“…give the devil his due.”
Charlie Daniels Band, Devil Went Down to Georgia
It’s safe to say country-rocker Charlie Daniels wasn’t referring to Scott Boras when he wrote and released Devil Went Down to Georgia in 1979. But many MLB executives who have dealt with Boras have made less flattering comments about him and the manner in which he represents players.
In fairness, Boras isn’t a devil at all, but rather an exhaustively prepared and extremely self-confident agent who represents the interests of his clients above all else. To his large stable of wealthy players, Boras is more angel than devil. To this observer, Boras is a magician without peer; David Copperfield is a mere amateur in comparison.
Boras’ latest trick was extracting $35 million from the Yankees for free agent reliever Rafael Soriano. The newest Yankee is expected to pitch the eighth inning ahead of Mariano Rivera for the next two years and then inherit the closer’s role when Rivera’s contract expires. Soriano’s contract represents the third highest average salary ever bestowed on a relief pitcher. Despite their claim to having a budget, the Yankees operate similar to the federal government: When they need money, they fire up the printing press.
Soriano was a Type A free agent, which means in addition to the dollars, the Yankees also forfeited their first round draft pick to his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays. When asked about the Yankees’ interest in signing Soriano, team GM Brian Cashman was adamant that he valued the draft pick too highly to relinquish it for the relief pitcher. Either Cashman was being disingenuous, which is doubtful given his reputation, or the Soriano deal provides a window into the Scott Boras playbook: If you can’t get what you want from the GM, deal directly with the owner.
None of the other 29 teams, including the Rays, had the slightest interest in Soriano at anything approaching the figures in his new contract. The best contracts for relievers in this year’s free agent market were $6 million per year for two years or $16.5 million for three years. Soriano was arguably the best of the lot, but twice as good is difficult to fathom. And yet somehow, some way, Boras was able to convince Yankees’ ownership to negotiate against themselves, ala the Alex Rodriguez negotiations of three years ago. To top off his magic act, Boras convinced the Yankees to agree to an opt-out clause after each of the first two years of the deal, which means if Soriano has an outstanding year, he can become a free agent and negotiate an even higher salary.
This is just the latest episode in the continuing saga of the all-time best agent in the world making a mockery of the concept of fiscal responsibility by baseball owners. Early on, Boras set this year’s free agent market for everyday players by convincing the Washington Nationals to shell out $126 million for Jayson Werth’s services over the next seven years. He followed that up by extracting a five-year, $80 million guarantee for Adrian Beltre from the suddenly flush Texas Rangers, a deal that could morph into a sixth year at $16 million.
Some of Boras’ greatest triumphs don’t result in obtaining the most dollars or the longest contracts for his free agent clients. Last year, Boras and Beltre opted for a one-year, $10 million deal with the Red Sox instead of taking more money and years from Oakland. The intent was for Beltre to rebuild his value in anticipation of this year’s free agent market. We now know how that turned out.
Another Boras client, Carlos Gonzalez, recently signed a seven-year, $80 million extension with Colorado, even though the outfielder had only two years of MLB service time and couldn’t become a free agent for another four years. Magician indeed.
Boras isn’t done for this year. He’s still looking for a home for such notable clients as Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones. The market isn’t exactly robust for aging DH’s and fourth outfielders, but you can count on each of them landing a better deal than they would if they were represented by anyone other than Scott Boras.
All of which results in one inescapable conclusion: Give the man his due. Devil or angel, Boras has no peer.
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. He looks forward to your comments and can be contracted, here.
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