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Making it to the Major Leagues is the ultimate goal of a minor league baseball player, and doing so can leave that athlete financially set for life. The average salary for a Major League baseball player was set to hit $4.25 million in 2015, and that doesn't include the $100.50 per day in meal money on road trips. However, the road to the big leagues isn't filled with big paydays. Minor leaguers make wages that sometimes puts them below the poverty line, particularly when they're on the lower rungs of the baseball ladder.
Lower Leagues, Lower Paychecks
Baseball players rarely get rich when they enter the professional ranks, unless they're one of the lucky high draft picks that get six- or seven-figure signing bonuses. The maximum first-year player salary in the minor leagues is $1,100 per month, a figure regulated by Major League Baseball. After that, annual pay is up to negotiation between player and team. However, minor league players have little leverage in negotiations. The uniform entry-level player contract binds him to a particular organization for seven years unless the organization itself decides to trade or release him. Each player also receives $25 per day in meal money on the road.
Players only are paid during the season, which generally runs from April to September but can be just three months long for short-season teams. Activities like spring training do not require additional compensation for the players. Nor is the player compensated for any offseason work required to develop skills and stay in shape. Salaries generally increase as players get closer to the majors, with those in Triple-A generally making more than $2,000 per month, sometimes a lot more. A player who makes it to the Major Leagues during the season generally gets paid a prorated portion of that league's minimum salary, $507,500 for the period he's with the big club. Once he gets sent back down to the minors, his minor league salary applies.
In a 2014 lawsuit, three former minor leaguers alleged that the wages paid to minor leaguers was excessively low and accused Major League Baseball of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by paying less than the minimum wage. This isn't expected to lead to quick action -- the trial was scheduled to begin in February 2017, as of this publication. Major League Baseball maintains the federal wage and overtime laws were not designed to apply to professional athletes.
Independent leagues are unaffiliated with Major League Baseball, and therefore aren't bound by its salary guidelines. In the Atlantic League, for example, the most a player could make as of 2015 was $3,000 per month, though many make less.