The Boras Effect (cont.)
MLB officials still point to the unpredictability of first-rounders as reasons not to go crazy on bonuses. But Boras often wonders why increases in amateur bonuses haven't kept pace with revenues approaching $7 billion and major league salaries skyrocketing. "Given the risk associated with amateur draft choices, I think it would be extremely unlikely if the bonuses grew at the same rate as revenues and player salaries,'' responds MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred. "So few of these players actually pan out.''
But Boras agrees that while it's true that many mid- to lower-tier first round talents may be flawed (generally keeping their bonuses to low seven-figure totals), he says that the identifiably special players almost always make it. "It's good business to pay the right players,'' Boras says. "The $4 million players have all turned out to be excellent players. The history is rather extraordinary.
"We only attach that figure to players who have known major league tools, who have known major league ability, and the risk assessment is well below those of the customary first-round pick because of his skill and maturity.''
Looking at his own players, Boras has a point. It's true that not one of 14 Boras draftees to hit that magic $4-million mark could rightly be judged a failure, although players such as Brackman, Luke Hochevar, Mike Pelfrey, Porcello and Wieters remain unproven. The others would have to be considered bargains.
That category would include Jered Weaver, Teixeira, Xavier Nady, J.D. Drew (the last bargain contract he ever got, incidentally), Jeremy Guthrie (though he worked out for the Orioles after not making it as an Indian) and Stephen Drew. There's no way teams can find talent like that on the major league free-agent market for $4 million.
Boras sees a 2008 draft with "length,'' meaning a decent number of players -- he says about 20 -- who are as close to sure things as there can be. But he sees maybe only four or five "premium'' players, the kind to command $4 million bonuses. Those would be Alvarez, Hosmer, Beckham, Posey and perhaps Cole.
History shows that teams that shy away from these type of players are usually making a mistake. However, it is the bulk of the first-rounders, the ones who get lower seven-figure deals, where the draft seems to turn into a crap shoot. Boras himself has coaxed lower seven-figure bonuses for many high school and college players that didn't make it, helping to keep him the most controversial man of the draft.
Three teams do clearly buy into the value of the top amateur players -- the Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees -- while a handful more have shown an occasional willingness to spend big for amateur talent, teams like the Indians and Diamondbacks, and at least lately, the Rays, Royals, Orioles and Nationals. Yet, several others have listened closely to Coonelly and stuck with the slots. One GM said that those teams are simply "drinking the Kool-aid'' and hurting themselves.
The Mets spent $5 million for Pelfrey but otherwise remain the one mega-market team to stubbornly adhere to MLB's slotting system, to the point where it has cost them. One Mets official cites "loyalty to the commissioner'' as the reason for staying within the slots. "We plan on following the recommendation, but will look at it on a case-by-case basis,'' Mets GM Omar Minaya said by email.
Lower-ranking Mets officials continue to believe that the team is more likely than not to continue to stick to the slots, even if it costs them a chance to grab one of the best hard-hitting first baseman they seek (the Mets also covet a catcher). After Alvarez, University of Miami lefthanded-hitting first baseman Yonder Alonso is said by one scout to seek $8 million with the backing of his adviser Brian Peters. Other big-hitting first basemen include switch-hitting Justin Smoak of South Carolina, Dysktra and Arizona State's Brett Wallace, another lefthanded hitter.
There are said to be a couple teams that won't touch a Boras player, though no one admits to purposely avoiding his clients. The White Sox, who are anything but cheap when it comes to their major league talent, still have stuck to the slots, likely to their detriment. They have had many battles with Boras over the years, including a verbal and public war over Magglio Ordonez's knee condition and treatment, but GM Ken Williams denies that there's a no-Boras directive. "We haven't [drafted Boras players lately], but that doesn't mean it won't ever happen,'' Williams says. "There's a difference of opinion in the values of particular players.''
"They have taken them, they just haven't signed them,'' Boras says of the White Sox. Weaver, Bobby Hill and Bobby Seay were three such players several years ago.
The idea that some teams shy away from Boras doesn't seem to faze him, anyway. Boras says, "That has never been a reality. There's always someone to take the player.''
In recent drafts the Yankees have become the most frequent Boras draft partner, leading to criticism from competitors. Those critics say the Yankees are acting like a draft bully. "Whoever's [asking for the highest bonus], that's who [the Yankees] will take. You have to have a little selectivity to it,'' one competing GM says.
But Yankees GM Brian Cashman says, "In our history we've been very aggressive and we've been very conservative ... Bottom line, we're drafting the player, not the agent. If Scott represents the best available talent, that's not going to affect our evaluation. As long as signability meets evaluation, it's full steam ahead.''
Cashman points out, "Each organization has different constraints.''
But another GM implied that the Yankees have none. "There are later rounds where everyone's paying 70 grand and the Yankees give a kid half a million,'' that GM says.
Now, folks are speculating that the Pirates may venture into Boras territory and join the ranks of the big draft spenders. Boras read with interest Pirates GM Neal Huntington recently praising him in the Pittsburgh press. "I like the irony,'' Boras says. Interested onlookers include MLB people who saw Coonelly so enthusiastically endorse the slot system.
Manfred, who assists Dan Halem in taking up Coonelly's old role, is one of many wondering what Coonelly will do. Manfred, who says one of the main objectives of the slotting system is to aid the weaker teams to get the better players by preventing top players from dropping to those who will pay. Regarding the Pirates, Manfred says, "My order of preference is first, Pittsburgh get the best player it can and signs him to slot, and second to get the best player, and if it happens to be out of slot, that's OK.''
Coonelly sounds like he might go for the gusto. "I encouraged all clubs to take the player they want to take,'' he says. "If we select Alvarez, we'll begin negotiations with [Boras].''
If he does do that, it will definitely be interesting.