Because of the nature of inactivity this offseason, we’ve explored, among other things, whether MLB teams have learned how to wait on free agents and how agents and players may need to adapt. These are trying times for a baseball scribe. We could use some transactions!
One agent who has tried to adapt, who is arguably the game’s greatest at his chosen profession, is Scott Boras.
In recent offseasons, when only a tepid market has developed for his clients, Boras has on occasion attempted to circumvent front offices — which are increasingly operating with less emotion and more reason — and appeal directly to owners. It worked with Prince Fielder in early 2012 in Detroit, for example.
Wrote FanGraphs alumnus Jonah Keri of that deal when it happened:
In short, Dave Dombrowski knows his stuff.
Which is exactly why Scott Boras wanted no part of him.
Mike Ilitch’s role in the nine-year, $214 million contract the Tigers gave to Prince Fielder has been well documented. … If you’re an agent representing a big-ticket client, do you negotiate with a GM who has 10 baseball ops guys at his disposal breaking down player projections to the smallest decimal point? Or do you approach the octogenarian owner who’s far more likely to make decisions from the heart, far more likely to say, “Eff it, I don’t care what happens in 2018, I want to win now”?
Boras perhaps didn’t pioneer this end-around approach in this age of data-drenched, free-agency-averse front offices. Rather, it might have been Dan Lozano, who appealed directly to Angels owner Arte Moreno while attempting to find a home for Albert Pujols.
The agent’s equivalent of the Lombardi Sweep, the play was called again last offseason when Matt Wieters signed with the Nationals on Feb. 21 after Wieters had waited all offseason, without any luck, for a market to develop.
It should be noted that the Fielder and Pujols deals worked out rather poorly from the club perspective, with Fielder producing just two seasons of two wins or better after signing his deal and Pujols quickly becoming one of the most untradable assets in baseball. The Wieters deal isn’t looking all that great for the club, either.
Boras is waiting for markets to develop for just about all his clients this offseason — and there are quite a few of those clients looking for work. I wrote about how one page out of the Boras playbook, the waiting game, might have decreasing relevance given the present state of affairs.
But he is perhaps going to another play, the end-around, with a view toward appealing directly to San Diego ownership.
Padres chairman Ron Fowler spoke candidly on the Mighty 1090 Morning Show in San Diego last week — an appearance picked up by the all-seeing, all-knowing MLB Trade Rumors — regarding the club’s pursuit of Eric Hosmer, a Boras client.
It seems Fowler is very involved in these negotiations. The Padres have reportedly offered Hosmer a seven-year deal, a claim that Fowler did not dispute. Fowler says he has talked a lot about Hosmer.
“We’ve had a lot of dialogue on it — [GM A.J. Preller, manager Andy Green and assistant GM Josh Stein] obviously lead the discussions as it relates to players,” said Fowler. “They talked to me probably six months or so ago when they looked at who the free agents would be for 2018. They like him. They like his makeup, they like his leadership in the clubhouse, and obviously, they like him as an athlete. We met with him, and he’s a very impressive individual.” ….
Asked about concerns of paying for too much of a player’s decline phase, Fowler indicated that Boras may have a hard time selling him on a lengthier deal.
“I think you’re taking my side of the discussions I’ve had with [Green, Preller and Stein],” Fowler replied. “They feel that this guy is so focused, he has all of the exercise stuff, all of the elements in place to take care of himself like few players have. He would be 28 in the first year, obviously, 34 would be his last year if it’s seven, but I can’t really get into it more than that. But I think we were pretty creative in the way we put a contract proposal together. We like it. I don’t know if Mr. Boras likes it, but that’s probably another story.”
While Fowler cites his own baseball operations leaders as the point men on the talks with Hosmer, he’s clearly had direct contact with the player and agent — perhaps an uncommon amount of direct contact, given his position.
Maybe this is nothing too out of the ordinary. Owners, of course, are ultimately the decision-makers. On the other hand, maybe Boras — the vast majority of his free-agent clients unsigned — now feels compelled to make an appeal directly to ownership, calling an end-around against the San Diego front office. After all, we know Dave Cameron is leading the analytics charge in San Diego, and he designated Hosmer as his No. 1 free-agent landmine of the winter. Very few analytically minded people would sign off on a seven-year deal for Hosmer.
The greater question might be: how long is this a viable tactic for an agent?
At some point, I suspect, front-office executives will advise their bosses (club owners) — or already have — about this page from the agent playbook and note how it worked out with Fielder, Pujols, and Wieters. But the play might still be working for now, and agents certainly would have a motivation to employ it with so many players still looking for work with less than a month before camps open.
With logic and reason winning out thus far this offseason, it might be time to appeal to emotion and the owner’s suite.