As labor lawsuits make their way through the court systems with former minor league baseball players suing everyone from Major League Baseball to the independent leagues, the courts are deciding the course of what and how professional athletes should be paid.
On one hand, take a look at the L.A. Dodgers, who have the highest total payroll in baseball. Until Friday, Clayton Kershaw was sitting on the disabled list with a $35 million contract. He was paid just more than $6 million in 2014, then signed a seven-year, $215 million contract with an $18 million signing bonus before the 2015 season. If he wins a Cy Young award, he earns another $1 million, or $500,000 for finishing second or third.
In lawsuits brought against MLB, minor leaguers say they're averaging between $3,000 and $7,500 per season.
When minor leaguers are paid by the same organization as the major leaguers, those numbers are quite alarming.
If Kershaw doesn't win the Cy Young award, that's $1 million that the Dodgers are otherwise banking that could be spent elsewhere. Like on the minor league system.
Consider this: if the Dodgers end the season with a 40-man roster, then they have maybe another 250 in their minor league system. If the $1 million is dolled out to the minor league players, as recommended by ESPN's Mina Kimes in 2014, that's $4,000 per player, raising a yearly salary from $3,000 to $7,000.
Here's where the calculation of yearly salary is muddled: signing bonuses.
A first-round pick will sign a bonus in the millions then head to the same rookie league as a 10th-round pick who signs a bonus at $7,500. A signing bonus of $132,000 calculated over a four-year career means an average salary of $35,000 not $3,000.
Still, the idea that farm players are there for the hope and development to play in the bigs while the pay goes to the guys in the majors ignores the necessity of the farmhand. When an MLB catcher is sent to the 10-day disabled list, the Triple-A player gets the call-up. Were he not there, the home club would be at a sever disadvantage.
So, pay the men. Should it be hourly as the lawsuits request, maybe not. But the salaries should definitely increase, because players can't rent an apartment on hope.
This is where the argument will take a turn. The pay in the independent leagues, where the RailCats make their home in the American Association, should raise only with the rate of inflation.
The biggest pay difference between independent baseball and the minors is that the franchises pay minor league players while the independent owners pay the independent players. Owners can be a franchise group, or like the RailCats' owner Pat and Lindy Salvi, a lawyer not a billionaire.
The individual leagues set the rules for pay, like the salary cap, and that should raise with inflation (for instance, should the AA stay at $115,000 for 10 years, that won't help increase the value of the league).
Independent players rarely pay for their own housing — with teams utilizing host families or paying veterans for an apartment — and are fed pregame and postgame meals at the ballpark. They are also paid a per diem on the road.
Working out in the offseason, in spring training, on off days is as much a part of doing the job as a good night's sleep is for a bus driver. Expecting to pay a professional athlete for how much time he puts in during the offseason or how much he works out before a game is to try to quantify an unquantifiable. What if one player works 10 hours at the gym in the offseason and another works five and plays in a winter league, how should each be paid for his workout time?
The idea that independent players should be paid hourly misses the point of the league and asks owners who are footing the bill for a different kind of baseball to overextend, which could ultimately crush the concept of the independent leagues.