Freedom, faster? California bill could limit how long MLB teams control minor leaguers

Democratic state Sen. Josh Becker addresses the state Senate in Sacramento on Thursday, July 15, 2021.
State Sen. Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would require major league teams to grant a player freedom after four years in the minor leagues, instead of seven.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

If you sign a minor league contract with the Dodgers today, and you never get promoted to the majors, the Dodgers control your rights through 2028. If you do not believe the Dodgers are giving you a fair shot over those seven years, the Dodgers are not obligated to let you find another team that might give you a better shot.

One state senator would like to change that. Sen. Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would require teams to grant a player freedom after four years in the minors instead of seven.

Becker said the bill would cover any minor leaguer who plays or lives in California and would allow those players the protections of California wage law. Under federal law, teams must pay minor leaguers the minimum wage but are exempt from having to pay for overtime, for spring training, and during the offseason.


According to Becker’s office, most minor leaguers make below the $13,590 per year defined by the federal government as “poverty level.”

Becker said he hopes to work with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who has pledged to introduce legislation stripping Major League Baseball of its federal antitrust exemption. However, Becker said, he is not introducing his bill as leverage to spur talks with MLB.

The senator says he intends to introduce legislation revoking MLB antitrust exemption. A look at other ways owners can improve baseball for fans.

March 12, 2022

“We want to do legislation on this,” Becker said. “If we get this done, we think it’s going to put pressure on the league as a whole.”

Becker said he is “not naïve about the obstacles,” including opposition from MLB teams. However, he pointed to 2019, when the NCAA threatened to ban California colleges from participating in NCAA competitions if the state enacted a law under which college athletes could be paid for use of their name, image and likeness (NIL).

The state passed the law. The NCAA backed down from its threat and approved NIL payments for all.

“It took legislation, and then it swept the country,” Becker said. “We’re obviously hoping the same thing happens here.”


Indeed, when Becker tweeted about the bill Tuesday, a New York state senator replied that she was “already working” on a similar bill.

Becker said the bill resulted not from a lobbying pitch, but from discussions with a former minor leaguer who‘s friends with one of Becker’s staff members.

Private equity firms aren’t getting involved to run MLB teams. With revenues skyrocketing, they’re buying in to make money on the investment.

March 14, 2022

An MLB spokesman declined to say whether the league believes the antitrust exemption and the federal minor league wage law would protect teams from this bill, if passed. The league, which took over operations of the minor leagues last year, did issue this statement:

“The 30 clubs went into the first season of the modernized player development system focused on addressing longstanding issues that have impacted minor league players for decades. As part of the new system, teams increased salaries from 38-72% for 2021, improved facilities, provided more amenities and better clubhouse conditions, removed all clubhouse dues, and reduced in-season travel with better geographical alignment.

“Ahead of the second season, we have adopted a new housing policy that is expected to provide more than 90% of assigned minor league players across every level with furnished housing accommodations at each major league club’s expense beginning with the 2022 season. The Clubs are confident that these investments will help ensure that minor league players have every opportunity to achieve their dreams of becoming major leaguers.”