The Boras Factor (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday June 6, 2007 3:33PM; Updated: Wednesday June 6, 2007 7:14PM
There has been a strenuous tug of war going on for 25 years, ever since Boras got into the amateur advising business with Stillwell and Belcher as clients. Boras' strategies and tactics helped drive the top bonuses from $100,000 for Shawon Dunston in 1982 (oddly enough, the same figure Rick Monday received 16 years earlier) to $2 million or more by the late '90s. However, Boras has become too successful at winning the game for his own good, at least for MLB's tastes.
Management began fighting back, and first-round bonuses dropped 20 percent from 2001 to '02 and have leveled off since. The decrease from a record $2.63 million average first-round bonus in 2001 can be attributed in part to that being an extraordinary year, with Minnesota's No. 1 pick, Joe Mauer, being a rare talent (or "decade player" in Boras parlance) and Mark Prior and Teixeira breaking into eight figures. But the five-year stabilization is even more upsetting to Boras since major league revenues have doubled in that six-year period, from $3 billion to $6 billion. "Franchise values are up, revenues are up and major league salaries are up," Boras says. He thinks it's only logical that signing bonuses should be up, too.
Boras contends that the biggest reason why bonuses have stayed flat for five years -- the average first-round bonus in 2006 was $2.10 million, the same as in '02 -- is not because of MLB's efforts, the slotting process or any league strategy. Instead he claims that uncaring advisers, hired by corporations, more salesperson than representative, are snapping up players for their own financial benefit and without regard to what's right for the players' families, many of whom are in the dark about what goes on behind the scenes and almost all of whom are new to the process.
Boras believes that certain scouts and rogue agents are in cahoots, and that these scouts refer agents to families knowing full well that these particular agents will get their teams below-market deals. "It's a fraud on the player and his family," Boras says. "They think they're getting representation, and they're not ... It's all about getting a client rather than the player being represented."
If anything, though, chances are that signing bonuses will decline this year, maybe precipitously -- despite a strong amateur class, particularly at the high school level. It seems that MLB isn't satisfied with a leveling off of bonuses, and MLB negotiators won two big concessions from union negotiators, who agreed to those in exchange for a significant bump in the major-league minimum (to $380,000 this year, and higher next year), plus enhanced rules for Type B major-league free agents.
One new rule governing Thursday's amateur draft provides teams failing to sign their top draft picks an additional pick in the same position the following year, severely lessening the penalty for failing to sign the pick. Additionally, there is a new Aug. 15 deadline to sign draft picks, as opposed to the nearly year-long deadline in place up to now, which, in the words of MLB people, prevents agents from "stringing it out." This, as Boras puts it, will keep the player from having "the last bite" in negotiations. Boras' "last bite" often means millions.
Even so, MLB is bracing for Boras to circumvent the process. 'He'll find a way," laments one GM. Boras has seemed genuinely distressed by the new rules but asserts that it wouldn't affect the absolute best players, whose talent, he says, will always ultimately rule the day. "I'm charged with representing young men of 17 to 21 who have no right, so I get a little bit impassioned about it," Boras says. "The entry systems in all other leagues are collectively bargained. Without benefit of collective bargaining, the only thing these kids have is their own talent.''
Boras' current stable
Fortunately for Boras, he has a stable full of standouts this year. He calls right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello from Seton Hall Prep (N.J.) "the best high school pitcher since Josh Beckett, third baseman/first baseman Mike Moustakas from Chatsworth (Calif.) High "the best power-hitting infield prospect since A-Rod," right-handed pitcher Andrew Brackman from North Carolina State "the college pitcher with the highest ceiling" and boasts that Georgia Tech switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters is "way ahead of where Varitek was defensively at signing, with more power."
Boras also has hard-throwing Matt Harvey from Fitch High (Groton, Conn.), power-hitting first baseman Matt LaPorta from the University of Florida, University of Georgia closer Josh Fields, Texas Christian right-hander Jake Arrieta and a pair of speedy outfielders, Julio Borbon from the University of Tennessee and Kantrail Davis from Theodore (Ala.) High.
One major-league scouting director doesn't disagree with Boras on his top three, saying that Porcello, Moustakas and Brackman are special players and ranking Wieters just below that level, adding that he's on the cusp of being major-league ready. But that scouting director also says that Boras sometimes overrates the next-tier players: "The other guys are good.... But are they special?"
A few teams express reticence to draft Boras' biggest clients for fear of high demands. However, as the scouting director says, "It's hard to stay away from his players completely." To do so, particularly this year when Boras has 10 who could go in the first three rounds, would make a team look very dollar-conscious.
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