When I initially hatched this idea of the Tavern and “visiting” each MLB city and presenting a figure associated with a particular franchise, I didn’t envision straying too far from that course. For this week’s Tavern, I felt the urge to veer off that path. I fought it, trust me, but I my brain kept telling me different.
So, with last week being at New Yankee Stadium, I felt compelled to head cross country to the west coast and the city of Newport Beach, California. No MLB club there, so something had to draw my mind to the city. 2,801 miles later, I found the offices of Scott Boras and Boras Corp. Yes, the home of baseball’s premier and arguably most powerful agent. While there have been numerous accounts of Boras authored over the years, the vast majority do paint Boras in a negative light. But think a little more outside the box here.
First, a setting of how Boras became involved in the Great American Pastime.
From the beginning, Scott Boras held a tremendous love for the game of baseball. He attended the University of Pacific on a baseball scholarship. Today, he still remains ranked as one of the program’s best players, and was inducted into Pacific Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995. The program even awards the the most improved player for that season as the “Scott Boras Most Improved Player”. Boras ranks 6th in Pacific history in walks. His keen eye transferred to the minors…and his future career. He was a member of both the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs organizations. Odd mix there, I know.
In a strange twist of fate, Boras’ pursuit of a career in the bigs was cut short due to knee issues. Having received a degree in pharmacy during his baseball days, he returned to Pacific to obtain a law degree. After acquiring his law degree, Boras moved to Chicago and went to work with a Chicago law firm. The rest is serious history.
Boras represented his first client back in 1982, a former Boras high school teammate and then Indians shortstop Mike Fischlin and Mariners reliever Bill Caudill, a former Boras minor league teammate. (He’s represented players that damn long?) Boras represented the two in his “spare time”. It was the beginning of a now flourishing enterprise, if you will. The beginning of something greater…to Boras and his clients anyway. Not so much for baseball’s general managers.
Some fans really do lose a tad of objectivity when it comes to the agents. Read almost any extended profile of Boras (or almost any other agent for that matter). Then, read a couple more. After you’ve delved into a few, take a step back. You can’t help but firmly develop a grasp on why Boras conducts his business the way he does. His prime objective is the exact same as any other agent, he wants max dollars with max years.
And don’t forget to put this thought into play here. Agents negotiate on behalf of their clients. That cannot be stressed enough. The clients almost certainly guide their agents in a direction. The players confer with their agents and develop a strategy. Here’s where the reputation Boras has constructed over the years kicks in full stride. It’s been that way for a while. In short, the reality has, quite frankly, simply evolved into this. GMs undoubtedly cringe when a player notifies them that they are a Boras client. Negotiations could become long. They may become heated. They may turn ugly with both sides declaring the other is merely using a ploy, media usually being the biggest one utilized. They may even dissolve and both parties go different paths. The end result, if one is attained, is a mountain of a deal. Negotiating can be a tough gig especially with Boras on the other side of the table.
In my travels, I found three specific articles that “enlightened” me on Boras.
One was authored by Matthew Benjamin writing for US News & World Report. In early 2004, Benjamin’s subtitle was “Agent Scott Boras is changing the business of baseball”. I’m going out a limb here and say that the overwhelming majority of baseball fans make think Boras has changed the baseball biz for the worse. Benjamin echoes that, but it’s not necessarily his opinion.
Boras’s uncanny ability to coax outsize pay packages out of team owners is a force, his critics contend, behind many of the national pastime’s problems: a large imbalance between rich and poor teams, distrust between players and owners, and a trend among players to judge themselves solely by the number of zeroes on their paychecks. “He makes these outrageous contract demands and always winds up getting someone to agree to them,”says Tom Schieffer, former president of the Texas Rangers and now the U.S. ambassador to Australia. “They oftentimes turn out not to be good for the player or the team, or baseball itself.”
Within the same piece, Boras defends these claims.
Boras sees it differently. “It’s not about the amount or the number,” he says. “It’s the fairness.”As good attorneys do, he represents his clients without reservation, doing whatever it takes to secure the most advantageous deal; to get players exactly what Boras believes they are really worth. Is that bad for baseball? “Big contracts are important. They create stars and bring people to the ballpark. Remember when A-Rod was signed” in December 2000? he asks, referring to Rodriguez. “It’s basketball and football season, and he’s the biggest story.”
Making big headlines sells tickets even in December…if your team lands the right guy. And Boras waved his magical, and expensive wand, when he matched highly touted free agent Mark Teixeira with the New York Yankees. Mere days previous to that signing, Boras was interviewed by CNBC Sports Business guru Darren Rovell. Rovell interviewed Boras for Squawk Box and published the interview for CNBC.com. Rovell first addressed the issue of Teixeira’s deal (along with that of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett) and how with the country on economic hard times, the Yankees could make such signings. Boras response was almost predictable, yet insightful.
I think it’s simple. The Yankees have their own economy and they have their own fan base. I think the people in New York are tremendously excited about what’s coming for the New York Yankees and that’s really what their job is. They set up a plan and a system whereby they would only lose one draft pick and sign three major free agents… This way, by calculating both their payroll deduction of $88 million and placing themselves in a marketplace where there wer three extraordinary players to sign. I think it was an excellent strategic plan and their budget will be arguably less than last year.
Another factor was the YES Network…and the fact that the Yankees are valued at well over a billion bucks. Rovell proceeded to present a then criticism of Boras and the Teixeira deal by Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. Attansio fired a e-mail to Bloomberg stating the Yankees signings of Tex, Sabathia and Burnett were “ridiculous” and that baseball “needs a salary cap”. In typical Boras manner, he came to the defense with a bit of offense.
I’m not sure what a salary cap does other than it prevents choices. And I think what makes sport exciting is that you have owners at particular times and really at any time they can make a choice to improve their team or make a choice just to decide that they’re not going to attempt to win in a particular year. That, I think, creates a mystery about the sport. I think when you look at sports that have salary caps, if you look at the NBA, they talk about parity. I don’t think there’s any question that at the start of the season, everyone knew the Celtics and the Lakers were going to be the two to beat and they were going to contend. They’ve had a salary cap for years.
Just a couple of months later in February of 2009, Boras was again in the crosshairs of yet another publications. This time, Men’s Journal and author Matt Taibbi. The title of the feature says it all: The Devil’s Doorstep: A Visit with Scott Boras. Did I say Boras is sometimes painted with a negative slant? Thought so. Taibbi apparently caught Boras at an inopportune time for one. A report has surfaced on the internet about Teixeira and his knee. Taibbi attempted to change the subject. It did change, but different from the direction Taibbi wanted to go. He’ll take it from here.
For instance, I wanted to talk about why America only seems to criticize greed when the villain is a union, a trial lawyer, an agent, and never the people with the actual money, never the employers. But Boras mostly wanted to talk about the stupidity of the Pittsburgh Pirates and how its owners use their revenue-sharing money from the league not on free agents but to pay down debt service on their stadium. The moral outrage that this inspires in Boras is a truly awesome thing to behold. “When you have an owner that takes on debt, and then he says, ‘We’re going to reduce our debt, and that’s going to improve our franchise’ — no, it’s going to improve the owner’s wealth!”
Ouch. You can see with unbounded honesty the way Boras believes a team should be improved. With players. Highly paid players. Just remember the A-Rod deal in the Dallas area. It can work…if you’re willing to shell out the bucks.
The list of Boras clients is impressive and long. Just for this off-season alone, Boras has eight “big name” clients that totaled an astounding $95 million last season. Some players may not receive the money they did in 2010 (Manny Ramirez, Kevin Millwood, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, although Boras contends there is interest in Maggs.). Some may get more (Jayson Werth, Rafael Soriano, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Pena). But the biggest prize in his camp will surely be Werth. And Werth didn’t sign on with Boras until September. A Boras quote regarding Werth (courtesy of Todd Zolecki of MLB.com) should send Phillies fans in a crazed panic.
“We have, in my mind, probably the most coveted offensive player in the free-agent market,” Boras said. “Carl Crawford is a really great player, but the truth of the matter is, Werth scores as many runs, and his on-base percentage is the same. Werth is a guy that can play center field and has played center field recently. He’s a Gold Glove-type outfielder. Crawford is, too. But the big difference is that Werth has 87 home runs over the last three years and Crawford has 42. Werth is really a middle-of-the-lineup guy. I think when he bats third, he’ll be a 110-to-120-runs-scored guy and a 100-RBI guy. And I think teams that are looking for a right-handed bat view Werth as a middle-of-the-lineup guy.”
Talk is cheap…unless your Boras. Then, it’s a luxury.
And do not for a minute think Boras will be leaving the trade any time soon. He represents many young stars (Pedro Alvarez, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Wieters among those) and some impressive minor league “up and comers” (Dustin Ackley, Bryce Harper, Eric Hosmer just to name drop).
Just because he “played the game” doesn’t mean he knows it all. But he knows how to the cash for his guys.
In the end to say that Scott Boras has acquired a great deal of wealth (The 2004 feature in US News & World Report states Boras collects a 5% rate. Could be higher now.) is an understatement. Sometimes greed and Boras are used interchangeably. The more money his clients bring in, the more money Boras adds to his coffers.
With that money comes the power. Scott Boras has both firmly in his grasp. And I don’t see that grasp getting any looser.