This past week the Oakland Athletics made the decision to stop paying their minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend during the COVID-19 shutdown. This announcement comes on the heels of the fact that the majority of Oakland minor leaguers are already paid below a livable wage. Making your best and brightest starve is the new market inefficiency I guess. The reality is that the A’s aren’t alone in their callousness towards their players (yes, minor leaguers are A’s players even if they aren’t on the 40-man roster). The A’s just happen to be willing to be the most overtly callous of any Major League Baseball team towards their minor leaguers.
How did we get here and what, if any, consequences will the A’s face for their deadly treatment of their minor leaguers? There’s not a truly compelling answer to either of those questions, and I’m not sure I, or anyone else associated with baseball, should be proffering an answer to the second question. Besides, how we got where we are and what consequences the A’s will face pale in comparison to the deadly part of that question.
You see, the A’s aren’t paying their minor leaguers but they also aren’t releasing them. This has left A’s minor leaguers in limbo. They can’t file for unemployment because they are technically still employed. Jobs are hard to come by currently, and even if they could get some sort of second job the caveat that they would have to up and quit as soon as the A’s wanted them back makes landing any non-baseball gig unlikely. By furloughing their minor leaguers the A’s have also barred the players from possibly catching on with another MLB team willing to pay them. Any unaffiliated league that is currently playing, or planning to start up in the next month, is also off-limits as, again, the players are still technically employed by the A’s.
In totality, the A’s have dropped their minor leaguers into an endless pit of despair and possible death. They have absolutely no way of making any money or providing for themselves and their families. The A’s response to this has been to offer empty platitudes and a general “awe shucks, that’s just the business kids” shrug of their collective shoulders. What the A’s lack of caring has demonstrated is that every owner and executive involved with that team is a vile human being who does not believe in human dignity. They only care about profits and efficiency.
Do they though? We know they only care about profits, but do they care about efficiency? An organization once lauded for its ability to pick talent out of a haystack has basically told every soon to be minor league and undrafted free agent, “look elsewhere, because we aren’t the team for you if you want to be treated with any decency.” The A’s talent pool isn’t limitless. They will need to replenish, restock, and rebuild their roster year after year. Are they really being efficient when they are making it hard on themselves to sign and retain minor leaguers?
If I’m a soon to be minor leaguer what are the chances that the A’s present behavior causes me to return to college for another year if they do draft me or spurn their advances if I’m an undrafted free agent they are courting? I’d say those chances are pretty high, just like I’d say the chances are now pretty high that MLB free agents will look at what the A’s have done and say “no, thank you” to their offer. It doesn’t seem very efficient to me, but I’m no Billy Beane. Though we do have the same number of World Series titles between us so who’s to say who’s the better Executive Vice President really.
All jokes aside, the A’s have shown the worst of themselves during the COVID-19 crisis. From their GoFundMe debacle to their unwillingness to pay their minor leaguers the A’s have shown a complete lack of caring for their players that is downright sickening. Major, minor, and undrafted players should balk at the idea of playing for the A’s. Why would anyone want to go play for a team that told all of its minor leaguers, “go ahead and die, that’s fine by us.”