Decision on whether to pay or furlough minor-leaguers looms for Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – While Major League Baseball and the players’ association approach their unofficial deadline in salary and health negotiations ahead of hopefully starting the 2020 baseball season by July 4 – theoretically they’d have to reach an accord no later than June 10 – the Tigers and other teams are staring at very fixed deadline regarding the fate of their minor league players.

There isn’t likely to be any minor league baseball this summer. Unlike the big-league teams who are largely funded by television networks and corporate sponsorship, minor league teams rely on gate receipts and concessions for the bulk of their revenue.  For them, playing games in empty stadiums is a non-starter.

Riley Greene

So what happens to the players?

All 30 teams agreed in March to continue to pay their minor league players a $400 per week stipend through May 31. But already, teams have both cut and furloughed minor-leaguers in recent weeks. The Oakland Athletics announced they would furlough all minor league players beginning June 1.

Under the terms of the furlough, those players cannot seek employment with another team. They are not free agents. The team will, though, continue to fund their health care and 401K.

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The decision by Athletics owner John Fisher, who according to Forbes is worth $2 billion, was not well received by the team’s fan base.

It will cost teams roughly $5,200 per player to continue to pay the stipend through August. So, to keep all minor-league players on the payroll through August (which would be the length of their regular season) would cost teams slightly over $1 million.

Considering the big-league payroll will be slashed at least in half if there is an abbreviated season, laying off minor league players to save $1 million will be a hard sell.

Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch has been ahead of the industry curve in paying employees through the pandemic shutdown. He has committed to paying the baseball operations staff (front office, coaches, training staff, scouts, etc.) indefinitely, as well as continuing to pay stadium workers at both Comerica Park and Little Caesars Arena.

It's seems unlikely, too, that the Tigers will want their top prospects who aren't on the 40-man roster – players like Riley Greene, Parker Meadows, Bryant Packard, Brock Deatherage and Kody Clemens – to lose a year of development. 

Because commissioner Rob Manfred has asked teams to refrain from talking publicly during negotiations, Tigers general manager Al Avila has been unavailable for comment. But the club could make an announcement about the minor league payroll by the end of the week.

As for negotiations between the owners and players association, the players are expected, according to multiple reports Thursday, to make a counter-proposal that would include a longer season (upwards of 100 games instead of the owners-proposed 82) with salaries prorated at 50 percent. 

The hope is to begin a second spring training by the middle of June with the season starting by July 4. Clearly, though, an agreement between the two sides is far from imminent. 

Twitter @cmccosky