The Changing World of Scott Boras

If you follow baseball or even sports in general, then you have likely heard of Scott Boras. Boras is the “super agent” in Major League Baseball, if there is such a thing. For you football fans, he’s the Leigh Steinberg of baseball. Boras has been in the forefront of MLB negotiations for a very long time, and the subject of many headlines with ground breaking contracts he’s been able to negotiate over the years. He’s gotten players what they deserved in a lot of cases, and more than they deserved in some cases. Boras has been a master of deciphering market value for “his guys” and also the master of getting teams into bidding wars with each other. Boras has also, according to several reports, been able to get a General Manager into a bidding war with himself, by floating misinformation. Of course this is all speculation, but Mr. Boras has gotten results over the years, and that cannot be denied.
Things for Boras have changed over the past few years however. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has changed the way GM’s look at free agency, and the players themselves are now more cognizant of staying in a town and on a team where they are happy, and not going after the monster deal. While Boras is still a very big fish in a small pond, as far as agents go, the pond is growing, and Boras is on a diet.

Boras was a minor league player for four year in the Cardinals and Cubs organizations, before giving up the game and returning to obtain a law degree from the University of the Pacific in 1980. Boras started out as a pharmaceutical defense lawyer in Chicago, but later turned to representing baseball players. His first two clients were former high school teammate Mike Fischlin and former minor league teammate Bill Caudill. In 1983, Boras negotiated a $7.5 million deal for Caudill, one of the largest in history at the time and left the law firm to become an agent full time. We all know what he has done since then with the contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Bryce Harper and Prince Fielder to name a few. If you want a look at his more high profile negotiations, you can find them here.

In the past couple of years, things on the free agency front in baseball have begun to shift slightly. There is a new CBA in place that has placed an even higher value on 1st round draft picks than in the past. Before this new CBA, MLB used the “Type A” and “Type B” system for compensating teams that lost players due to free agency, which meant the team would get additional picks in the draft for losing said player. (This is an abridged version). Now that type A and B system has been scrapped. So here is an example of how this works, using Josh Hamilton as the example:

  1. The Rangers offer Hamilton a one year contract worth $13.3 million. This offer is a qualifying offer since it is at or above the average salary of the top 125 players in MLB.

  2. Hamilton turns down the offer and tests the free agent market.

  3. The Angels signed Hamilton and now are required to forfeit their 1st round draft pick to Texas.

I know it’s a bit confusing if you are not familiar but you can go here for a quick reference guide on the subject.

How does this affect Scott Boras you ask? Teams, like the Rangers, are not so quick to pull the trigger on qualified free agents anymore. There is so much more involved when you are now sacrificing a draft pick to sign free agents. With the rising cost of player contracts, teams are much more likely to try to draft well and sign those players before they hit free agency if the player works out. The Rays have used this model with signing Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, and the Rangers have also been active by signing Elvis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison before they all hit free agency. This is the new market efficiency, if you will. What this does, is takes some leverage away from the agents, because now fewer teams will be in the market of qualified free agents of advancing age. They are going to try to sign their players, try to use the draft pick wisely and not take on a huge contract of a 30+ year old player. Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse were victims of the new CBA this offseason with teams passing because of the high price tag and draft pick forfeiture (both Boras clients I might add). Both players eventually signed with teams for or near their asking price, but there will be a time in the very near future, where teams….and all teams will pass on a veteran player because of the draft pick. (The player can eventually be signed in the summer without the draft pick being forfeited) However there are certainly going to be players of extremely high caliber that will not fall into this scenario a la Prince Fielder or Pujols.

The other thing I find very interesting in the case of Scott Boras is the players themselves. In the past few years, Jered Weaver, Carlos Gonzales and more recently Elvis Andrus have all signed for below “perceived” market value. All three were happy in their current situations and found themselves taking less money to stay there, which meant taking leverage away from Boras to make his client happy. Boras works for the players, we can’t forget that and there are still going to be conversations between agents and players about “getting as much as possible”, but the three above examples are becoming more frequent. Players are finding that taking a team AND player friendly contract to stay in a great place to play has benefits, such as not being shopped because the contract is an albatross like Vernon Wells’. Back through recent history, there have been several players that have taken the big money contract and failed miserably. Mike Hampton is a perfect example of this, when he left New York to pitch at “Coors Canaveral” in Denver, and was terrible. This isn’t always the case, but as a player sometimes big money is enough and huge money doesn’t make sense.

The most fascinating thing in the world of Scott Boras is the amount of players that are leaving him and his group. In recent years, the following players have all fired Boras for a new agent:

  • Carlos Beltran
  • Robinson Cano
  • Jeremy Guthrie
  • Edwin Jackson
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Mark Teixeira

That is not a lot of players when you compare that Boras has almost 90 players under his guidance. But the above are some very high profile players, with Teixeira and Cano pulling a lot of weight in the baseball world. I’m not saying players are fed up with Boras, but something is there. You don’t just have six guys up and leave the most high profile and arguably the “best” agent in baseball in a matter of a couple of years. Are the players getting tired of the knock down drag out negotiations that Boras seems to find himself in? Are the players tired of getting dragged thru the mud in the media for being greedy? Who knows. But one thing is for sure, something has triggered this exodus from Boras. Maybe its Scott himself. Maybe he’s getting tired of representing prima donna players. Whatever the case, Boras isn’t going to go broke anytime soon.

Scott Boras is 60 years old, has millions of dollars and the landscape has changed for him as far as his leverage against teams. What will he do? Only he probably knows. I don’t know if Scott will give up the business and take his money and go home. Boras has adapted through things like this before, but it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Patrick Despain
Patrick is a member of the IBWAA and creator of Shutdown Inning. He was raised him Arlington, Texas and grew up watching games on HSE and listening to Eric Nadel and Mark Holtz on the radio. He is a long time Rangers fan and never achieved his dream of being a bat boy. He know lives in Georgia with dreams of a Texas return.

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