How Scott Boras Got Carter Stewart’s Groove Back

ESPN’s Jeff Passan was first with the full details about Eastern Florida State College RHP Carter Stewart’s (our 56th-ranked prospect for next month’s 2019 draft) shocking signing with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League. Stewart will receive $7 million over the next six years, enabling him to qualify for MLB free agency at age 25 (through the new tiered posting process) when the deal ends, provided he plays in the Pacific League in parts of all six years.

There are a number of impactful outcomes from this deal, so I’ll take them one at a time:

1. This is surely more money than Stewart could’ve gotten through the draft and MLB path over the next six years.

Passan and J.J. Cooper took a stab at projecting Stewart’s earnings over the next six seasons in America, and I’ve come to the same conclusion. Charitably projecting roughly $2 million in a draft bonus, something like $20,000 to $30,000 in total minor league salaries (depending on how quickly he gets to the big leagues), and something between $750,000 and $1.8 million in the big leagues (again, depending on when he gets there and if he stays). The rosiest versions of those numbers doesn’t even get Stewart to $4 million, which is still about $1 million less than the slot value ($4.98 million) at the pick where he didn’t sign with the Braves last year, roughly what he could’ve expected without the dispute over his wrist.

2. This sets up an alternative path for draft prospects to gain negotiating leverage, likely starting with next month’s draft.

Going overseas for six years and then coming back to a free agent payday is only a move that an elite prospect that’s solely focused on baseball and somewhat culturally open-minded would approach, so this won’t be a negotiating tactic for the whole draft. For prep or first-year junior college prospects projected for the top two rounds, however, this could be a real bargaining tactic, even if it’s never fully explored by the player.

3. This, combined in smaller part with the Kyler Murray saga, will likely force MLB’s hand to raise the draft pools to keep pace with other leagues.

Given the unusual response MLB had to the Murray ordeal, it’s proven that it’s willing to step out from tradition and try to do what it takes to keep elite talents in the league. Ultimately, the No. 1 overall pick as a quarterback vs. a one-year college baseball player is a large monetary bridge to gap, but MLB doesn’t want to see elite talents going to other sports or leagues. This could mean that after a half dozen more players use this tactic and at least one more signs with a Japanese pro club, MLB could see a potential crisis and raise draft pools in some form before the next CBA, as both a way to keep talent and as an olive branch for what should be a fierce negotiation. We estimate the first overall pick, as a trade asset, is worth something like $50 million, and some could argue it’s worth close to $75 million some years. The draftees shouldn’t be paid so low that it’s worth almost $75 million in value for the chance to sign the player to something just below the $8.41 million slot value.

MLB saw substitution become an option for the first time in awhile this offseason when the Twins wanted to hire University of Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson and had to go well above the bar for first year MLB assistant coaches to do it. There still isn’t direct competition to use market forces to get minor league player salaries or general lower level staffer jobs northward.

4. This also sets up an competing league that will be a check on MLB’s rules about amateur pay and how quickly a player can reach free agency.

The biggest part of this is what was surely Scott Boras’ motivation to get this deal done with these parameters. If Stewart plays on the big league Fukuoka club for at least part of each of the six years, he’ll be 25 and have six years of pro experience at the end of the deal, so he can then be posted. Part of the contract goes to the Japanese club, but giving up roughly 20% of that first big deal in order to get there at least three years early is another precedent the MLB Players Union has to love to see. The hope is that this, like the draft bonus pools, will force MLB to make the domestic path to free agency shorter so players won’t leave in droves to find their payday.

5. Stewart is a big winner here, but it isn’t a slam dunk that he’ll excel immediately in Japan.

One of the first things texted to me by multiple sources after this deal is that the Japanese minor leagues are no walk in the park. The style of pitching, the work ethic required, the accommodations, and the approach of coaches are all things that are literally and figuratively foreign to American amateurs.

It’s somewhat common for top prospects to sign with a Japanese pro club with a non-contractual handshake deal about when they will be posted. I would imagine there’s an understanding that Stewart will get time in each of the six seasons of his deal and will be posted at the end of it. Shohei Ohtani was rumored to have a deal like this after he opted against signing with the Dodgers out of high school.

Stewart was elite (we pegged him as a 50 FV for the 2018 draft, ninth overall) but noted he faded a bit down the stretch and some wondered about his wrist injury. The Braves walked away from a deal over a dispute about the severity of that injury, and this spring, things played out closer to what the Braves argued than Stewart. Before the injury, Stewart was consistently 93-96, touching 98 mph with some life, and had a curveball that flashed 70 in every outing multiple times (and a 3000+ rpm spin rate) along with about an average changeup and command projection. Here’s some video of the pre-injury Stewart:

This spring, his stuff has varied a good bit. He’ll sit 92-96 and hit 97 mph at times to start outings, then settle 90-94 later and with less life. His curveball has flashed 70 a handful of times this season for some scouts, but it’s mostly a 55 or 60 pitch at best, with most projecting a 60 pitch long term. His frame has lost some athleticism and his command hasn’t been as sharp this spring either. A couple scouts noted that Stewart hasn’t stopped playing golf (he’s a scratch golfer) and some clubs think that will serve to further weaken his wrist going forward, though that isn’t conclusive. We spoke with a number of clubs about their feelings on Stewart before he signed and they all said there was an elevated or above-average amount of risk going forward, relative to other pitching prospects, in regard to his wrist.

We have Stewart at the top of the 40 FV range in the 2019 draft class, which also translates to where he’d rank on our minor league team lists. Our estimates have a high 40 FV, borderline 40+ FV pitcher for his controlled MLB seasons (normally six or seven years) as being worth something like $3 million, per Craig Edwards research.

6. After some recent missteps and the empowered analytical GM blowing a hole in his playbook, Boras makes another precedent-setting, splashy move.

The title of the top and/or most creative agent in the game was up for debate after Boras held it for quite some time. One of the most outspoken advocates for players has found a way to make them money when MLB appeared to have players boxed into a corner and the MLBPA couldn’t negotiate it’s way out of a wet paper bag in the last CBA. Other agents may help drive a truck through this crack in MLB’s economic gates, but Boras is the once that made the crack.

We hoped you liked reading How Scott Boras Got Carter Stewart’s Groove Back by Kiley McDaniel!

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Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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dukewinslow
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dukewinslow

Honestly, on point 3, this is why you analyze processes, not results.
You have to look at how bad the process was for every decision-maker involved in the Kyler Murray saga to really analyze the decision.

First, the A’s were stupid to pay a kid with one year of ok college ball that much money. People thought it was dumb at the time, even without letting him play football that year. This, of course, was possibly the worst decision in the chain, compounded by every single decision the A’s made after drafting him. It was like watching a toddler play chess against a vicious adult.

Second, assuming Murray didn’t know he was going to be drafted number 1, let alone at all, going back to play football at all was a negative EV decision. The record for 5’10” QB’s in the NFL is weak, and their draft data is essentially nonexistent. Conditional on his draft position, and the signing bonus, the chance he would make that money back in the NFL draft was very very small. Mind you, that all changes is he has some information that he would not fall out of the top ten, which I acknowledge is possible. But the draft record on short QB’s, let alone short spread QB’s, didn’t look good for him going into the fall.

Finally, prospectively, going first in the draft in football is still nowhere near as high a return in terms of long term expected value as a player with Murray’s expected WAR from his draft position in the MLB. Indeed, at the time of the decision, the expected payout from the NFL draft was probably around a 3rd round pick, so a glorified camp invite. But even the BEST case scenario was worse than the median outcome in baseball (let’s say the median is he’s a 1 WAR player, it’s probably better than that)

All this aside, just from a values perspective, playing football, especially QB as a smaller person who is going to be expected to run a fair amount and get out of the pocket, is a bad long term decision. All the money in the world is useless if you’re too broken physically to enjoy it.

It’s a great story that football worked out for Murray, but you have to keep in mind that the process leading up to the football season was a really, really dumb one.

LHPSU
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LHPSU

Er, no, Murray had the money in hand when he went back to play college football. Oakland was there if the draft prospects were bad. The only risks were an injury so catastrophic he couldn’t play baseball anymore, and one year of delayed development. He had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

yeah the A’s are the toddler in the above example. Letting him go back was really stupid. Thus the point about the A’s being the dumbest people involved in this whole thing.

hebrew
Member
Member
hebrew

Saying he made a bad long-term decision would require the ability to see in the future and know that he reaches free agency as one of the 5 or so best players in the sport. No matter his pedigree, it’s pretty safe to assume that he wasn’t going to reach those heights.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

Average NFL career is 3.3 years. Median NFL salary is 2.7 million (he’d make more if he were a first round pick, but if he weren’t he’d make a lot less on a restrictive rookie deal). That’s half the mean (5) but more than the median (1.5) MLB player salary at a median career length of 5.6 years conditional on making the show.

In expectation, as a median player, you make a lot more money in baseball.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

On a further note, football is just a bad deal if you don’t get drafted in the first round if you’re a first round baseball prospect. Given that the top pick in the second round only got 3.8 million in guaranteed money, and that Kyler Murray was considered a second or third day NFL talent (and still is to a lot of people!), IN EXPECTATION, conditional on being a second round pick, he only would make 3/5 the money in his first contract in the NFL that he would have from the A’s had he shown up to camp.

data:
https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/draft/

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

YOUR POINT BEING?

Murray made the choice to give up baseball when and because it was clear he was going to be a first round pick. Whatever imaginary scenario you’re thinking of never happened and never could have happened. You’re making arguments that have absolutely zilch to do with the actual situation. Of course things would be different if he wasn’t a consensus 1st-round pick.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

Ex ante, the A’s made a mistake letting him play baseball

Ex ante, Murray made a mistake deciding to play football (that is prior to the football season, deciding to play football had a negative expected value over not playing football)

Ex ante to the combine, the decision to go into the draft and forgo the bonus had a negative expected value (he was rated as a second round pick)

This is a critique of the decision process

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Where the fuck was the negative expected value for playing his last year at Oklahoma? He already had the $4M from the A’s basically in his pocket. HE DOESN’T GIVE IT UP BY PLAYING FOOTBALL, and he gets to explore his options and see what happens. He was playing with HOUSE MONEY. He loses literally nothing except under the most extreme circumstances, in which he ends up with only $4M and nothing else. Which is, you know, what happens to 50% of all 1st-round picks anyway.

Basically, if he threw 10 interceptions in his first start and never played another down the rest of the season, he joins the A’s like nothing ever happened.

As for his draft projection, ESPN ranked him between 8th and 13th overall at the time when he gave up baseball. There was literally zero chance that he was falling to the second round. You may think he’s not first round talent, and your opinion is worth shit because all that matters is that most if not all evaluators agreed, EX ANTE, that there were teams that would have taken him with their first round pick.

You’re ‘critiquing’ by making up assumptions out of thin air. It is absolutely not rational behavior to give up a chance to keep your options open at no cost at all, no matter how you try to twist it.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

First, the worst decision was by the A’s.

Second, Rapaport and others saw Murray as a second round talent. The record for tiny qb’s is bad (the one success: Doug Flutie. Even Brees is a solid 6’1”). Entering the Draft and returning the A’s money only works out if he makes the first round, and until the Cardinals hired Kingsbury his first round status was quite questionable. Many scouts had Haskins higher, for instance. Arguing that post hoc results represent ex ante priors is not a good way to argue anything- a lot of people win the lottery, but no one is arguing that’s a rational process.

averagejoe15
Member
Member
averagejoe15

That Russell Wilson guy is pretty good, Drew Brees is generously 6’0″ not 6’1,” Aaron Rodgers is “only” 6’2″…The NFL has undergone massive changes to benefit offense/passing, so much so you can’t really even compare today’s game to ten years ago, let alone any earlier. The traditional idea a guy like Wilson or Murray is too small too succeed in the NFL just doesn’t hold water anymore. Can he accurately throw the deep ball? Can he make quick decisions? Can he throw receivers open? Those are the things that matter.

This whole height argument is archaic at this point, the pundits sound like the anit-sabermetrics crowd. Even if height were an actual component of QB success in the new NFL, there are exceptions to every rule. While some people don’t think Murray is an exception, there is still a very real possibility he is.

TKDC
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Member
TKDC

Putting Wilson and Murray in the same category is just lazy. Wilson has a good 40 pounds of bulk that Murray doesn’t. Murray has to contend with (1) being very short for a QB, (2) being a hard hit away from being broken in two (to be fair, no QB is immune, but it helps to be thicker), and (3) having played basically one college season in a league that doesn’t play defense. Cam Newton is about the only example ever of a QB playing one season of college ball and then somewhat seamlessly transitioning to the NFL. And Newton was inarguably physically special in a way Murray is not.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

On Feb 6, 2019, Mel Kiper Jr. put Murray No. 8 on his Big Board.
On Feb 7, 2019, Todd McShay projected Murray to go No.13 to the Dolphins in his mock draft.

Murray announced he was committing to football and gave up his bonus on Feb 12, 2019.

I know it’s going to shock you, but Feb 6 and Feb 9 are both before Feb 12.

evo34
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evo34

Observation: the strength of one’s argument is inversely correlated the amount of Latin used.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

The main downside to Murray playing college football is the possibility of injury and lost development time, which could have impeded his development and timeline to the major leagues with its guaranteed contracts. it’s not a big downside, but it is there. The decision to play football was simply because he loved football more, which was somewhat foolish for Murray but probably should have been a massive red flag about his excitement about baseball to the A’s.

That said, dukewinslow has a bunch of other facts wrong, which you point out. It was pretty clearly in his best financial interest to declare for football when he did, and he did not give up the bonus to play college football. And I don’t know where dukewinslow is getting this idea that his decision to return to Oklahoma was motivated by money. Nobody thought he was going to be a 1st round pick then. That clearly wasn’t the plan.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

oh no, I don’t think that the decision to return to oklahoma was motivated by money, just that, in terms of EV, it’s not a great decision (injury risk and whatnot)

evo34
Member
evo34

Going fwd:

1) Please don’t hijack the comment thread with 30 repetitive posts.

2) Don’t say something has negative “expected value” without doing some actual work. Assuming, for example, that he would have an MLB career just bc he was drafted in the first round is lazy.

Carpe rectum.

Werthless
Member
Werthless

Not a median draft pick in baseball… the outcomes are skewed toward earning very little beyond your signing bonus.

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

I think this is probably the best critique so far- his likelihood of making the majors is low.

However, as a second round or lower pick (consensus before the cfb season) combined with the substantial risk of injury, playing football and giving up the bonus had a lower EV than just going to baseball full time.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

He didn’t give up the bonus by playing football. Why the fuck are you trying to confound his decision before the CFB season with his decision after the CFB season?

dukewinslow
Member
dukewinslow

the decision to play football has a negative expected value because the upside (becoming a first round draft pick- the only way it pays out in monetary terms) has a lower probability (and therefore lower EV) than the downside (injury/loss of long term value), while the choice to focus on baseball (and in theory have a higher chance of making the majors) has a higher expected payout (sure, there’s an injury downside risk, but it’s less than it is in football, we’d agree?). The 5 million is irrelevant to that decision. FV/EV is still pertinent.

the reason the draft decision is shaky is because he has to give the money back to enter the draft, and there wasn’t consensus that he would be a first round pick even up until the day of the draft. In order for THAT decision to work out, he has to be a first round pick, and there was disagreement over whether that would be the case.

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Not really safe assumptions…

The upside of becoming a first round NFL pick is tangible, guaranteed and immediate.
The downside/opportunity cost are vague, chance-dependent, and relies on long-term outcomes that also depend on a crap ton of other factors.
Therefore, investing in the former outcome is actually a LESS risky proposition in many ways. Quality of outcome matters.

How many starting FBS QBs suffered an injury last year that would have compromised Murray’s future career? Is it really higher than Murray’s chance of becoming a 1st-round pick at the beginning of 2018? I strongly doubt it. It’s not a safe thing to assume, at least. Football’s risk is about head injuries; in terms of debilitating injuries for athletes, it’s also not safe to assume that it’s so much higher than playing baseball, especially since he would be playing a professional schedule.

As for the draft, it was unlikely that Murray would fall out of the first round. Whatever you might think of Kiper and McShay, it would be unusual for them to overrate a QB by 20 picks. Fact of life is that hyped QBs only ever drop so far even if they totally flunk their combine, and Murray did well.

MathieuVirtuoso
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MathieuVirtuoso

There wasn’t PUBLIC consensus that he would be a first round pick. But I don’t see how that’s relevant to the conversation. Murray pretty much knew where he was going when he decided to stay in the draft. You don’t think teams were talking to him and his agent?

artkarn
Member
artkarn

Your financial figures for non first round picks are for all players combining positions (like running backs with short lives) and fail to account for a) the greatly increased life of nfl qbs over all other positions and b) the inflated salary of qbs over all other positions. Not to boil down an argument to a sample size of 1 or 2 but f’ing charlie whitehurst and chase Daniels have made more than like 90% of baseball first round picks as clipboard holders (or clipboard Jesus). So I think the EV argument you present is extremely flawed.

slamcactus
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slamcactus

“Conditional on making the show” is a hell of a condition.

The median professional baseball player stalls out in the minors and never makes significant non-signing bonus money in his professional career.

Taking a quick and unscientific look at 1999-2010, the median #9 pick makes the majors, but doesn’t stay there very long and certainly doesn’t make it to free agency (since this is an even number of years, the two players who make up the median are Aaron Crow and Chris Nelson). And that’s doing the sample a favor by dipping down to 1999 (was originally going to start at 2000) to include Barry Zito, by far the most successful #9 pick in the history of the draft. He also happens to be the last (and possibly only) #9 pick who signed a big free agent contract.