Phillies Prospect Dylan Cozens Shows Wealth Inequality in Baseball

When Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens received an $8,000 check for being the minor-league home run leader, he exposed a growing issue for minor-league players.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens spoke Monday at the baseball winter meetings after receiving an $8,000 check for being the minor-league home run leader. Cozens hit 40 home runs for Double-A Reading in 2016, meaning he wound up earning $200 for each home run he hit. He said at the luncheon, according to Matt Breen of Philly.com, “$8,000 will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier.”

Cozens also joked about how the check was more than he made all season. Technically, that wasn’t true as he earned $1,700 per month for five months according to Breen, meaning Cozens took home $8,500 this season. Even then, his reward nearly doubled the amount of money he made this year, putting his salary at $16,500 for five months of action.

At these same meetings, players are handed deals worth tens of millions of dollars. Mark Melancon signed with the Giants for more than $60 million, and Rich Hill re-signed with the Dodgers for $48 million. Washington’s Bryce Harper reportedly asked for a ten-year, $400 million deal, a record $40 million per year contract.

Teams are willing to give players these large sums of money because they are making even more. Billion-dollar TV deals have become the norm, and MLB Advanced Media is expected to rack up more than a billion dollars in revenue alone. Overall, Major League Baseball’s revenues approached $9.5 billion heading into the 2016 season.

Meanwhile, minor-league players get the short end of the stick when it comes to salary.

Some are lucky to receive a sizable signing bonus – Cozens received $659,800 from the Phillies in 2012 as a second-round pick – but most don’t ever see that kind of money. Instead, their smaller bonus quickly runs dry and they are left with the paltry salary they receive now.

Tepid Participation of Lone Star Ball broke down the salaries minor-leaguers receive at each level, ranging from $1,300 to $2,200 per month based on which level they play at. Players like Cozens who are added to 40-man roster receive a significant raise, somewhere around $40,000. However, that is limited to the 15 minor-leaguers the team decides are worth protecting.

A group of 32 former minor-league players are currently suing the MLB, saying that they were paid less than minimum wage while they played. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star pointed out “Players in the NBA’s affiliated minor leagues make three to five times as much, while the NHL’s unionized minor leaguers can earn even more, with greater benefits to boot.” Kennedy also notes that the players have “little to no leverage” when they sign their contracts because they aren’t unionized and toiling in the minor-leagues is considered “a rite of passage.”

According to this graphic from the Star, the average salary for a major-league baseball player has increased 2,000% in the last 40 years. Meanwhile, the wages for minor-leaguers have raised just 75%. Compared to the inflation of 425% in that span, minor-leaguers are actually making less.

The MLB has doubled down on their stance against paying minor-leaguers a reasonable salary. In fact, a bill labeled the “Save America’s Pastime Act” was introduced this summer in the United States House of Representatives. According to Chris Isidore of CNN Money, the bill “would amend existing labor law to explicitly say 7,500 minor league players are not entitled to either minimum wage guarantees or overtime pay, even though most are working 60 to 70 hours a week.”

Obviously the league would support this bill and may have even lobbied for its introduction.

In a statement released when the bill was introduced, the league stated “being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.” They also called minor-league players “creative professionals” which are typically considered exempt from hourly pay laws.

Matt Winkelman of the Good Phight hypothesized what would happen if each minor-leaguer received the $40,000 salary that Cozens and other players on the 40-man roster would receive. He estimated the cost to pay minor-leaguers would rise by seven times more from $25 million to nearly $175 million. However, on a per-team basis, the cost would be around $5 million. This was about how much the Phillies paid reliever David Hernandez last season. Winkelman said “Teams should be motivated to this because they can save a David Hernandez by having just one player [become] a big leaguer purely by taking care of this aspect of their life.”

Unfortunately, we may not see much change in how minor-league players are paid unless they found a way to unionize. The current player’s union focuses on issues at the major-league level, alienating those in the minors. Considering many players sign when they are still teenagers – some as young as 16 if they are signed abroad – the idea of joining a union to help their wage doesn’t cross their mind. Unless the former minor-leaguers can best what is undoubtedly a stout legal team the league can put together in their lawsuit, it would take a union collectively bargaining for the minor-leaguers to close the wealth gap.

Baseball is one of America’s longest traditions, and like all traditions, they change with time. As the salaries for major-league players increase, the wages for minor-leaguers remain stagnant. At a certain point, players will be less inclined to baseball if they aren’t being paid fairly, which would hurt the game overall. For the betterment of the game – and to finally adhere to working laws – baseball should fix the wage gap for minor-league players.

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