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Mariners will pay minor leaguers through 2020 season, but shutdown forces other reductions

UPDATED: Thu., May 28, 2020

Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto speaks  Jan. 23  in Seattle during the team’s annual news conference before the start of spring training. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto speaks Jan. 23 in Seattle during the team’s annual news conference before the start of spring training. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto sent a letter Wednesday to minor league players saying the organization will continue to pay them through the remainder of the 2020 season, according to a league source.

After shutting down all operations March 12 to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Major League Baseball announced that teams would pay $400 per week to minor league players who are not on 40-man rosters. That agreement expires Sunday, but the Mariners will pay the stipend through the remainder of the 2020 season. If there is some form of a minor league season, the club would reinstate the normal salaries of the players.

With that financial commitment, the Mariners made a decision to reduce the number of players they were paying. More than 30 Mariners minor league players were released from their contracts, according to the league source.

There usually are large groups of minor league players released around the time of baseball’s amateur draft each year. But even with a significantly reduced draft of just five rounds, the circumstances are different, with a typical minor league season seeming like an impossibility and the expected reduction of more than 40 minor league affiliates throughout baseball. A week ago, the Baltimore Orioles released 37 minor league players, and the Chicago White Sox recently released 25 players from the system.

On Tuesday the Oakland A’s, citing financial hardship for the organization, informed their minor league players that they would stop paying the $400 per week after the Sunday deadline. Known to be a cost-cutting franchise in every way, Oakland’s decision to stop paying was met with criticism from media and fans. All players, even those not on the 40-man roster, are signed to a Uniform Player Contract. That means A’s players cannot collect unemployment even though they are not being paid.

The Mariners also made some difficult financial decisions away from the baseball operations side Wednesday. A large group of employees that makes more than $60,000 annually was informed that its salaries will be reduced from 10 to 25%, the league source said. The rate of reduction was based on yearly salary, with those making more money taking larger reductions. Other employees were informed that they would be furloughed, and others were laid off from their positions. Per a club source, the sales staff – corporate and tickets – was hit hard by layoffs.

A week ago, Mariners department heads held online meetings to inform employees that potential cuts were a possibility due to the loss of revenue with no games being played and the likelihood of games being played without fans if the season is played. The club had promised to honor all employees’ full salaries through Sunday.

The Times received multiple copies of an email sent by Mariners CEO Kevin Mather to employees announcing the cuts with the subject line: “Next Steps: Organizational Impacts of COVID-19”

The email read:

“During our last Rundown Live meeting, we promised to give you as much notice as we could about how changes to our organization caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would affect you.

“Without good economic news on the horizon, we will have to implement furloughs, layoffs and further salary reductions.

“Today, all full-time, non-UEC employees will receive a Teams video call from your department head along with a member of our human resources department to talk you through how these changes will impact you specifically.

“Obviously, this is not news we look forward to sharing or take lightly, but we felt it was important to give everyone as much notice as possible.

“We will continue to be as transparent as we possibly can with you as we navigate these difficult times. I look forward to soon providing you with further updates about our organization and our future.”

Major League Baseball hopes to play a shortened season that would begin in early July and is negotiating a labor agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

On May 12, Dipoto confirmed that employees on Uniform Employee Contracts – baseball operations staff, coaching staff and scouts – would take salary reductions but not face layoffs or furloughs.

The A’s made similar salary cuts, furloughs and layoffs to nonbaseball staff in their organization Tuesday, and the Los Angeles Angels furloughed much of their scouting staff and minor league coaches Monday.

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