What Should MLB Minimum Salary Be?

The minimum salary is one of the key sticking points in the ongoing CBA negotiations as the owner-induced lockout drags on through its third month.

What the players have asked for: $775,000 per year for a first year player. The owners have offered: $630,000…and there’s been little movement in the negotiations. What first year players made last year: $570,000. Thus, the prearbitration players will get a raise no matter what.

So, is the owners’ offer on the money? (Forgive me, I can’t resist a bad pun, not that I try very hard?) Well, let’s look at the other major team sports in this country. First MLB, NFL, and NBA all gross about $10 billion a year with the NHL around $5 billion. Compared the MLB, NBA rosters are a lot smaller, NFL a lot larger, and NHL rosters are close in size (23 players). Also remember the other three leagues roughly split revenue 50/50 between the owners and players. MLB players currently get around 39% of MLB gross revenue. So, with that in mind, here are the minimum salaries in each for 2021:

NBA: Rookies get $925K, 2nd year player minimum is $1.49M, and 3rd year minimum is $1.67M. They are the only ones with a mandated minimum raise for the 2nd and 3rd year players.

NHL: $750K

NFL: $660K, and these are not the players drafted in the first three rounds—they of course make more based on that league’s draft/salary sliding scale.

In other words, every one of those leagues pay their rookies more, sometimes a lot more, than what the owners are offering. The NBA is the outlier on the high side, but it makes sense given their similar revenue and smaller roster sizes. The NHL players’ minimum is similar to what the MLBPA is requesting with half the gross revenue of MLB.

In other words, no, the owners’ offer is not reasonable. The MLBPA absolutely should not cave on this one, should not accept any compromise under a $700K minimum salary. That, plus a reasonable prearbitration bonus pool, would make things more equitable.

For me, the minimum salary should be the #1 priority of the players, above the competitive balance tax. If they are really to claw their way toward a fairer cut of the revenues, this is the most important step.

Having mentioned the prearbitration pool, the owners have now offered $20M and the players’ lowest request has been $100M. The owners should move their number significantly—say around $50M—in exchange for the players’ dropping their demands to increase the number of “super 2” arbitration candidates. The owners should also allow the MLBPA select how many bonus recipients there should be along with the award criteria—say, top 50 prearbitration players with a WAR of at least 1.5 with some sort of sliding scale for percentage of the pool for each recipient.

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