Nationals players, after learning Sunday the organization is cutting minor leaguers’ weekly pay this month, have collectively pledged to cover the difference on their own.
The club, which by Major League Baseball mandate had been paying all minor leaguers $400 per week throughout April and May, will reduce that amount to $300 per week in June, a source familiar with the decision confirmed. The reductions come as the organization also released more than two dozen minor league players, a trend seen around the sport in the last week. (Many of those players, it should be noted, would have been released at the end of the spring training under normal circumstances.)
Within hours of the news, first reported by The Athletic, breaking Sunday, Nationals major leaguers held a group video conference and voted to cover the stipend reductions themselves, according to reliever Sean Doolittle.
“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 their weekly stipends,” Doolittle said in a late-night Twitter post.
“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. Minor leaguers are an essential part of our organization and they are bearing the heaviest burden of this situation as their season is likely to be cancelled. We recognize that and want to stand with them and show our support.”
Doolittle added that “every player wanted to do something to help” and the decision to cover the stipend reductions was “unanimous.”
Many major league franchises have pledged in the last week to continue the $400-per-week payments to minor leaguers through June. The Royals, Twins, Astros and Reds already committed to continue full payments through the entire season, while the Athletics are cutting off all payments beginning today.
If and when the 2020 MLB season is played, it is expected to do so with expanded rosters and a taxi squad that would allow teams to fill holes when players are injured. Though no official announcement has been made, it’s all but accepted as fact there will be no minor league season due to the coronavirus.
With nowhere to play, minor leaguers are left in a precarious position. They remain employed by their big league organizations, so they can’t get outside jobs or receive unemployment benefits. Their only income for now comes in the form of the weekly stipends, which in most cases amounts to less than the players earn during a normal season.
At this point, nearly everyone in the Nationals organization is taking a pay cut of some amount in 2020. The club informed all full-time employees in their baseball and business departments last week they will be subject to tiered reductions in pay and work hours, with the highest-salaried employees losing 30 percent and the lowest-salaried employees losing 10 percent.
Major league players, meanwhile, remain in tense negotiations with the league over a salary structure for a potential 2020 season. After rebuffing MLB’s most recent proposal to take more tiered reductions beyond the prorated salaries the two sides agreed to in late March, the MLB Players Association reportedly made a counter-offer Sunday that includes an increase in regular season games from 82 to 114, up to $100 million in salary deferrals and the ability for players with health concerns to opt out of this season without losing pay.
If a season is to begin as hoped during the first week of July, teams will need to reconvene about three weeks earlier for another round of spring training. That puts pressure on the two sides to strike a deal this week.