No Living to Be Made Playing Minor League Baseball

I recently wrote a post on the MLB player pension plan which has gotten quite a few hits, so I thought I’d try to find out what the minor league pension plan pays players.  My search turned up an interesting website, yougoprobaseball.com, written by former minor leaguer John Madden, which mainly focuses on advise to youngsters hoping to go pro one day.

According to Madden, as of 2008, minor leaguers participate in a pension plan that pays them at retirement age $22 a month for each year of AAA service, $18 a month for each year of AA service and $14 a month for each year of A+ or lower service.  Before 2008, players participated in another pension plan that Madden says provided about the same level of benefits.

At that rate a ten year minor league career would typically provide pensions benefits at age 65 just under $200 a month.  Better than a sharp stick in the eye, but it’s not even close to 40 quarters of Social Security benefits.  At least minor league players playing in a full season league make just enough money to earn two quarters of Social Security benefits each playing season.

Also, according to Madden, minor leaguers on their initial seven-year minor league contract who do not reach the majors during that seven seasons, were in 2010 paid on a scale of starting at $1150 per month starting in a short-season league and reaching only $2700 per month for a player’s third year at the AAA level, with very minor bonuses for 60 days’ service at the AA ($500) and AAA ($1000) levels.  That’s just brutally low.

For some reason, I had thought that players with no major league service but with a couple of years at AAA were making somewhere between $4,000 and $8,000 a month, probably based on the fact that minor league players with even one day of major league service cannot be paid less  about $83,000 in 2017 under the MLB collective bargaining agreement.  Making a 40-man roster bumps the minimum minor league salary to about half of the minimum payable after one day of major league service.

The Rule 5 Draft allows some promising minor leaguers who are left unprotected by their current teams (i.e., not on the 40-man roster) to make some major league money, and minor league players become free agents after seven seasons.  Even if they haven’t reached the majors yet, the fact that multiple teams can bid on a player for the first time probably means a substantial raise even if the player elects to re-sign with his old team.

The minor league salary scale helps to explain why minor league players have such short professional life spans after reaching age 30 or 31.  The moment an over 30 AAA player is no longer a better than average AAA player and thus a possible major league replacement, he faces that fact that AA ball is full of younger players who will make a whole lot less playing AAA ball than he does.

It’s worth noting that the Atlantic League minimum of $3,000 a month is probably earned exclusively by former major league players who have the most name recognition to fans and thus draw the best gate.  A player with a long minor league career, but no MLB experience isn’t going to make any real money playing baseball unless he’s lucky and good enough to get a job playing in one of the Asian major leagues.  Those jobs are few and far between for players with no MLB experience.

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