Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is Scott Boras Good For His Clients

Every baseball fan in the world knows the name of Scott Boras. For those not acquainted, Boras is not a flame-throwing lefty out of the pen or a baseball-demolishing power hitter. No, he’s simply an agent.

But unlike other agent, who normally ply their wares behind the scenes, get the best for their clients quietly and then move one, Boras actively pursues not only publicity—which he does to normally great effect—but seems to enjoy actively attracting confrontation with management and GMs. His modus operendi seems to be “Confrontation will bleed the bucks for my client. And therefore me.”

But does it? Do Boras’ negotiation tactics actually work? Is he good for his clients? Let’s take a look.

Matt Holliday:
Matt Holliday was the face and lifeblood of the Colorado Rockies franchise, leading them to a World Series berth in 2007—the year he should have won the MVP, but lost it to Jimmy Rollins. He was the franchise, just entering the prime of his career. And as such, the Rockies management did everything they could to try to sign him to a long-term contract. The Rockies offered 4 years at 82 million, then, when Holliday’s agent, Boras ignored them, upped it to 5 years at 107.5 million. While it did not include a blanket no-trade close, it did give Holliday the option of voiding the contract if traded. Boras rejected both of them. Having no choice, Holliday was traded, and then traded again. When he became a free agent after the 2009 season, Holiday scoured the big budget markets for interest. The Cubs, Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Dodgers took some interest, however, Boras turning down a variety of offers he deemed not suitable. What Boras did not expect, was that these teams, the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs—the big market teams—would sign other outfield options. With options dwindling, Boras scrambled back to the Cardinals. In the end, Boras’ attempt to drive up Holliday’s price by negotiating with big market teams failed. Holliday signed with the Cardinals for 7 years at 120 million. Which was interesting.

Why? Because, the Cardinals offer is lower annually than the Rockies offer, coming out to only 17.1 million a year. Further, MLBTraderumors.com reported that FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Player’s Union calculates the present day value of Matt Holliday’s deal at $113.6MM, or $16.2MM per year. The Cardinals, however, see the present day value as lower because they use a different discount rate. Compared to the Rockies offer, the 107.5 million/5 yr contract would boil down to 21.5 million a year. The original 4-year deal comes out a little bit less, at 20.5 million per year.

Did Boras do his client any favors by forcing a trade out of Colorado? The Rockies with Tulowitski, Helton, Hawpe, Jimenez, Cook, an up and coming Fowler and Holliday would have been a formidable team out west—for a number of years. Yes, the Cardinals are a solid team as well. However, in trading for Holliday, the Cardinal emptied their farm system a great deal. (As Baseball America puts it: “In other words, it’s time to restock a radically altered and diluted farm system again.”). And in signing Holliday, at least one competing GM said the Cardinals, can not only sign other free agents, they would now would be hard-pressed to resign Albert Pujols once his contract comes up in 2012.

Ultimately it depends on what Matt Holliday wants. However, there is a strong argument that if he stayed in Denver, Holliday would have been at the core of a very, very good team; earning more money per year for his services than if he followed Scott Boras’ advice.

Manny Ramirez
A similar story took place with Scott Boras’ handling of the Manny Ramirez situation. Ramirez, unhappy with the last two years of his Red Sox contract—they were team options at 20 million per year. Ramirez and Boras wanted more. After forcing a trade from the Red Sox—and by “forcing” we mean that Ramirez became a World Class Malcontent, ultimately forcing the Red Sox to get rid of him —both Ramirez and Boras looked forward to what was sure to be a record free agent deal. “Gas is up and so am I,” Ramirez said.

But that record free agent deal never showed up.

Boras was looking for a five-year deal starting at over 100 million. When there were no takers, the price began to drop, but still Boras hoped one of the big market teams would jump in, and at least keep the market relatively high for Manny. They never did.

Whether it was Ramirez’s attitude, age, Boras’ difficult nature  (At times, Dodger owner McCourt’s frustration with Scott Boras bubbled over, with the owner describing the agent as “challenging to work with.”), or just Boras’ hubris, Ramirez’s huge blockbuster deal never surfaced. As Buster Olney wrote:

Thanks to his [Manny] ugly finish in Boston, he has placed himself in a less-than-ideal situation. He generated a historic performance in his last two months of the regular season and followed that up by hitting .520 in the postseason. ... [However] ...  It is evident that during a winter when many teams have clamped down and watched their dollars more carefully, executives with many teams have decided they cannot trust Ramirez on a multiyear deal.”

The final numbers stack up like this: Ramirez gets $10 million in 2009, and $15 million in deferred money with no interest. As for the 2nd year, a player’s option year, most likely, Boras would have told Ramirez to opt out at the end of 2009 and try free agency again. However, Ramirez was busted for wrongful drug use, a monkey wrench in the plans if there ever was one. Instead Manny took the second year of the deal. In the end, the two-year deal calls for $a total of 25 million with three payments of $8,333,333 each from 2011-13, no interest for the deferred payments.

All things added up, Ramirez got a small pay bump, nowhere near the promised riches he was promised, when he sabotaged his own career in Boston. And for seemingly almost every place outside of Los Angeles.

Johnny Damon
For Damon, this is the second contract in a row that his price has had to drop dramatically. However, this time, the Yankees aren’t there to save him.

In 2006, when Damon came up for free agency, John Henry II, owner of the Red Sox flew to Damon’s home in Florida to tell him how important he was to the Red Sox and how badly they wanted him back. The Red Sox then offered a 4-year, 40 million-dollar contract. Boras dismissed it out of hand and said negotiations for the 34-year-old Damon begin at 7 years at roughly 90 million.

The market did not bear that out.

Playing the Red Sox and Yankees against each other, Boras hoped to drive Damon’s price up. And while he was party successful—Damon did get his 13 million annual—he got it for only 4 years, not for 7. According to the Red Sox, they were shocked by Damon’s signing—Boras never offered a counteroffer to the Red Sox; he never even told them that Damon was signing with the Yankees at all. According to the Red Sox, they were negotiating with Boras and felt that a deal would be worked out at some point—that they were on the same page and that there was an understanding between Damon and them. Former co-general manager Jed Hoyer retroactively described talks the Damon talks with Boras ‘’as very productive.”

However, despite that fact that no one offered Damon anything more than 4 years, much less 7, Damon secured a nice paycheck and was content. Things did not work out so well the past time Damon reached free agency.

When Damon reached free agency in 2009, Boras decided to play hardball with the Yankees. Despite Damon’s obvious love for the Yankees and New York, Boras said to Yankee GM Brian Cashman on Dec. 17 that Damon would not take a penny less than $13 million per year for two years. Don’t even make an offer if it doesn’t have that figure in it.

“We believed him,” Cashman said.

Instead the Yankees, much to the surprise of Boras and Damon, have decided to go with Brett Gardner, Randy Winn and a host of Plan B guys, minor leaguers and journeyman in left field. Boras, who had previously constantly rebuffed the Yankees whenever they tried to negotiate with Boras for Damon, according to Buster Olney, ultimately priced himself out of his preferred choice, the Yankees, but seemingly almost the entire league. Too pricey and no longer an option for the Braves, the Tigers, the A’s and the Cubs, and seemingly forced to accept a 4 million dollar deal from the Rays. A far cry from the 13 million he demanded from the Yankees. Out of work, I’m sure there are some nights Damon wished he took the Yankees final offer of 6 million per. Oooops.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod was always a special case. Scott Boras was not only an agent for Rodriguez; he was practically a father figure for Rodriguez. Since before his 19th birthday, Boras has been the whisper in Rodriguez’s ear, his advisor and handler for most of his adult life. He’s also the man who made Rodriguez exceptionally rich, earning him the biggest contract in American sports history.

But did it make him successful?

A-Rod left the Mariners when it was obvious they could not afford him after the 2000 season. He went to Texas to sign a gargantuan contract that made him very rich. Good for him.  However, what it didn’t make him was any closer to success. The year he left, the Mariners won 116 games. Conversely, the 3 years he was with the Rangers, they never won more than 73 games, despite Rodriguez not playing poorly. The situation wasn’t his fault, it was just that the Rangers weren’t built to win, but to showcase Rodriguez to the fans.

Ultimately, the Rangers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees. The notoriously sensitive Rodriguez took a long time to adjust to the New York media. The fact that he was, and could never be, the beloved Derek Jeter would be something that he would never live down (Rodriguez playing Roger Maris to New York’s beloved Mickey Mantle wouldn’t be an inaccurate description of the situation). And it took 5 years before Rodriguez would finally be able to deal with the extremely bright lights of the playoff scene in New York and finally be “somewhat” accepted in New York. Boras, for his part, didn’t make it any easier.

For some reason, without consulting the Yankees, or informing or negotiating with anyone, Boras decided to announce during the 8th inning of Game 4 of the 2007 World Series that Alex Rodriguez would be opting outing of his ridiculously huge contract with the Yankees and become a free agent. For a player already deemed as a corporate carpetbagger, more money-hungry than a clutch player and core player, rather than a player-for-hire—such as Derek Jeter—to make such an announcement, was not only unconscionable, but also stupid. Already blessed with an inhumanly rich contract, to upstage the World Series for yet more money, was hubris refined and pure. How could Boras not know how that announcement would be taken?

But more than just stupidity, Boras showed something deeper of himself. Not only did he show poor judgment, it showed his priorities. And the answer was yes, he would not only defile the sanctity of the game by announcing one player’s contract in the height of the World Series, he would even defile his client’s reputation, perhaps permanently. All for a shot at better money.

Now, getting the best contract for your contract is one thing—that is all well and good. Burning everything in your path to do so is another matter. Ultimately, Alex Rodriguez, showing an unforeseen welcome judgment many thought he lacked, discarded Boras, approached the Yankees by himself, and negotiated the final contract with the Yankees solo—the only team he wanted to be with anyway. He got a very healthy raise and stands to make even more if he reaches certain criteria (which he most likely will do). One wonders why he needed Boras in the first place.

Scott Boras
There is no doubt Scott Boras feels what he is doing is in the best interest of his clients. He is not molten hot evil. He is an agent. And according to his black letter reading of “Being An Agent” he feels his be-all end-all is to get his clients as much money as possible. And he’s not entirely wrong in that mission statement. So, as such, Scott Boras tells his clients to leave because there might be a better offer over the hills. “There might be gold in them thar’ hills”—more than where the athlete is right now. He waits and waits and delays until a better offer comes. As he feels he should.

The only problem is this. Sometimes, insisting on free agency means a client moves from one team to another. And sometimes the situation doesn’t suit itself. Derek Lowe and Matt Holliday, for instance are some of Boras’ clients who slumped when moved to situations that didn’t suit their talents from places where they were successful (Los Angeles and Denver) to places which did not suit there talents (Atlanta and Oakland). In short Boras has dollar signs—and not the best situation for his clients to succeed—as his mission statement. And again, that is his job, yes. But it sacrifices long-term success for short-term goals. For instance, let’s take the case of Jeff Weaver.

Jeff Weaver, by 2006, was a journeyman. When a trade brought him to the St. Louis Cardinals, however, under the tutelage of pitching coach Cardinal Dave Duncan, suddenly Weaver flourished. And he flourished under the brightest hot lights. Those of the World Series.

Dave Duncan got the best of Jeff Weaver to come out. In the Cardinal improbable run to a World Series victory (they only won 83 games during the regular season, but somehow won the World Series), Weaver was a desperately needed cog, throwing 29.2 inning in the postseason for a 2.47 ERA. His exploits included a wonderful Game 2 in the NLDS where he kept the Padres shutout while the Cardinals held to a tentative 2-0 lead. He also outdueled Tom Glavine against the heavily favored Mets in Game 5 of the NLCS. For a finale, Weaver pitched 13 innings in the World Series and earned a 2.77 ERA.

However, despite all the success in St. Louis in 2006—after a career of decidedly mediocre (at best) pitching, Weaver tested free agency in 2007 and left the Cardinals and Dave Duncan, to sign a 9 million dollar one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners. The results were predictably disastrous. Away from Duncan, the weak-minded and hypersensitive Weaver crumbled—awfully—throwing up a 6.20 ERA over the course of the year. The next year, all Weaver could get was a minor league contract.

Better than taking the Mariners contract, just possibly, would have been to take whatever the Cardinals were offering and to have Weaver keep on pitching with Duncan. Weaver could have built off his remarkable playoff appearances, had a year or two of solid pitching under Duncan and then could have had his pick of places to go from there. Instead, going for the quick money in Seattle, Weaver derailed his career and ended up in the minors just a year later. He is now a long reliever for the Dodgers, nevermore a starter.

The same could be said for Barry Zito. Sure, the Giants gave Zito a gargantuan contract, but that contract placed him in a ballpark specifically designed to be antithetical to what Zito is. In Oakland Coliseum, Zito was a very good fly-ball pitcher—a mix-em-up curveball pitcher—with a penchant for walks, and the occasional long ball. In the cavernous Oakland Coliseum, however, Zito was successful drawing harmless fly balls and making his walks relatively meaningless. In the Giants home ballpark, nowhere near as big as Oakland Coliseum—the lefty Zito’s fly balls now only had 309 to the right field wall instead of 330 in Oakland. And now, Zito’s walks mattered a whole lot more. The result being—Zito’s ERA ballooned in his first year in San Francisco—even while switching from the AL to the NL. From 3.83 in his last year in Oakland, to 4.53 in his first as a Giant, which then bloated to 5.15 in 2008. While he improved in 2009, he is nowhere near the pitcher the Giants though they were getting when they signed Zito. And likewise, Zito is nowhere near the pitcher he wants to be anymore—not in the discussion of best pitchers of his generation—which once upon a time, he was once considered.

Yes, Scott Boras thinks only of money. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s his job. However, this year’s salary and the best long-term interests of the athlete do always coincide. And they certainly aren’t what is best for baseball. The betterment of baseball notwithstanding, what Boras seeks just isn’t in the interest of the best interest of his clients sometimes—career-wise, or even financially long-term-wise. Sometimes it behooves players to pick what best serves their personal interests long-term rather than the bottom line.

Consider what Joe Mauer is doing. If Mauer decided to pursue free agency after this season, is there any doubt he would get a contract that would dwarf all but Alex Rodriguez’s? A soon-to be 27-year-old Gold Glove catcher, coming off an MVP season, with 3 batting titles under his belt and burgeoning power, Mauer in free agency could absolutely sweep up, getting serious ducats from a big market team. However, at this writing, Mauer is negotiating—a year before his free agency—with his current team Twins on a long-term contract. Mauer will get his money—there is no doubt the Twins will go all out for Mauer—but will he leave money on the table?

Probably. Boston, Anaheim, the White Sox, Yankees or one of those ilk could have offered more money (especially with Posada getting older—the Yankees might have had a serious interest). But Mauer knew in Minnesota, he would be paid more money than he could ever spend—if not Yankee or Anaheim money. And more importantly, he knew the Twins and Minneapolis—and would be more comfortable in his there. An superfluous 7 million or so, wouldn’t be worth not being comfortable.

Yes, Boras gets his clients money.  No doubt there. Ask Derek Lowe and Adrian Beltre if Boras got them their money. Now ask them are they better off career-wise if they had stayed where they were for maybe a little less money? Ask Damon if he should have taken the Yankees first offer of 2 years and 14 million with incentives.

And as Buster Olney writes, ask Jarrod Washburn if he should have turned down his home state Brewers when they offered him a one-year 5 million dollar contract. Washburn is out of work now and is considering not playing at all this season.

Are some situations not worth the dollar value added to them? Would Alex Rodriguez have been better off taking less money to remain in Seattle? Should Jeff Weaver have stayed in St. Louis for less money? It's possible. Joe Mauer seems to think so. Paul O'Neill thought so when he stayed with teh Yankees when there were better offers out there money-wise.

Ultimately its up to the client. Whatever the athlete wants, no matter what Boras may believe is what should play out. However, considering Boras’ track record, we should consider that Boras’ goal is not always what is in the best interest of his client.

It is for the most money. Which is in what is best interest for Boras.

And that should be checked.

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