MLB Further Cutting Back Bonus Money

In an article today, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports that while the bonus pool for international (mostly Latin) amateur players is being increased by 1.2% from $78.2 million to $79.2 million, MLB is actually further reducing the money that each team can spend on signing foreign amateurs by doing away with the six exception slots whereby teams could sign up to six players for as much as $50,000 each which did not count against each team’s bonus cap.  The upshot is that teams as a whole will actually have $8 million less to pay top foreign amateurs later this year than they did last year.  The only improvement for amateur players is that the amount for which an unlimited number of foreign amateurs can be signed without the signings counting against the cap is being raised from $7,500 to $10,000.

This sounds like MLB squeezing a few more dollars out of poor kids from Latin America.  Players getting signing bonuses between $10,000 and $50,000 weren’t the ones causing runaway inflation in the amount teams spent on signing bonuses for foreign amateurs.  All this new rule means is that as many as 180 kids each year will be getting $10,000 or close to it when they probably were getting anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 previously.

You can bet that everyone of those 180 kids (almost all are between 16 and 19) and their families need that money more than any of the MLB teams do.  Since these players probably won’t be paid any more than $1,200 a year to train or play in the Dominican Summer League and won’t make more than $8,000 a year to play in the U.S. until they reach the high minors (if they even make it that far), squeezing their already modest signing bonuses makes MLB look like one big sweatshop, exploiting under-age foreign boys to add only a little more money to its already swollen coffers.

The timing of this move is particularly tone-deaf when one considers that MLB is facing a class action lawsuit from former minor league players contending that MLB did not pay them the U.S. minimum wage for their work in the minor leagues.  One of the arguments that MLB has in favor of its pay system is the often substantial bonuses amateur players receive before they begin playing.  The more MLB squeezes signing bonuses for the majority of minor league players, the better argument they’ll have that MLB isn’t paying them lawfully required wages.

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