A lockout spent in limbo: Some minor leaguers can’t audition for teams, but aren’t paid by the union

FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 22: Sam McWilliams #64 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws the ball against the Red Sox on February 22, 2020 at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida. The Red Sox defeated the Rays 4-3. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
By Eno Sarris and Brittany Ghiroli Feb 16, 2022 22
Right-handed pitcher Sam McWilliams has never spent a day in the big leagues. McWilliams, who signed a big-league contract last season with the Mets but spent the year between Double A and Triple A, is a free agent who is looking for a minor league deal as minor league camps are set to open next week.

But because of his contract status last season, he’s considered a player covered by Major League Baseball’s lockout — and is prohibited from talking to any teams.

That’s not all. Since he has no big-league service time, McWilliams also isn’t technically part of the players union, so he’s not getting the PA’s checks to cover him during the lockout.

“It sounds funny now that I’m saying it out loud,” McWilliams said. “I’m not repped by the PA and I’m not allowed to throw for teams. I don’t really have any options right now.”

Confused? Welcome to one of the lesser-discussed parts of baseball’s lockout: covered players who are looking for minor league deals. For those players, the resounding feeling during the lockout between MLB and its players has been confusion. Can you sign? Can you even be scouted? And what even constitutes who is a “covered” player?

When the owners locked out the players, they prohibited any interaction between front offices and members of the union. But union membership on the fringes isn’t always easy to define from the outside, so immediately some players ended up in a gray area.

Because minor leaguers are not covered by the union, their season is on track to start on time, with players reporting as early as next week.