The Oakland A’s will keep paying their minor league players after all.
Nearly two weeks ago, with the coronavirus pandemic suspending the play of pro baseball and halting revenues, the A’s told their minor leaguers that the team would stop paying them. However, on Friday they reversed that decision, with club owner John Fisher admitting he made a mistake, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
“I’ve listened to our fans and others, and there is no question that this is the right thing to do,” Fisher said. “We clearly got this decision wrong. These players represent our future and we will immediately begin paying our minor-league players. I take responsibility and I’m making it right.”
Earlier this year, all 30 teams agreed to pay their minor leaguers weekly stipends of $400 through the end of May. On May 26, a few days before that endpoint, the A’s informed their players these payments would not continue into June and beyond, though they would remain under contract and continue to receive health benefits. Oakland turned out to be the only team to take this stance, as all 29 other clubs committed to paying their players through at least the end of June.
The A’s faced heavy scrutiny for that move, including right here on Athletics Nation. The team’s savings were estimated to be around $1 million, while Fisher’s current net worth is $2.2 billion even after accounting for recent losses in his Gap stock. Criticism came from all corners, including fans, the media, the players themselves, and others within the industry.
But to their credit, Fisher and the A’s heard those complaints and acted to correct the problem. “I concluded I’d made a mistake,” said Fisher (via Slusser).
Not only are the A’s immediately resuming payments, including back pay for the last week, they are now among the league leaders in their commitment to continue doing so. While no other team had stopped stipends after May, right now most are only committed to paying through June. The A’s say they will now do so through the end of the normal minor league season, which usually runs through the first week of September. According to J.J. Cooper of Baseball America, only eight other teams (Astros, Mariners, Marlins, Padres, Red Sox, Reds, Royals, Twins) have made promises through the end of August, with the Reds going through Sept. 7 to lead the pack.
On top of that, Oakland is also one of the only clubs not to cut any minor leaguers during this time. A total of 719 players were released from various organizations over the past month, but Oakland also has not let anyone go since March.
The news of resumed payments was applauded by Oakland’s minor leaguers. Double-A Midland pitcher Zack Erwin, who had been particularly publicly critical of the original move, said the following on Twitter: “I’m thankful the A’s reversed their decision to pay the minor leaguers! This will be very helpful in being able to train and prepare like we need too! Can’t wait to play ball again!”
High-A Stockton pitcher Peter Bayer, another vocal critic of the initial furlough, tweeted: “I want to thank the Athletics organization for reversing course and paying MILB players. I take back my statements because of this reversal and the fact that they apologized to us. I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to get myself ready when we start back up.”
JJ Schwarz, a catcher and 2018 draft pick who reached High-A Stockton last season, tweeted: “Respect to the A’s organization for reversing their decision to pay the minor leaguers!!! This will play a very crucial role in the future of our franchise. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready for some baseball!!” More from Schwarz, via Slusser: “That’s awesome news. I have a lot of respect for John Fisher - to admit you’re wrong, you made a mistake, that’s not easy to do.”
For more player reactions and other details, read Slusser’s full writeup.
While the A’s were the most extreme example of cutting minor league pay, this isn’t the first time that public pressure has made a difference on this issue. Last weekend, the Nationals said they would reduce stipends to $300 weekly, but Sean Doolittle and the Nats’ other MLB players pledged to chip in to make up the difference. The team then changed their tune and committed to the full $400/week, albeit only through June for now.
In addition to being a popular decision, resuming pay is also a wise investment by Fisher. The MLB draft begins on Wednesday, but it will be significantly shorter than usual due to the effects of the pandemic, lasting only five rounds instead of the normal 40. That will create an unprecedented market of undrafted amateur free agents that teams have the opportunity to sign, and it may have been difficult for Oakland to woo any of them after showing the way they didn’t have the backs of their current farmhands. Now that trust seems to have been restored.
The A’s made a bad call last month and were universally blasted for it, but they corrected it on Friday. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s always refreshing to see people recognize their mistakes, own them, and fix them. Well played, eventually.