Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Last Night of the Boras Dynasty

In the last decade or so, maybe since the days of Jerry Maguire, sports agents have become more and more prominent. I really don't want to think that back in the 1980s I could name as many agents as I can now: Scott Boras, Arn Tellem, two sets of brothers, Gregg Clifton, Jeff Moorad. Some of these names have become larger than life, as Boras is now labeled as a "super agent" and his clientele has, in a way, been diversified from the rest of both free agents and amateur draftees. Players change teams, but it seems like you stay with an agent for longer than you stay with a team. You know certain guys are Boras guys: A-Rod, Andruw Jones, Johnny F. Damon, Craig Hanson, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Captain Intangible, Greg Maddux, Eric Gagne. Nancy Drew.

As I told Pat today on the phone, I have a feeling this is going to end soon. A-Rod's 2007 offseason is going to be Scott Boras's Waterloo. Posting the figure of $350 million at the beginning of the negotiations was a move a little bit too bold--even for this guy. It's going to be hard to get anyone to take up that offer.

I would guess that the A-Rod negotiations are not going to go away--for a long time. Because Boras will play the role of "hard-ass" and try to really get teams to bid $350 million. Owners know better. They know how much of a financial hardship $250 million was to a team. That kind of investment exhausts your budget to the point that A-Rod is not going to have any good players around him. One hitter and eight automatic outs, plus no pitching means you're not going to win ballgames.

The Dodgers can't afford that. The Angels can't afford that. The Giants can't afford that. The Cubs, in their current state of "who's buying the team" can't afford that. Not even the Mets can afford that. The only two teams who can afford that would be the Red Sox and the Yankees.

The Red Sox are on the verge of signing Mike Lowell, a move that, by the way, given his stats away from Fenway Park, doesn't make sense for any other team to do. I'll write more about this when the deal is done. The Yankees are not interested in employing this guy. And nobody else will pay him. The answer is no.

But Boras won't take no for an answer. He is a stiff negotiator (that is an Enzyte commercial reference) and a predatory negotiator. He will use the media against you. He will use fabricated competitors against you. He will use ultimatums against you. And he won't rest until he gets that $350 million price tag.

I would not be surprised if these negotiations last all the way into the new year and beyond. Honestly, I'm thinking it will be 50/50 whether Alex Rodriguez has a team to play for by the time spring training starts. While other teams are having pitchers and catchers report, A-Rod's going to be doing those stairs at 6:30 in the morning again. And you saw this kind of thing until the 23rd hour in the Matsuzaka negotiations. The Red Sox had already paid the $51.1 million posting fee, and didn't want to give the guy $15 million a year. Boras insisted on it, and threatened to take Matsuzaka back to Japan. As the Red Sox said "let him go, we'll take our $150 and invest it elsewhere," Matsuzaka probably told Boras there's no way he's going to waste another year of his prime in Japan. Instead of the other way around, the Red Sox finally had this guy by the balls.*

When February and even March start coming around, A-Rod and Boras will cave, because nobody will bite at the $350 million offer. Owners are already pissed off enough at Boras's and A-Rod's antics at the World Series, and I think the whole thing has reached a boiling point. There will likely be a form of tacit collusion between the owners. The arduousness of the negotiations will get on owners' nerves, as well as the constant media circus. The stuff that A-Rod has already done to alienate the rest of baseball (and by the "rest of baseball," I mean everyone in baseball except for Alex Rodriguez) will get on owners' nerves, and they will ask if they really want this jerk on their team.

There really are few things being written--anywhere--in support of this guy. Bronx is almost on his own here.

Eventually, A-Rod will cave and Boras will cave. Unlike his draft-day clients,** A-Rod's not going to cry and play a year in the independent leagues (although the Nashua Pride need a new shortstop after Olmo Rosario got picked up). The amount of alienation and the aforementioned implicit costs, in my opinion, will probably deflate A-Rod's salary to somewhere between $22-28 million a year. Unless the union cries foul about this (and what can they really do?), I think it will be the beginning of a serious free agent market correction. Every free agent's value will drop in the coming year, and Joel Piniero's not going to be able to get $7 million a year anymore.

That was a very long hypothetical, but I really think this scenario is the way this offseason is going to play out. It will be the last night of the Boras dynasty, which has already taken a hit when he got owned last year by the Red Sox.* And as much as I'm sick of talking about this scumbag, if he signs for less than 10/$30, it will be a significant point in the history of the economics of baseball.

*I say the Red Sox "owned" Boras after Matsuzaka signed for less than $9 million a year over six years. But conspiracy theorists, including myself, point to that fact that the Red Sox also signed Nancy Drew, a Boras client, for $70 million, in what could be a closely-related move.

**Nancy Drew and Captain Intangible both spat in the face of the teams that drafted them, refusing to sign with them after being drafted. They both played a year with the independent St. Paul Saints, got re-drafted, and were offered signing bonuses that tickled their fancies more.

3 comments:

Pat F said...

all we can do is hope. if he ends up in san fran for 8 years and $25 mil, there will be a smile on my face from coast to coast. and i think we might even get better than that since the two big boys in baseball are out. then he can sign, be embarrassed he didn't get anywhere close to $30, let alone $35 mil, per season, and we, in serious baseball cities, can forget about him forever.

from the bronx said...

A-Rod's economics aside, I don't see how you can forecast an overall correction in free agent salaries. It is quite possible that revenue sharing and luxury taxes will reign in the spending of teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Mets, but if the game's overall revenue continues to rise at the rate it has, and if regional television networks continue to pop up, the players are going to make sure their cut rises too. Revenue is up 100% since 2000, compared with the overall economy which has grown by about 20% since then, depending on what indicator you look at. Salary inflation is here to stay.

the gm at work said...

Bronx,

In the long-run, I can't agree more. Many economists say that most baseball players, including Mr. Rodriguez, are underpaid for many reasons, none of which I want to try to fit into a comment from work. A-Rod's star power and his ability to contribute to winning dictate he might be worth more than even $35 million. This is the case across the board because, as you said, baseball revenues are skyrocketing.

However, if he wants to be paid closer to what he's actually worth, while every other player in the league is happy with being paid 65% of what they're worth, teams will want to go for the relative bargain, paying a guy less than what he brings in.

Once again, in the long run, I agree with you that player salaries are going to rise. Maybe not to the point that Piniero deserves $7 million, but still. I'm just saying that for the reasons I mentioned in my post, we could have a temporary correction. I think A-Rod being "embarrassed" or "getting his ass kicked" in these negotiations will have a slight, temporary ripple effect. Owners will certainly tell next year's free agent class (think Santana), if A-Rod's not worth $28 million, they're not worth $XX million. They would have to lower their price.

Eventually, it will creep up as it has in the last few years since the most recent market correction (you know, the one that screwed dudes like Vladimir Guerrero). But if A-Rod doesn't get his money, look for a temporary market correction. That's all I'm trying to say.