Moriarity of Athletics Farm has more responses from other A’s prospects in his writeup.

Another minor league player spoke out last Thursday. In response to a Passan tweet calling the Twins a “model organization” for committing to pay their employees fully through at least the end of June, pitcher Mitch Horacek had this to say: “I’m a Twins employee being paid 13% of my salary to be 100% ready to play baseball at a moment’s notice. I’m also locked out of MLB/MLBPA negotiations because MLBPA doesn’t represent minor leaguers.”

Meanwhile, several teams have begun paring down their minor league ranks entirely. The Orioles let go of 37 players last week, and the White Sox released 25 of their own minor leaguers, though Chicago will continue paying them through the end of June. However, in his column about the Orioles, Dan Connolly of The Athletic makes this important clarification: “Normally, cuts like these are made in late March or early April as minor-league rosters become set, but the Orioles, like most teams, held on to many of the players originally in minor-league camp for an extra two months.”

On the other hand, some clubs have indeed stepped up for their minor leaguers. The Padres will keep paying their farmhands the full $400 stipend through the end of August (Dennis Lin of The Athletic), as will the Marlins (Kyle Glaser of Baseball America), while the Phillies will partially pay through June.

Even if MLB returns to action this summer, the chance of having a minor league season alongside it appears slim, though some proposals have called for each MLB team to carry a taxi squad of 20 extra minor league players in addition to their active major league roster. When the minors do fully start up again, they could do so in a reduced capacity — even before the pandemic, rumors suggested that around 40 low-level teams could be contracted, representing roughly a quarter of the entire current minor league system.