Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 30, 2007
BASEBALL: Scott Boras Wants You To Like Him

Journalists love to write about baseball superagent Scott Boras. First, because fans generally hate him, it's a chance to flex their "let me tell you something you don't believe" muscles. Second, because front office people generally hate him, it's easy to get a steady stream of colorful quotes about what a malignant SOB he is. Third, because Boras talks non-stop, works very hard and is very good at what he does, a profile of him is never short on worshipful detail.

Thus, a lengthy recent profile in LA Weekly. Now, let's start with what is undeniably true about Boras: he is very, very good at squeezing the extra marginal dollar out of teams to pay for the players he represents. That's clearly in the best short-term interests of the player, and as Boras often points out, for many players the short term is most or all of their lifetime earning potential.

Boras' most significant accomplishment is his work in negotiating large deals for players in - and finding loopholes in - the amateur draft. This, too, is in the best short-term interests of his clients, a number of who then pull in the only big contract they will ever get. It also provides one arguable benefit to Major League Baseball - by driving up entry-level salaries, Boras helps make the sport more competitive in reaching young American players who might otherwise go into football or basketball, both of which generally require at least a year or two of unpaid apprenticeship in college but then offer the big bucks. (Then again, guys who have legitimate shots at the NBA or NFL have always had more leverage at draft time, even before Boras). That said, Boras' machinations have clearly undermined the entire purpose of the amateur draft, which is to level the playing field to benefit the poorer and weaker teams. Whatever that does for the players, and however indifferent the owners may be to the effects, it's bad for the fans.

Of course, some agents are content to live with the position that they represent the players' interests and need answer to nobody else. Not Boras: he wants you, the fan, to believe that he is good for baseball ("I look around the room and ask, 'As caretakers of the game, what have we accomplished?' . . . We should look at each other and say, 'We're honoring the game.'"). He wants the owners to believe that cutting deals with his players is good for them ("To offer Maddux less money than he is worth, "Now you've done something that you should never do."). He wants everyone to believe that when a negotiation goes badly, it's because of some foolishness or moral failing of the GM and not because his client wanted more money or could get more money elsewhere ("In response to critics who say it's all about money, Boras says, 'Really? I think it's about respect.'").

It's hard to tell whether Boras' relentless self-justification is driven by a desire to make himself more respectable and respected than the average sports agent, or whether he's just continuing to serve his own economic interests - after all, if GMs start believing that Boras' deals are bad for the buyers, they may think twice before inking the next A-Rod, Barry Zito, or Chan Ho Park.

But then, one thing the LA Weekly profile makes clear about Boras' tactics is that the GMs alone aren't his audience - he makes maximum use of the fact that he is wealthier, more powerful and more secure in his position than the average GM, who after all is a salaried employee with a boss as well as a fan and media base to answer to:

General managers might resent such statements. But one way Boras gets into their heads is to pit them against their owners. "The process is informational," he says. "There are GMs who are information sensitive, and their opinions are in the rear. There's a whole group of GMs who put their opinions out front, and they view me as an obstacle. I tell them, 'Let me help you and your owner make good decisions. Why wouldn't you want good players?'"

As for the financial pressures of running a baseball team, Boras finds the topic irritating. "You might [as a general manager] keep your budget eight years in a row, but that doesn't mean you're going to keep your job," he says. "Your job is to win. You have to cater the franchise to winning. That means I'm not the most difficult person to negotiate with. It's your owner. He's going to give you the wherewithal to do what you have to do. Then you just have to have the confidence and the skill to do it effectively."

It's an effective negotiating tactic, and of course because GMs lack Boras' job security, he's always around to get the last laugh. Nonetheless, you have to think that even aside from the question of how believable his advocacy is, it would be obvious to most GMs that the premium to be paid for a Boras player over and above the cost of a comparable player with a less aggressive agent makes his clients a bad deal. Not that all of them are a bad deal - A-Rod, for example, was and is a unique commodity. But first you sign an A-Rod, and then you go back to Boras and you sign a Chan Ho Park, and the value of the A-Rod contract goes down the tubes, to the detriment most of all of A-Rod, who got blamed for the Rangers' inability to spend wisely to build around him.

Another hardball tactic in evidence here is that when Boras feels spited - as the example of Dodgers GM Ned Coletti's decision to send subordinates to negotiate with him over Maddux, or as in the case of Johnny Damon - his players have a tendency to end up on a direct division rival, sending the message that Boras and his clients will go out of his way to screw you.

Still, I had to laugh at one set of examples here, the two Seattle signings - first, the article notes Dodger fans' angst at losing Adrian Beltre, without mentioning quite how badly that worked out for Seattle. And then, we have Boras' laughable attempt to spin the Cardinals as having made a bad decision to get outbid by the same Mariners for the services of Jeff Weaver:

Last year, another longtime Boras client, Jeff Weaver, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals after a poor start with the Angels in Anaheim. Weaver was dominant in the postseason, and the Cardinals won the World Series, but St. Louis offered Weaver only a one-year, $5 million contract - which Boras found insulting. "That's what you'd offer a relief pitcher," he says.

Weaver eventually signed with the Seattle Mariners for $8.3 million. "You have to respect that teams have a right to make their own decisions," Boras says, before turning around and passing judgment on Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "Here's a GM who never played the game [i.e., the GM of the defending World Champs who have won five division titles, a Wild Card and two pennants in the past seven years -ed.] saying, 'We're going to go with our young guys,' and I go, 'You can't.'"

The Cardinals simply blew it, Boras concludes. "The Cardinals not signing Jeff Weaver is how you don't win divisions, and my prediction is the St. Louis Cardinals won't win their division this year." (At press time, the Cardinals were at the bottom of the National League Central.)

At press time, Jeff Weaver had a 14.32 ERA and had managed to lose all six of his starts while allowing 50 hits in 22 innings. I'm sure the Mariners are just thrilled that Boras talked them into spending $8.3 million on him.

The bottom line: Boras is out for his guys. He's good at getting them their money, and there are certainly far less respectable ways to make a living. But nobody should make the mistake of thinking he's doing anybody else any good.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:34 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

How could anyone think that this guy is doing anyone but himself and his clients any good? How can anyone look at $28,000,000 for playing baseball and not see that the game, its participants, its fans and all parties involved have become completely deluded? It's absurd. There are people risking their lives for democracy for $28,000, and we wonder if Boras isn't the biggest scam artist of all time? There are doctors and surgeons who don't make $280,000. There are (here comes my ass-kissing, Crank) lawyers defending justice who make diddly. There are teachers, carpenters, landscapers, etc. who MUST work harder and be more deserving than, say, fat-ass David Wells. They should have nipped these salaries in the bud back around the time of the TET offensive.

Posted by: m phillip baudrand at May 30, 2007 11:52 PM

I think it's a debatable point as to whether Boras is even out for his guys, and not solely himself. They will get rich of course, but, call me a sentimental old fool, I still believe that success and hapiness are measured in more than mere dollars, and on the non-monetary side of the ledger, it sure doesn't seem like Boras is out for his guys.

Beltre, of course, is a great example. How much fun do we really believe he's having playing ball tucked nicely away in Seattle, WAY out of the spotlight? Remember, this is the same guy (Boras) who told us A-Rod had to get OUT of Seattle to find fulfillment.

How about Weaver? Here he finally finds his niche after years of wandering in the Land of Lost Pitchers' Souls, wins a world series no less, and Boras puts him right back there.

And he's screwed over A-Rod TWICE now. Is there any doubt that the Mets would have been the much better fit for A-Rod back in 2000, if Boras hadn't started negotiations at the Moon, Venus, Mars, and the asteroid belt, causing the Mets to (rightfully) tell him to go piss up a rope? Isn't it possible that maybe the Mets would have used that signing as the impetus to commit to winning then, instead of five long failed years later?

And then, after promising to get Alex into the spotlight, he delivers him to one of the few places where he'd go even less-noticed than he did in Seattle. And finally, given a chance to rectify that colossal mistake, Boras instead compounds it by convincing him to forego perhaps the one situation that would have been even better than the Mets, i.e. taking center-stage in Boston in a park as friendly to righties as The Smallpark in Arlington, and going instead to...the Yankees. The Yankees, where he will, as long as he stays, be forever compared to Derek Jeter, and found wanting for not being able to perform as supremely as Jeter has when it counts the most. And for what? That's right: 10 million dollars, of which Boras gets a cut.

All of this stuff counts, if life has any meaning at all, at least. Boras delivered Beltre and Weaver to Seattle, A-Rod to Texas and the Yanks, and Maddux to San Diego, of all places, I think, not because he views money as the be-all and end-all and wants to get his clients as much as possible. It's because he views money as the be-all and end-all and wants to get HIMSELF as much as possible.

He or anyone else wants to do that, that's their business, and I'm not going to tell them not to. But he's been doing it at the expense of his clients' happiness and success in at least some cases, and sorry, but that's wrong.

Posted by: Thom at May 31, 2007 1:16 AM

Bush Hates America

Posted by: acroso at May 31, 2007 7:56 AM

Scott Boras' job is to get the "best deal" (usually means "most money") for his clients. That he does very well.

Posted by: rbj at May 31, 2007 9:20 AM

Never forget that the players hav the final word on every deal. Leaving a good situation for a few dollars more is certainly their choice. And GMs could easily blackball him. They choose not to.

I'd be willing to bet that the guys who sign with him fully understand the bargain they are choosing to make and have few regrets.


Must return to work.

Posted by: Zufall at May 31, 2007 10:09 AM

Never forget that the players hav the final word on every deal. Leaving a good situation for a few dollars more is certainly their choice. And GMs could easily blackball him. They choose not to.

I'd be willing to bet that the guys who sign with him fully understand the bargain they are choosing to make and have few regrets.


Must return to work.

Posted by: Zufall at May 31, 2007 10:09 AM

Never forget that the players hav the final word on every deal. Leaving a good situation for a few dollars more is certainly their choice. And GMs could easily blackball him. They choose not to.

I'd be willing to bet that the guys who sign with him fully understand the bargain they are choosing to make and have few regrets.


Must return to work.

Posted by: Zufall at May 31, 2007 10:09 AM

Boras is the best agent to have if A) You are an elite player and thus in a position of strength, and B) You want the most money, without regard to other considerations. He engenders so much dislike from GMs that they will happily screw lesser players he represents (i.e., I recall him costing Jody Reed millions of dollars when his career was nearly over by overplaying his hand).

Posted by: Jerry at May 31, 2007 10:47 AM

However dislikeable agents are, and Boras heads that particular line, he cannot be blamed (if blame is appropriate, which is debatable) for the size of his clients salaries.

A baseball player is a commodity that is worth what somebody will pay for it, and caveat emptor is still the overriding factor.

Posted by: UK Halo at May 31, 2007 2:37 PM

LOL....at all the hating on Boras........some of us need to be reminded of who is making the commitment to pay these salaries.

If I'm the boss and I agree to over compensate you...who's to blame again?

Posted by: Frank at June 2, 2007 3:33 PM

Well written article. You have to respect Boras, he is a heavyweight force in baseball...

Posted by: Carrousel at June 4, 2007 10:40 AM
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