But late Sunday night, hours after this decision was publicized, Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle tweeted that the organization’s major leaguers would make up the difference.
“After hearing that Nationals minor league players are facing additional pay cuts, the current members of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball club will be coming together and committing funds to make whole the lost wages from the weekly stipends,” Doolittle wrote. “All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.”
Only minutes after Doolittle sent that tweet, one minor leaguer reacted in a text message to the Washington Post: “It’s nice to know someone cares.”
At the end of March, Major League Baseball announced it would pay minor leaguers $400 per week through the end of May. After that, it would be up to individual clubs to make decisions on how to compensate their minor leaguers while the sport is paused because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Now, as June begins, teams are handling the situation in a variety of ways, with the Nationals deciding to trim both weekly stipends and affiliate rosters.
By contrast, the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds will pay their minor leaguers $400 per week through August, roughly when their seasons would have ended, and announced last week that no players will be released. The Oakland Athletics went in the other direction, becoming the only team to halt minor league stipends entirely.
Doolittle later tweeted that the major league club met on a Zoom call Sunday, and the decision to help the minor leaguers was unanimous. It was immediately clear that the organization’s decision did not sit well with some of their major league players. Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin retweeted comments by a reporter that pointed to Mark Lerner’s wealth. The tweet noted that Lerner, the Nationals’ managing principal owner, is worth $5.3 billion. And shortly after Doolittle put out his statement, catcher Yan Gomes shared it with a two-word phrase: “Stand together!”
The $400 per week is not much more than most minor leaguers received in spring training per diem checks. Players were expected to start receiving regular paychecks in mid-April, before the start of the minor league season was derailed by the pandemic. The minimum salary for a Class A player was $5,800 for a full five-month season in 2019, but that number was expected to increase, if only marginally, in 2020. Because of their employment status with their respective clubs, minor league players have not been able to apply for unemployment in the past few months, leaving many to ration their stipends and whatever they saved from last year.
Minor leaguers are accustomed to doing so in normal summers, since low wages and the lack of a union are persistent issues. The absence of baseball has only complicated an already tough financial situation. For a few hours Sunday, Nationals’ minor leaguers braced for that to get even tougher in the month ahead.
Then the major league players stepped in.
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