According to a player source for More Than Baseball, an organization focused on assisting minor league players, the Rays will give every one of their minor leaguers $800 in a one-time payment to help with expenses while operations are shut down because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While it is certainly better than nothing, and it’s great that the Rays acted on their own without waiting for a league directive, it is not enough.
The Rays have nine minor league teams, though the lower level teams play fewer games and have fewer roster spots. As a very rough estimate, we may be talking about 250 players, which amounts to a $200,000 overall expenditure for the Rays. Even the small-market Rays have a team value in excess of $1 billion, according to Forbes. A 15-year TV deal with Fox that began last year will pay the Rays $87 million per year on average.
$800 helps, but it barely covers a month of rent, even if a player is sharing an apartment with others. Considering all of the other expenses players have — utilities, Internet, food, transportation/gas, etc. — like all of us, they will tear through that $800 in the first month just for basic living necessities. And they will still be expected to remain in shape despite not being allowed to use team facilities in order to slow the spread of the virus (the right call).
Every team should be following the Rays’ lead here, but the amount given to minor leaguers needs to be much greater than $800. Frankly, the Rays and the 29 other teams can’t afford not to provide more. Some — probably many — of their minor leaguers will have to take public-facing jobs in the interim in order to keep the lights on, like giving instructions, stocking shelves, driving for a rideshare app, etc. In doing so, they become vectors for spreading the infection, making it harder for us to flatten the curve. That’s why some, including Ilhan Omar, have suggested an emergency universal basic income (UBI). There was already a moral imperative before to pay minor leaguers more, but there certainly is now as we stare down the barrel of a pandemic.