Alex Reyes' 50-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana a second time puts a small damper on his coronation as a prospect. John Mozeliak called the suspension a "large speed bump" and Ben Humphrey examined the suspension's effect on Reyes' development. Ultimately, Mozeliak's characterization is correct. A speed bump slows down your progress, but it is not a major hindrance to a still bright, promising future. As Ben said, the decision to use a prohibited substance when he knows it will be tested is not a smart decision. Simply because the decision was not smart, that does not foreclose any arguments against the rule in the first place. The differing drug policies between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball is just one example of the lack of protections minor league players have that are enjoyed by their big league brethren.
The lack of power begins before players even reach the minors. In the United States, amateurs are selected in a draft and then allowed to negotiate with only one team. The players are not allowed to hire agents due to archaic NCAA rules, and the teams have strict guidelines about how much money they can offer the players, leaving little room to negotiate at all. The teams do not object this system. They benefit from it as it keeps the cost to signing amateurs artificially low. The Major League Baseball Players Association signed off on this plan because it does not directly affect the cost of salaries in the majors, and the MLBPA has at best shown indifference to the plight of players not yet in the majors.
Remember Alex Reyes' situation? He was a teenager living in New Jersey, born in the U.S., going to high school and playing baseball. In 2011, to potentially make more money, he left his home and family in the U.S. to seek greater prosperity in the Dominican Republic. It makes for an interesting story--exploiting a loophole and living with grandparents to get more exposure and a potentially larger signing bonus--but take a step back and walk through the situation, it becomes absurd. New Jersey kid wants to realize his dream of his playing professional baseball in the United States, and his most promising avenue to that dream is to abandon his senior year of high school at 17 and move to a foreign country. Leaving his parents, friends and high school allowed Reyes the freedom to make a deal with any team, but player contracts are depressed outside the United States as well.
Amateur baseball players in the United States face an uphill battle in obtaining the market value for their services. It begins with the slotting system imposed by MLB and MLBPA, but despite Reyes' apparent victory in getting a $950,000 signing bonus, the market for a player's services in the Dominican Republic are artificially depressed as well. Major League Baseball instituted an international slotting system to pair with the draft in the United States. This system was collectively bargained between MLB and the player's union. It gives each team a certain amount of money with penalties for exceeding those limits. The limits have not worked as well as the slotting system in the amateur draft, but they still serve to depress players costs with the implicit permission of the player's union.
Alex Reyes understands this situation, but not all players do.
Draft today. Picks 1-10 just think if you would've moved to the DR,Venezuela,or Japan you could be signing a major league deal for 50 mil!!— Josh Donaldson (@BringerOfRain20) June 8, 2015
Lol are you serious, maybe cuba and japan.. Most the international signings are a bunch of guys getting under paid https://t.co/qehI4Gwf3n— Alex Reyes (@AlexReyes_67) June 8, 2015
Before any player ever puts on a uniform, his rights to negotiate the best possible deal for himself have been taken away, and the players union have had not problems giving those rights away, and they will likely continue to do so as MLB desperately wants to start an international draft so that players outside the United States cannot try to get the highest bid, but can negotiate with one team and one team alone.
After signing their initial contracts, players are then sent to the minor leagues to make substandard wages. Sure, they are chasing their dream and many others would gladly switch places with them for that opportunity. Just because there are those who are less talented and perhaps not as hard-working who would like those minor league opportunities, that does not mean that those who have displayed the talent and have worked hard enough to reach the minor leagues should have to go to court to obtain minimum wage. The lawsuit alleges that some minor leaguers were making as little $3,300 to play baseball in a $10 billion industry, and last winter the Mets wanted minor leaguers to pay $1,000 to receive additional instruction.
The lure of the major leagues is strong. A promotion to the bigs, or sometimes even a spot on the 40-man roster, means greater pay, better accommodations, the opportunity to play against the world's best, and greater promotional opportunities. Due to MLB and the players negotiating a drug policy that allows major leaguers to escape drug tests for things like marijuana, a promotion to the big leagues also "earns" the player the right to use a drug that has grown increasingly more acceptable, and in some jurisdictions, legal, over the past few years.
Using a substance that is banned is not a smart decision. That Reyes is the same age as most college sophomores and juniors, a great number of whom are smoking pot without consequence, is not an excuse for his decision. That MLB thinks that marijuana is important to test for and give out 50-game bans for seems a bit overboard and comes off as nothing more than an aggressive show of power. A show of power that MLBPA has shown little interest in countering. Making the big leagues is an incredible opportunity, but the minor league and amateur player's plight has been ignored by one of the most powerful unions in the country without thinking about the welfare of their industry and their future members. The players would be smart to pay more attention to the players who not yet achieved their status. If players are concerned about below-market contract extensions that buy out free agency, they should realize that the process begins well before the player ever hits the majors.