Hundreds of minor league baseball players were cut Thursday and hundreds more are expected to lose their jobs as the sport grapples with the near certainty that the minor league season will be canceled, sources told ESPN.
Team officials said a vast majority of the players likely would have been released toward the end of spring training even if baseball hadn't been halted by the coronavirus pandemic, according to sources. But the cuts en masse, which could wind up numbering more than 1,000, nevertheless reverberated around the game, sources said. Released players expressed fear that their careers would be over, and those whose teams hadn't yet made cuts prepared for a tenuous next few days, sources said.
In recent weeks, owners of minor league teams have begun laying off front-office and game-day workers and citing the cancellation of the season as the reason, according to sources. The minor league baseball season has not officially been canceled, according to a spokesperson, though the suspension of the Professional Baseball Agreement that governs the minor leagues' relationship with Major League Baseball precludes big league organizations from providing players to their minor league affiliates.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he would inform Minor League Baseball if and when players would be allowed to join affiliated teams. He has yet to do so. Even with no players available, teams acting as if the season is over and one team renting out its stadium on Airbnb, Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner has yet to speak publicly and acknowledge the foregone conclusion for 2020, and the fallout from it.
O'Conner declined to comment when reached by ESPN.
For more than a year, MLB has planned to contract about a quarter of minor league teams before the 2021 season. Compounding that with a drastically shortened amateur draft -- just five rounds this year instead of the typical 40 -- and the delay of international free-agent signings until as late as Jan. 15, minor league systems could be as thin as they have been in years.
Farm directors, front-office officials and agents said that further player cuts -- more related to the elimination of affiliates and leagues in 2021 -- could be expected in the future. Some of the veteran players released could compete for jobs on the anticipated 20-man taxi squad every major league team will field if a season begins, but the younger players cut Thursday, sources said, might have more difficulty finding jobs in baseball.
All teams agreed to pay minor league players $400 a week in April and May to cover wages lost because of canceled games. The $400 salary was given by MLB regardless of what the players were supposed to make, including to hundreds of players who had been contracted to make several times that amount. For some players, that meant a pay cut of more than 80%. Others saw an increase; the minimum salary at Class A was $290 a week.
Early this week, the Oakland A's told their minor league players they would no longer receive the stipend starting in June, drawing significant criticism. At least 16 teams have said they will pay minor league players beyond the policy's May 31 expiration date, with the Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners pledging to pay players through the end of August, around the time the minor league season normally ends. The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks have pledged to do so through June.
The White Sox are even providing those stipends to 25 minor league players recently released. The Philadelphia Phillies also plan to continue allowances through June, but likely at a reduction from the $400 per week rate. The amount is to be determined, the team said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.