The MLB postseason can be a slog for players. After beginning spring training in February, then a regular season that extends from April through September, there is an entire extra month of baseball in the works for the two teams that make it to the World Series, and anywhere from an extra day to a few weeks for the rest of the postseason field.
Unlike the regular season, players are not paid for the postseason games they play. They’re paid for the regular season only — there is no pay for spring training, either, despite it being two months of showing up to work and appearing in games. As Astros’ pitcher Collin McHugh tweeted about on Wednesday, players also don’t accumulate service time for the postseason, despite being on an active roster.
Not in the playoffs...nor do they get service time. And no, I will not get off this soapbox ever— Collin McHugh (@Collin_McHugh) October 24, 2018
In effect, players in the postseason are paid a bonus of varying size: postseason shares. Postseason shares aren’t awful or anything: a bonus is good! I don’t get a bonus for my job, and a bonus would be pretty good! However, I’m also paid throughout the calendar year for each week of work I’m putting in: MLB players who appear in the postseason are not. It’s not really a bonus when it’s in lieu of salary.
It’s a pretty good bonus if you make it through the entire offseason, though: last year, McHugh’s World Series champion Astros got the largest postseason share, from a pool of $30,420,155.57 that broke down to $438,901.57 for each share. There were 60 full shares, with another 9.23 “partial” shares, and four cash awards. Players vote on who gets a share, which ends up determining who is getting them — bench guys, players who showed up briefly in the season, players traded away to other teams, clubhouse employees, and so on. It can be contentious, it can be heartwarming, or something in between.
In effect, that was $24,383 per postseason game for the Astros’ postseason regulars, who had 18 games on their October 2017 schedule. As players making the league minimum of $545,000 are paid $2,914 per day during the 187 days of the regular season, that’s a huge jump — it’s good to be the champs.
It’s also good to be the runner up. The Dodgers had shares of $259,722.14 last October, and they appeared in 15 postseason games, so their per game rate was $17,318. The Cubs and Yankees, NLCS and ALCS losers, respectively, had postseason shares of $133,159.02 and $138,897.63; the LDS losers pulled in significantly less — Red Sox at $36,438.21, D-Backs $40,976.78, Indians $36,782.68, and the Nationals $36,868.74. The Wild Card Game losers, of course, got the least, at $18,878.74 for the Rockies and $18,990.36 for the Twins. Not bad for a day’s work!
Here’s where things get a little icky, though. The shares could be so much more, but the rules are very much in favor of the team owners instead of the players whose play actually, you know, wins these games and extends the postseason and brings in the trophies. Yes, yes, owners write checks and those checks cash and everyone is happy, but, well, you’ll see what I mean when I say things are a little unbalanced when it comes to splitting up postseason revenue:
The players’ pool is formed from 50 percent of the gate receipts from the Wild Card Games; 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first three games of the Division Series; 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first four games of the League Championship Series; and 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first four games of the World Series. The players’ pool was divided among the 10 Postseason Clubs
The players and owners split the Wild Card Game revenue down the middle, at 50 percent. The players get a higher percentage in the next three series, at 60 percent in each, but there is an oddity there: it’s just the first three of five LDS games, and four of seven for the LCS and World Series.
So, in effect, if a League Division Series goes past three games, the players aren’t really being paid for Game 4 or Game 5. The same goes for games 5-7 for the League Championship Series and World Series, which means a team playing in every possible postseason game is only actually getting postseason shares for 12 of the 20 games they’d be rostered for.
It doesn’t always go that way, of course. The Red Sox played in one “extra” LDS game and one “extra” LCS game so far: if the World Series ends in four or five games, they’ll have just the two or three “extra” games. The Dodgers, on the other hand, played in the Wild Card Game, and four LDS games, and a full seven LCS games. They could end up with a whole lot of what are, in effect, unpaid games if the World Series goes long.
When you combine the lack of service time accumulation with the fact there is a bonus system in place of salary, one that can very easily avoid paying players for games they’re rostered for, you can see where this is both good in the sense that it’s a better-than-usual payday for many players, but also not quite as good as it could be, and, for whatever reason, exempt from the usual rules regarding salary and how long a player has been actually been under contract and playing games that count for.
If service time accumulated in the postseason, it would be more difficult for competitive teams to manipulate service time to bring up rookies, like the Cubs did with Kris Bryant in 2015, or the Braves did with Ronald Acuña in 2018. Those rookies would need to be held in the minors for even longer to counter the potential service time accumulation of October, which might keep a team from making the postseason in the first place. It’s a little chicken-egg discussion for front offices that could end up helping players out, since teams might not be as willing to take the risk of holding players down for the length of time required.
Owners, recognizing this one potential way of controlling player cost going by the wayside, might counter by trying to take even more of the postseason profits as a way of rebalancing things. It’s difficult to know just how any of this would go down without actual bargaining happening to sort it out.
There are other issues the Major League Baseball Players Association might want to focus on instead during the next round of collective bargaining in 2021, but then again, maybe there are a whole bunch of Collin McHughs out there who are getting tired of the current postseason setup that helps extend the already team-centric service time system. With the way negotiating works, the players have to give something to get something, so it all comes down to just how many McHughs there are out there, and how important this particular soapbox, to use the actual McHugh’s word, is to them.
For now, at least we know the bonus checks are looking good whether a team plays in just the Wild Card Game or makes it all the way through the World Series. Even if the checks could be better, and while still being fair to the owners, even.