Sunday, October 28, 2007

Boras To Tears?

Probably the toughest part about being a columnist is trying to find a subject about what to write. Many of the ramblings you’ll read here are my attempts to come up with subject matter. I bat ideas around, throw stuff on the word processor and see what sticks. Now I’m stumped. Nevertheless, I could have an idea or two if basic professionalism didn’t get in the way.

The thing is, as far as baseball’s finances go, I tend to side with the players. They’re the ones laying it on the line and could be one play away from retirement. Don’t get me wrong, the owners invest a lot in these guys and deserve a decent return on investment. The thing that bothers me is when somebody is sympathetic to that point of view but dirties the water for everybody.

You see, baseball has always suffered when a given party accumulates too much power. When owners had it, they could blacklist players, keep entire races from playing the game and exploiting the game’s greats only to toss them aside like a dirty burger wrapper when they were no long useful.

When the players union developed too much clout, it made things onerous on small revenue clubs and their fans. Don Fehr once suggested that if Pittsburgh and Montreal couldn’t afford monster contracts then baseball should leave those cities--their fans (I was one of them) be damned. While management deserves its share of the blame in the whole steroid mess, the MLBPA made it easy not to tackle the problem head on due to its intransigence. Why fight it if the union will fight to the death to protect the players’ right to break the law and force borderline talent to choose between a major league career and unknown health consequences after their playing days are over?

Even players felt the long reach of the MLBPA; encouraged to accept the biggest contract offered rather than using their own criteria to decide where the next path in their major league career should go.

Now it’s an agent, more pointedly, Scott Boras.

I’ll be honest; I have little use for the man. I’m hoping that this A-Rod negotiation blows up in his face and Rodriguez ends up with less money per annum than he had if he hadn’t opted out (assuming he does) of his contract with the Yankees. Then I hope he fires Boras. Rodriguez is a man who strikes me as knowing what he wants until he sits down with his agent. It was Boras’s goading that caused A-Rod to make his comments regarding Derek Jeter in Esquire. A-Rod is a wealthy man, but 252 has been a shadow he cannot escape, as are his comments seven years ago. Now Boras has convinced him to make himself more of a pariah by leaving his second winning situation for money.

It seems Scott Boras is more concerned about what Rodriguez can do for him rather than the other way around. A-Rod stated in 2001, “I wanted to be a Met. I've always wanted to be a Met, I've been a Met fan since I was a kid. And I would've played there for less money and less years and they know that.” The Mets unquestionably had interest as well. Therefore, how could Boras not negotiate a marriage based on mutual interest? Possibly because the Mets had what A-Rod wanted and not what Boras wanted.

This isn’t about the opt-out however, I’ve dealt with it in other locales and I'll post the links after they go live. Where Boras’s power is hurting the game is at the amateur level. He likes to portray himself as a defender of the helpless. He would have more credibility with that claim were his work done pro bono. It’s about money like everything else he does. The draft was initially set up to aid competitive balance; giving struggling teams the first crack at top amateur talent.

What happens now is, due to Boras’s involvement, is he represents that top talent and requests outrageous signing bonuses that cause teams with lower revenues to pass on them and they fall in the draft to--you guessed it, the successful wealthy teams. It explains why that, despite always being among the last teams to draft, clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox etc. always seem to have these blue chip prospects while teams like the Royals and Pirates continue to struggle.

Players like A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Johan Santana (soon), Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez etc. deserve the big bucks because they are among the best in the world at what they do. They’ve paid their dues and should reap the rewards of investing so much hard work to develop their considerable talents.

To play in professional sports requires special genetic gifts. To reward high school or college players with outrageous sums of money for being fortunate enough to have these gifts but haven’t proven they can develop them seems instinctively wrong. That money belongs to those who have proven they can perform at the sport’s highest level. Yes, there should be bonuses for the simple reason that they are looking at as many as 10-12 years before they cash in and certainly there should be some compensation for the time they will invest.

However, to demand to be set for life before you touch a ball in the professional game is nonsensical.

I know there are risks for these kids. Life is a risk, not studying in school is a risk, choosing a profession where you know the high attrition rate going in is a risk. Why should the risk be taken away from your life and not for every person in high school or college? The trouble is, besides the problems with the draft itself are, trying for the maximum bonus at all costs can be disastrous. Matt Harrington blew a chance at millions for a few extra thousand, other players lose precious development time holding out or re-entering the draft. Why did A-Rod get a quarter billion dollars in 2001? One thing was talent, the other was he was just 24-25 when he hit the market. Every year older you are when you become a free agent costs many millions of dollars more than what you hoped to gain by holding out for a year or two until somebody met your agent’s price.

Getting back to Boras, when he’s negotiating these draft picks’ contracts, he tries to get them into the major leagues as quickly as possible to start their service clock for arbitration and free agent rights. To do so, he tries to get major league contracts for these kids after they’re drafted. When this happens, the player is kept on the roster regardless of whether his play merits the spot. The spot he’s taking up may well be leaving a more deserving player behind is destroying any sense of baseball’s meritocracy. Yes, nobody forced the team into having to do that, but it’s still cheating a more deserving player since the team doesn’t want to lose their investment by exposing him to waivers.

I admire Alex Rodriguez as a player. Somebody who wins (I am assuming) three MVP, two Gold Gloves at a tough defensive position, put up three 50 HR seasons averaging 47 long balls per year and was an All Star every year of the contract to date can certainly be said to be earning every blessed dollar of his deal. However, I do feel that Boras going down in flames, being fired by Rodriguez while suffering a huge drop in credibility and influence will serve the game well. Boras needs to be taken down a notch and I hope that baseball management will do just that by keeping their heads and wits about them and understanding what Alex Rodriguez can, and more importantly, can not do for their teams.

I’m not optimistic though. As Liam Neeson said (as Qui-Gon Jinn) in The Phantom Menace: “Greed can be a powerful ally” and Boras is counting on his old ally to again make Alex Rodriguez a very wealthy pariah.

Best Regards


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