Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the sport's antitrust exemption in a 17-page letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, writing that without it, MLB wouldn't be able to maintain the minor leagues on such a wide scale.
MLB supports 184 teams in 43 states, including teams in the minor league and partner leagues, Manfred said.
"Without coordinated oversight and decision-making by MLB, it is likely that more Minor League affiliates will leave their existing communities for a superior player-development environment, and that fewer -- rather than more -- Minor League clubs affiliated with MLB clubs will exist in the future," Manfred wrote, per ESPN's Joon Lee.
The letter comes after members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Manfred on July 18 to detail the impact of potentially stripping the antitrust exemption from the sport's relationship with minor leaguers.
When the Supreme Court ruled in 1922 that MLB was exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Law of 1890, it allowed the league "to have an effective monopoly on baseball in the United States," per Lee.
The contracts that are signed by every minor league player state that teams control a player's rights for up to seven years in the minors and seven years in the majors, according to Lee. The antitrust exemption essentially makes it impossible for a player to play baseball professionally anywhere else unless he is released from his contract, even if the pay is better elsewhere.
Here is the minimum players make in the minor leagues per week:
- Triple-A: $700
- Double-A: $600
- Single-A: $500
- Complex leagues: $400
Minor leaguers will make a minimum yearly salary of anywhere between $4,800 and $15,400 in 2022, per Lee. That's not nearly enough to survive, and minor leaguers are often forced to find second or third jobs to support themselves and their families.
That said, minor league players do receive signing bonuses. Some are not as lucrative as others. Top prospects, in particular, receive significant signing bonuses—2022 No. 1 pick Jackson Holliday agreed to a $8.19 million bonus with the Baltimore Orioles.
Manfred argued in his letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the antitrust exemption has "improved the lives" of minor leaguers, per the Associated Press (h/t U.S. News & World Report):
"The baseball antitrust exemption has meaningfully improved the lives of minor league players, including their terms and conditions of employment, and has enabled the operators of minor league affiliates to offer professional baseball in certain communities that otherwise could not economically support a professional baseball team."
Earlier this month, MLB agreed to pay $185 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by minor leaguers over unpaid wages. About 20,000 players are expected to see compensation from the settlement, plaintiffs' co-counsel Garrett Broshuis said, per Evan Drellich of The Athletic.
According to Drellich, "the uniform player contract previously forbid teams from paying minor leaguers outside of the regular season," which, for example, meant that they were typically not compensated for spring training. That restriction will be lifted.