Outwardly, Major League Baseball remains optimistic about the chances of a 2020 season, albeit one modified by the spread of the novel coronavirus. Inwardly, its teams have entered cost-cutting mode. Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays became the first club to announce it would furlough full-time employees. The Rays won't be the last to do so, according to league sources. Others, meanwhile, are trimming their margins by reducing pay and slashing intern programs.
If and until MLB and the Players Association can reach a tenable agreement to begin the season, teams will continue to operate in spendthrift ways. With so much uncertainty in the air, and a near-constant drip of troubling news available, it's understandable why some of the game's most vulnerable front-office members feel anxious about their jobs. "Every day that passes and you hear nothing, you get even more concerned," a member of the league's new Diversity Fellows class told CBS Sports under the condition of anonymity.
MLB launched the Diversity Fellowship Program a few years back as a means of improving the poor representation found inside the game's front offices. The Program's inaugural class embedded 22 people (all from underrepresented backgrounds within the league) in the Commissioner's Office or teams' front offices. Of those 22, 16 have since transitioned into full-time roles. (The Diversity Pipeline Program helps those who aren't retained find new jobs.)
In a sense, the Program is an equalizer. Most internships in the baseball industry are poorly compensated, to the extent that they inherently limit who can feel comfortable applying for them. Generally, those jobs go to white men from well-off families. The internships don't offer much job security, either, leaving individuals moving from city to city to chase their dreams.
Contrariwise, Diversity Fellows are offered better compensation and more job security. The exact pay depends on the state's laws, but Fellows are paid more than $50,000 annually. In addition, the Fellows are assured employment for at least 18 months, or through two seasons. That extra time can make the difference when it comes to establishing a foothold in the game.
The Fellow who talked to CBS Sports said they felt fortunate to be part of the program instead of with their team on an internship, explaining that they were ineligible for the government's stimulus check because they were still claimed as a dependent by their parents.
The Fellow also praised their team's front office, as well as program head Tyrone Brooks. Their concern doesn't stem from malicious intent or distrust, but a fear that their team will have to tighten its purse strings even more, and that they will be deemed more expendable than others. That could prove to be fatal for their baseball dreams, as the financial impact from this season is likely to affect future hiring practices. "What happens if I get laid off?" the Fellow said. "Because if I get laid off, I don't think anyone's going to be hiring in 2021."
Teams are reluctant to discuss groups of employees for obvious reasons. Last month, CBS Sports reported that scouts with certain teams had already received notice that their positions could be eliminated heading into the summer.
For now, all the Fellows can do is wait and see, and hope that time leaves them better off than some of their less fortunate coworkers. "I can't imagine if I had been a baseball ops intern," they said. "[By now,] I probably would've been laid off."