Crashing the party
Boras turned baseball's amateur draft into a high-stakes game
Posted: Friday June 4, 2004 1:24PM; Updated: Friday June 4, 2004 1:24PM
Old guard baseball owners cringe at the mere mention of ex-union boss Marvin Miller. Well, the Lords of the Realm have similar antipathy for Scott Boras, too, especially when the amateur draft rolls around every June.
Some have dubbed Boras "baseball's most hated man.'' Forget that he has negotiated mega-million dollar deals for Alex Rodriguez and a galaxy of major league stars. What bugs baseball's bean counters most is the way Boras has used holdouts and stints in semipro ball to wreack havoc with the draft system and engineer a huge spike in signing bonuses.
As the amateur draft begins Monday, Boras again will be a major player, serving as the "advisor'' to a handful of top draftees, including Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew and Long Beach State right-hander Jered Weaver -- both of whom have been mentioned as the possible No. 1 overall pick by San Diego. Clubs already know they'll have to play hardball if they draft either, with Boras boldly suggesting the 6-foot-7 Weaver is one of those rare, ready-for-the-majors draftees who should be treated as a free-agent.
Boras' representation often has prompted teams to steer clear of his clients in the draft. It will be interesting to see if that is the case again with Drew and Weaver.
"It is a factor because of what it is going to take [to sign a draft pick], and obviously the track record of his clients being willing to sit out,'' said Kansas City Royals general manager Allard Baird.
Whether they appreciate his tactics, most baseball executives respect that Boras does his homework and routinely aligns himself with top players. Boras typically has no more than a handful of players in a draft. And as for impact, his firm claims that from 1983-98 all 29 of the college players represented made it to the majors as well as 19 of 24 clients drafted out of high school.
Scott Chiamparino, a top Boras assistant, rattles off a string of firsts and mind-numbing dollar figures: more than 50 first-round picks; the first $1 million player in the draft [Ben McDonald]; more than $100 million in draft contracts.
The firm's attention to detail hasn't gone unnoticed by the Commissioner's office. Boras has worked out a remedy with baseball for paragraph 17-B of the standard minor-league player contract for his clients -- which is prime evidence of why young athletes need a trained hand. The fine print in the clause permits clubs to terminate the contract within 90 days -- and retrieve their signing bonus in full -- as a result of a defect uncovered in physical, psychiatric, psychological and/or dental examination.
"Yeah, he's done good for the players,'' an American League club official said. "If I were a player I'd get him.''
So why is Boras considered such a thorn in baseball's side? Because he ruined a good thing. By instituting the amateur draft in 1965, the owners kept themselves from bidding up the value of top prospects. Draft picks had no representation from the union and a scant few had an agent/advisor until Boras entered the picture in the early 1980s.
Rick Reichart landed a $205,000 signing bonus from the California Angels in 1964, the last year before the draft. Yet it remained the fattest contract until the Mets signed Darryl Strawberry for $210,000 in 1980.
Not long after, Boras came along jabbing at the system and advising players to reject deals. When the Mariners refused to meet catcher Jason Varitek's asking price in 1994, the first-round pick played with the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League until the Mariners came around with a better offer. In 1997, Boras told first-round pick J.D. Drew to reject a $3 million offer from the Phillies. After a year in semi-pro ball, Drew re-entered the draft and bagged an $8 million deal from the Cardinals.
"People say what we're doing is holding out when in reality the teams are trying to crush the draft market because they don't want to pay fair market value,'' Boras argues.
It's this in-your-face attitude coupled with innovative maneuvering that burns scouts and makes Boras a hated name in some circles, especially when you consider the average signing bonus for last year's first-round picks topped $1.75 million.
"You're going to hear everything people write, saying you're going to drop in the draft and this and that,'' said J.D. Drew, recalling his controversial holdout. "You hear, 'Hey, this guy is this and that.' But Scott understands that he's going to have to be the bad guy sometimes, and he takes a lot of the heat.''
Boras claims the bad-mouthing by clubs, specifically local scouts, is actionable and, at its height in the mid-1990s, cost his firm clients.
"We could file a lawsuit against major league teams,'' Boras contends. "Every year these local scouts come in and say, 'This Boras is a bad guy. He's money hungry.' The traditional scout wants the guy to sign right away, get him going.''
Until the kid signs, Boras is nothing more than an advisor, holding the family's hand as it negotiates with the club. The tactic is used to circumvent an NCAA rule that costs an athlete his eligibility for signing with an agent, which is an important distinction since most draftees are either high school seniors or college juniors.
Boras says teenage prospects shouldn't even be messing with pro ball unless they're A-Rod. Or unless clubs are willing to guarantee the kid's future.
"I don't think high school players should be drafted unless clubs are required to pay the guys over $5 million,'' said Boras, without a hint of laughter. "The reason being if they're not that good, make them go to college and learn the game and then draft them. But if you draft a high school player you have to guarantee his future. And if the player is not that good the team won't take the risk. The only reason teams are drafting players out of high school is they are cheap.''
Only not as cheap as they used to be.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.