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Daily Duce: Minor league baseball’s mass exodus

The big news around baseball over the past week has been the exodus of minor league baseball players as hundreds of players around the league have been released.

According to Jeff Passan, most of the teams are releasing between 30 and 50 players. Ben Nicholson-Smith reported at Sportsnet that the Blue Jays will be cutting 29 players, but we don’t know who they are yet.

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It’s standard practice for organizations to release some players from their systems ahead of the annual MLB draft in order to make room for the new players they’ll be adding. For example, organizational depth types like Brandon Grudzielanek and Gunnar Heidt got released last May as part of the sweep to make room for more players.

But, as Passan noted in a follow-up Tweet, it isn’t standard to see so many minor leaguers get released en masse like this. The reality this time is that there will surely be no minor league season this year so teams are chopping even more names than usual because there isn’t a need for organizational depth when there aren’t Triple-A and Double-A rosters to fill up.

Ultimately, this is a cost-cutting procedure for teams, one that doesn’t really seem overly necessary given the fact minor league players are paid so little. Minor league players not on the 40-man roster are currently being given $400 weekly stipends, so if a team cuts 50 players, they’ll be saving $20,000 per week. That seems like a lot of money for me and you, but it’s really just pocket change for a billionaire owner.

On the plus side from a Blue Jays perspective, the organization has committed to pay its minor leaguers (the ones who weren’t released) through the end of June. Some teams have told their minor leaguers that they will no longer be getting paid that $400 stipend.

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In nicer news, David Price has committed to pay each member of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system who is not on the 40-man roster $1,000 of his own money for the month of June. Remember during these negotiations who the greedy ones really are.

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Elsewhere, MLB and the Players’ Association’s negotiations haven’t gotten any better over the past week. The two sides still appear to be very far apart when it comes to an economic plan for how much players are going to be paid if there’s a season. And we haven’t even started talking about health and safety or quarantining or any of those logistics.

According to Buster Olney, some MLB owners have suggested that they’re perfectly OK with just not having a season this year in order to cut costs.

Sources say there is a group of owners perfectly willing to shut down the season, to slash payroll costs and reduce losses, and the disparate views among the 30 teams have been reflected in the decisions to fire and furlough. The Pirates’ Bob Nutting used the shutdown as an avenue to suspend team contributions to employee 401K plans — savings best measured monthly in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than the millions that would actually be difference-making for a franchise probably worth at least $1 billion. The Oakland Athletics’ John Fisher decided to eliminate the $400 weekly salaries of minor leaguers, which might save the franchise about the amount of the team’s unpaid stadium rental bill. On the other hand, clubs such as the Tigers, Padres and Royals demonstrated greater humanity, with the Royals’ John Sherman deciding to pay his minor leaguers.

Major League Baseball was able to get past cancelling the 1994 season for financial reasons, but there are plenty of fans out there who gave up on the league and never came back. With millions unemployed due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, there isn’t much sympathy out there from the public.

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Gutting this season due to a failure to reach common ground economically (I mean, really, because the owners didn’t want to pay the players as much as they had originally agreed upon, but I digress) would have massive ramifications for the long-term health of the league.