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Recession? Not in Scott Boras' world
The postseason just ended. The offseason is in its infancy.
Scott Boras is in midseason form.
I reached baseball’s preeminent agent by telephone Sunday at his office in Newport Beach, Calif. The annual general managers’ meetings are set to begin Wednesday outside Palm Springs — a virtual home game for Boras. He will be there, associates and glossy binders by his side, to help convince GMs that one client or another is the key to reaching the playoffs in 2013.
At some point during the week, he will probably hold court with the media to discuss all things baseball — an exposition that tends to be equal parts informative and entertaining. When he speaks, the industry listens. That includes the owners who pretend they don’t.
This winter’s market doesn’t have much superstar cachet at the top, because coveted talents like Cole Hamels and Matt Cain re-upped during the season. Teams could be wary of nine-figure contracts, because of how investments in Alex Rodriguez, Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells (among others) have soured.
But if team executives make those points to Boras this week, as I did Sunday, he is ready with a response.
“The good news for them is that every team is going to have another $25 million in revenue through the national TV packages,” Boras said, in reference to the contracts that will increase to roughly $50 million per annum, per team, beginning in 2014. “They’re going to be making between $110 million and $120 million (including other revenue streams) before they sell a ticket. It’s a different financial model. Every team can afford to keep a franchise player now.
“For the same product, major-league teams just got $25 million more. So, for players, the same performance should get you grandly more. The quid pro quo has to continue: If revenues go up, player salaries go up.
“This is recognition for the value of performance. All of this is a byproduct of performance. Cement and grass doesn’t sell. Performance sells.”
In other words: No, he won’t be accepting that discounted offer for Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse, Rafael Soriano — the headliners on this year’s free agent roster of the Boras A.C. They aren’t future Hall of Famers, but Boras will see to it that they are compensated as if they were.
Speaking of Soriano, Boras believes the New York Yankees should try to re-sign him even after he opted out of his 2013 contract in order to enter free agency. Soriano became the team’s closer in May after the iconic Mariano Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury. Rivera, who turns 43 this month, has told the Yankees he wants to return next year.
Implicit in Soriano’s decision to forgo the $14 million guarantee is the belief that he can do better on the open market — over multiple years — after saving 42 games with a 2.26 ERA. Rivera earned $15 million this year and pitched in nine games. Can the richest team in baseball continue to afford two relievers in that rarefied tax bracket, even as team officials have vowed a payroll reduction in coming years?
Boras seems to think so.
“If the Yankees didn’t sign Soriano, they wouldn’t have won the AL East,” Boras said flatly. “This is the value of depth. If the Yankees signed Soriano (after the 2010 season) when Rivera was 40 and healthy, why wouldn’t you sign Soriano when Rivera is 42 and coming off knee surgery?
“The issue for the Yankees is winning. The reason they signed Soriano two years ago is that they are about winning and depth. It proved true. When Mariano Rivera went down, Soriano became one of the top two or three closers in the game.
“When you know Mariano Rivera will be there for only one more year — at his age, coming off an injury — you can’t expect him to be what he was two years ago. There is a need there. You want to secure a great talent for future years. Soriano has proven he can be effective in New York. The team knows more about him. His value has gone higher.”
Longtime Hot Stove observers recall that Yankees club president Randy Levine — over an objection from general manager Brian Cashman — negotiated Soriano’s three-year, $35 million contract with Boras two offseasons ago. So there could be some internal politics at work in how seriously the Yankees pursue Soriano. But Boras has a point: If Rivera suddenly looks his age and Soriano isn’t around to stabilize the bullpen, what will the frustrated fan base say? (David Robertson, a potential option to close, went 2-for-4 in ninth-inning save chances this year.)
For obvious reasons, Boras would rather the Yankees not follow through on plans to bring their payroll beneath the luxury tax threshold of $189 million by 2014. They have paid at the top luxury tax rate of 40 percent for a number of years. Boras calls this the “goliath tax” and believes the Yankees should be willing to pay such a “nominal” fee for generating three times the revenue as other teams.
“That is a reward,” he said. “Are you going to put your brand at risk, when your brand is having more superstars than anyone else? Superstars are good for business. Superstars make money for franchises and their television networks.”
Of course, no conversation with Boras is complete — even in November — without some mention of Stephen Strasburg. When asked about the Washington Nationals’ shut-down ace, Boras said optimistically, “He’s going to have six months now to prepare for next season, when you consider that he didn’t pitch in September and October. He’s going to be a No. 1 who’s going to throw a couple hundred innings.”
That’s right. A couple hundred. As in, Boras is under the impression that the Nationals will allow Strasburg to make a run for the thoroughbred standard of 200 innings in 2013. And given the theories about Boras’ influence in the decision to idle Strasburg after 159-1/3 innings following elbow surgery, we can probably take that as gospel.
Boras, for his part, maintains that he wasn’t a shadowy figure in Washington’s corridors of power, prioritizing Strasburg’s earning potential — wait, I mean long-term well-being — over the pursuit of the franchise’s first world championship.
“Mike Rizzo and I talk, like I talk with every other team,” Boras said of the Washington GM. “I gave Mike all kinds of information. The Washington front office had all kinds of information already. They talked to doctors. All of us were on the same page since February. [Fellow Nationals starter Jordan] Zimmermann had success with the same program, so there wasn’t much debate.
“In the end, I got a message from Mike that said, ‘We’re doing this on this date. We’re going to talk with Stras tomorrow.’ He followed the plan we talked about in February. After that, there was no conversation between Mike and I about changing the plan. They run their own teams. I make it a point in my practice: I’m an information provider, not a decision maker.”
Ain’t it the truth? Boras will meet with most (if not all) of the 30 general managers in baseball this week, dispensing ample information about his free agents. Eventually, one will arrive at the decision that he needs Soriano . . . or Bourn . . . or Lohse . . . or Jose Valverde . . . or Ryan Madson . . . or Stephen Drew. In the end, the Scott Boras Corporation’s free agents will sign for an aggregate of $200 million, give or take.
Performance sells. Boras said so earlier. That’s true, of course, but only when accompanied by the proper marketing pitch. At this time of year, the right-hander from Newport can be counted on to bring his best fastball.
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