BRADENTON, Fla. – Bob Nutting met with the media today in his annual press conference at Pirate City. A lot of the questions were about the MLB payroll, the decline in attendance, and how he sees the team. One question I brought up was on the topic of paying minor league players.
The subject of minor league pay being low, and below the poverty level, has been growing. MLB has worked to fight against any attempts to raise the pay of minor league players. My question focused more on whether the Pirates could see an advantage over the rest of the teams in the league by paying their players more — removing financial concerns, and making it easier for players to afford nutritious options throughout the year.
“In this case, I think it’s critical that we really do look at how we treat our minor league players,” Nutting said. “I think it’s important that we treat them as the professional athletes that they are. I think it’s important that we find, whether it’s a living wage, whether it’s nutrition, whether it’s the facilities that are provided to them by their minor league operators, all of those have fallen behind the standards that I think are critical.”
The Pirates do offer post-game meals, places to stay in Bradenton during Spring Training, and other help to players. But even that is not enough, which Nutting acknowledged.
“If you look at what we’ve done here at Pirate City, if you look at what we do for the Bradenton Marauders, and then you look broadly around the minor leagues, whether it’s pay, whether it’s facilities, there’s some real work that needs to be done,” Nutting said. “I think it’s critical for baseball, I think it’s critical for the growth of the game, I think it’s critical for a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates and frankly I think it’s critical for making the game attractive for serious, competitive athletes who have an option to play multiple sports.”
Nutting didn’t have a comment on the situation with the Oakland Athletics and Kyler Murray, who opted to go to the NFL versus playing baseball, but he did note how MLB is at a disadvantage in those situations.
“If you have a choice of playing football for a great D-I program — and I hope lots of people do that, with all due respect to that — riding the bus for three years in some of our markets … it’s time, and it’s past due, to take a serious, fresh look at how those are being handled.”
Nutting did say that this is a topic that is part of the Collective Bargaining discussions, although the CBA doesn’t specify how much an individual team can pay their minor league players. Even without a league-wide change in the next CBA, it would be an advantage for a team to pay all of their minor leaguers a living wage. The cost would amount to one mid-tier free agent, and the benefits could be huge on the player development side by removing outside stress and making it easier to maintain nutrition when the players are away from the team facilities.