As MLB evolves, an inside look at how Scott Boras – baseball’s super agent – remains at top of the game

Courtesy of the NY Daily News:

The black Range Rover with the Ferrari red interior is zipping north on the California freeways toward Angel Stadium in Anaheim, roughly a 45-minute long drive depending upon the traffic situation at any one juncture.

Scott Boras is behind the wheel, sporting a dark Boras Corp. pullover, white button-down shirt and jeans. Sunshine streams through the driver’s side window, and the baseball superagent is joking how client Eric Hosmer gave him a hard time about the SUV’s red interior (not the conservative dark shade Boras originally ordered). “My clients think I’m cool now,” says Boras with a laugh.

Later in the drive, Boras lauds his father, Jim, a nearly 90-year-old dairy farmer who still works on the Elk Grove, California farm, in the northern part of the state, where Scott spent his childhood.

“My father has Popeye arms. He’s a man in a bull’s body,” says Boras. “He still feeds the cattle, loves his farm. He still hangs out with all his farmer friends.”

But the business of baseball is never far from a conversation involving Boras, and he is soon riffing about analytics, a 2018 baseball buzz word that has become part of the sport’s lexicon and what many team executives and managers tout as an integral component of the communication pipeline between the front office and dugout. Boras, however, musters an eyeroll. He and his Boras Corporation staff, he says, started poring over analytics more than two decades ago.

“Analytics are new to a lot of teams, and to new owners,” says Boras. “Analytics are about 25 years old to us. We’ve gotten to post-analytics. We’ve gotten to the idea that you do not appraise the psychology of a player. I call this the ‘prestige value.’ Look at Eric Hosmer. This guy under analytics has a value point that is nowhere near…”

Boras doesn’t finish the sentence. He then rips into how the WAR (wins above replacement) value for a player like Hosmer is downgraded through defensive analytics. But Boras points out that Hosmer, a first baseman and former Royals player, signed an eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres this offseason.

“Don’t bring me mass analytics,” barks Boras.

“This analytic cap is a false dimension in the game because everyone knows you’re not winning without a core three-four-five (hitters) in the lineup,” Boras continues. “What we’ve done, we’ve gone in and assessed without the negatives, our own algorithms for value. We don’t publish them. We don’t talk about it. The reason I don’t publish them is because I go to teams and say, ‘Look, we’re going to talk about the truth here. You have a hole. You need offense.’”

The 65-year-old baseball-only agent soon steers his Range Rover into the Angel Stadium entrance and greets an elderly parking attendant, George, with a firm handshake. “George lost his wife recently,” says Boras, his tone subdued. Boras then proceeds to his customary parking spot, a line drive’s distance from the giant Angels helmet at the stadium’s front gate. Another attendant —Boras greets him warmly, too — moves a sawhorse barrier to create an opening for Boras to navigate to his real estate. Hours later, Boras and several of his staff are stationed behind home plate for an Angels-Red Sox tilt. It’s a personal dugout of sorts, and is adjacent to Boras’ indoor personal suite. He has similar private suites at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego.

The 2018 season is still young, but already a bevy of Boras clients — pitchers Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole and outfielders Bryce Harper and J.D. Martinez — is causing jaws to drop with the statistics each player is putting up on the field. Other Boras clients, like Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, however, have sputtered out of the gates. Harvey was recently moved to the bullpen by new Mets skipper Mickey Callaway, and the right-hander has had two major surgeries since the start of the 2016 season, as well as undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013.

Still, Boras is not dismayed by Harvey’s demotion— “I realize there is an expectancy on Matt, because of his initial success and brilliance. We’re really encouraged by the idea that he is healthy after two dramatic surgeries,” Boras says. Nor is Boras concerned about the upcoming winter when both Harvey and Harper, two of Boras’ clients, will headline an elite free-agent class. The free agency period this past offseason moved at a glacial pace, and the stagnant market prompted many print media members and talk show hosts to bellow that Boras and his deal-making ways — securing long-term contracts and big bucks for his players

— would become obsolete. But it’s hard to believe the man who has represented such big names as Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams, Carlos Beltran and Keith Hernandez, won’t be fending off baseball team suitors once the 2018 postseason ends. Expect Boras to be getting plenty of calls for an elite talent like Harper, much the same way Boras has ruled the player representation business for more than three decades.

And the Boras naysayers?

“We know that we have record revenues (in baseball). We’re going to be up to $12 billion this year,” says Boras. “What I care about most is that when you invite everyone to supper, the only time it’s the last supper is when there is no food. We have an abundance of revenues. When we all come to dinner, the issue is the distribution of our success. Right now, we have record success.”

Dan Halem, Major League Baseball’s deputy commissioner and chief legal officer, took a sarcastic tone in February when he directed criticism at Boras through FanRag Sports.

“If Mr. Boras spent as much time working on getting his players signed as he does issuing inflammatory and unsubstantiated statements to the press, perhaps the events of this offseason would be different,” Halem told FanRag Sports.

Halem’s swipe came after Boras had told FanRag that he found it “interesting” that MLB had publicly stated “some of the best free agents sitting unsigned” in February had received “substantial offers, some in nine figures.”

“I did hear statements from the commissioner’s office, which I called to their attention. They said, ‘We know of offers made to free agents of nine figures,’” says Boras now. “I said, ‘How can you know that unless you have an information pool that you know from prior collusive judgment?’ And after Halem (said) derogatory things about me personally, which I did not return, I just said, ‘I want to stick to the facts of what you said. You said you had this evidence. You did not qualify that evidence saying that it came from anyone other than information that you collected.’ My point was, ‘What sense do you parrot press reports as fact coming from the commissioner’s office? How often do you do that?’”

The verbal tussle between baseball and one of its biggest power players ended there, but months later, Boras says in his mind, there were other contributing factors to the 2017 freeze frame in baseball’s free agency market. Boras says the luxury tax/revenue sharing rules in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) — negotiated between MLB and the Players Association — have negatively impacted competitiveness among major-league teams.

“We go back and look at the history of the luxury tax in the early 2000s. It was designed so there wasn’t a runaway train. The Yankees were winning all those World Championships,” says Boras, referring to the Joe Torre-managed Yankee teams that won four World Series in five years (1996-2000). “(Owners) said, ‘Whoa, we don’t want one team with all these revenues and the rest of the teams being 100 percent behind in revenues. We don’t want that team absorbing all these World Championships. We’ll put this (language) in to where the teams at the bottom, if they spend this much, (bigger market teams) are going to have to give something to the bottom teams in revenues to allow them to sign free agents, too.’

“Now that morphed into something very different than what was intended by the (CBA language),” Boras continues. “And that difference is, as revenues tripled, quadrupled from that time, (smaller market teams) now spend less. The idea was that you were going to spend to get better. The purpose of revenue sharing was competitiveness — all the teams, top to bottom, have a competitiveness in the league. The intent was not a barrier to spending unilaterally, to decrease competitiveness, to decrease demand for performance.”

One league source agrees, and says that the players’ union “messed up” when the two sides negotiated the revenue sharing terms. The current payroll threshold this season is $197 million, and if teams exceed that limit, they are penalized. The threshold increases to $206 million in 2019.

“The penalties associated with going over the luxury tax are so onerous,” says the league source. “Tax rates have gone way up, teams lose draft picks and international slot money, and if you are a revenue-sharing payer, you are entitled to refunds. But you lose those refunds if you are over the threshold. One solution might be a hard salary cap, but the union didn’t get that. The competitive balance is worse than ever.”

Boras says you need look no further than the Derek Jeter-owned Miami Marlins to understand the discrepancy in competitiveness, and also how a fanbase can sour on a club quickly when the team owners provide, in Boras’ words, “a Triple-A club” product for the paying customers.

Jeter and businessman Bruce Sherman led a group that bought the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria for a reported $1.2 billion last fall. Jeter, the club’s chief executive officer, immediately jettisoned four of the team’s stars, including slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who was traded to the Yankees. Jeter also traded outfielders Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna (a Boras client) and infielder Dee Gordon.

“We’re seeing the attendance in Miami drop to six or seven thousand. And why wouldn’t it? (Fans) don’t want to see a Triple-A club. When you are taking four All-Star players and removing them, you have damaged the integrity of the game,” says Boras. “And you’ve done that with the idea that you’re going to get better later?”

Boras excuses himself to take a call from client and reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve, the diminutive Astros second baseman who won a World Series ring last year. When Boras finishes the call, he zeroes back in on Jeter and the Marlins, likening the firesale to a poorly-run hospital.

Excuse me, we want our hospital to be good so what we’re going to do is we’re not going to treat patients for five years,” says Boras. “We’re going to let them die. And then we’re going to open our doors and say, ‘We’re about the health of you.’ That’s no different than what they’re doing to the fans. The hospital has closed its doors. There are people outside not being treated, because they sent all the doctors away. The reason they go there is because the doctors are there. People are going to stop going to that hospital because there are no doctors. That’s the analogy that fits for me.”

Boras adds that by putting four elite players on the market already saturated by numerous free agents, the Marlins further diluted the market, as did teams like Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh when they similarly unloaded elite players — Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole — in trades.

“The right of free agency is diluted when you have this, when non-competitive cancers take over,” says Boras. “They are doubling the number of free agents in the market.”

Players are under control of a major-league team for six years before they can become a free agent, but Boras asks what good is it for a player to work hard for that length of time, only to get sideswiped by elements of the CBA?

“Why would you give away the six years if you know when you’re getting there that it’s being artificially diluted by all these other elements of the CBA? It’s created a lack of trust, a dynamic that I think is going to (negatively) serve the stability of the industry,” says Boras.

***

The Boras Corp. offices, which have been likened to the Death Star by some media members, are tucked into one corner of a business district in tony Newport Beach, and the first thing visitors encounter when they approach the modern concrete, steel and glass building is a long corridor with a massive “Boras Corporation” logo at the end. An enormous square door, something you might find in a “Harry Potter” movie or a “Game of Thrones” episode, separates visitors from the inside. No doorknob. Just a tiny button and speaker.

In the main lobby of the 23,000-square foot, split-level space, there is an equally sizeable, rectangular glass case filled with baseballs, all signed by Boras clients. There’s an abstract piece of art hanging from the ceiling, comprised of baseball bats; a kitchen with a full-time chef; a gym in the basement; life-size posters featuring current Boras clients like Harper, Harvey, Kris Bryant, Stephen Strasburg and Michael Conforto; and sleek offices and cubicles on both floors.

Jeff Musselman, a former major-league pitcher with the Mets and Blue Jays, is a Boras Corp. vice president who came to work for Boras, his former agent, after Musselman’s playing career ended. In his corner office, Musselman has a huge flat-screen TV affixed to the front wall. There are three different MLB games on at the moment — all displayed on smaller split screens — and a fourth square on the screen shows statistics of all Boras clients, some of whom are playing in the live games. The stats are constantly updated.

Any Boras Corp. employee has access to the player data through special computer and mobile apps, and the databases where all of the client information is stored are located in the building’s basement. If a fire were ever to break out in the database room, instead of sprinklers being activated, the fire safety system has a mechanism that removes all oxygen from the room immediately, thereby giving the flames no way to breathe.

Boras, a father of three (a daughter and two sons), played college baseball at the University of the Pacific, but he spent his professional career in the Cardinals’ and Cubs’ farm system before knee issues ended his playing career. That player experience forever stuck with the northern California kid, however, and to this day, Boras prides himself on being able to identify with a player’s every need.

“The greatest thing about the job, and the most difficult thing is that it’s very personal. You’re getting the player’s worst problem,” says Boras, whose son Shane also works for his dad’s sports agency. “When you’re in this job, you know his worst problem in his career is what you’re going to be the greatest benefit to him for — it might be his lack of confidence; it might be his inability to manage his personal life; it might be the aspect of the fear of failure; it might be the inability to deal with success. The worst problem a player has, is what you have to be available to address.”

Harvey has had myriad health problems ever since 2013, when he blazed onto the baseball scene, only to have Tommy John surgery later that year. Boras still has some pointed feelings about the way the Mets handled Harvey in 2015, when he had returned from Tommy John surgery and the team made a surprising World Series run. Harvey was the starting pitcher in Game 5 of the Fall Classic, when the Royals clinched the title, and the righty talked then manager Terry Collins into allowing Harvey to pitch the ninth inning with the Mets leading. The Royals eventually tied the game and went on to win the championship.

“Matt Harvey put his career on the line so the New York Mets could get to the World Series,” says Boras. “He knew he was over those innings capacities (earlier in the regular season). He knew that there were risks involved. His teammates, the game, the fans, everyone said, ‘You’ve got to go pitch.’ I understand why every player would.

“He gave it all. As expected, there were not one, but two surgeries to follow,” Boras continues, referring to the 2016 procedure to address thoracic outlet syndrome, and 2017 shoulder surgery. “I can’t link them directly, but all I know is that two surgeries followed. And the pitcher was perfectly healthy before (the 2015) season. I’m really happy now that we’re starting to see the ball come out of his hand. The command of the four pitches is really important to Matt and what he does. We’re starting to see signs of the consistency of it. I’m pretty excited that he has a chance to get back to being Matt Harvey again.”

Steve Odgers, a former decathlete who competed in the 1988 Olympic Trials, is the director of the Boras Sports Training Institute (BSTI), and trains many of the Boras clients year-round. The main BSTI facilities are located on the Soka University campus, a small, private liberal arts school in Aliso Viejo, a short drive from Newport Beach.

An outdoor track, Olympic-size pool and weight room are some of the amenities, but Odgers says each Boras client has a specific training regimen that is tailored to that player’s strengths and needs. The players can access that regimen anywhere in the world through a special app they can put on their phone or in a computer hard drive.

“The challenge for me — Yogi Berra said you can see a lot by watching. I love seeing the game. It’s challenging sometimes to see enough of the games. As many metrics as there are around the game, you have to see players play,” says Odgers, who was the White Sox director of conditioning from 1990 to 2003. “Playing 162 games in 180 days is as demanding a schedule as there is in professional sports. You use data and different metrics to support what you’re seeing. To put together successful seasons, you have to marry the offseason and the in-season program. I want to see a player have a good annual plan of training so that the club has good information about what they’re doing in the offseason, and we have good information about what they are doing in-season, their regimen, what their approach is. There’s a shared relationship in communicating information.”

On one screen in the BSTI weight room, the in-season regimen for Boras clients Greg Holland (St. Louis) and Mike Moustakas (Kansas City) are displayed while Odgers checks on the facilities. Another video Odgers reviews shows him working out Bryce Harper and Gerrit Cole before spring training. Boras clients who pass through Los Angeles, San Diego or Anaheim, or who play for any of those three teams, sometimes stop by the Soka campus to get in a workout during the regular season. Odgers says proper nutrition and psychological training are integral to a player’s development, too.

Although a league source says that no team will pay a player like Harper a $400 million contract — which is a figure that has been bandied about in the press the past few years — Boras’ focus with each free-agent negotiation is trying to address every one of the client’s wishes. Not an easy task. It would seem like Harper would be the perfect fit for Gotham, with his otherworldly talent and unlimited marketing and branding potential. But Yankee (or Mets) fans may have to prepare themselves for a Harper diss.

“This centers around the athlete’s choices. Greg Maddux (a former Boras client) wanted to be in Atlanta rather than New York. Bernie Williams (another former Boras client) wanted to stay in New York. The clear thing for me is that you make sure at season’s end you’re really getting an understanding of your orders and an understanding of the athlete,” says Boras. “Get his priorities advanced in the process. It may sound simple. But there are a lot of things in free agency that are human. Owners come in and meet with players. A player may or may not be interested in a particular city. The owner comes in and all the sudden a relationship buds between that player and the owner. Or the manager/general manager dynamic is something the player covets. Or the ability to win. All those things are part and parcel of the economics.

“You really want to make sure your outline is well-documented. It’s rare that you get all points,” he adds. “The place you want to play geographically, competitively, that is great for your family, and that has the economics that are consistent with what you felt you were deserving of — it’s really hard to get all those things into one negotiation.”

Boras says that Harvey’s move to the bullpen will only serve to make him a better pitcher in the future, which will be important if Harvey wants to land a lucrative free-agent deal this winter.

“Matt is fortunate in that he has a manager who is a former pitching coach (Callaway), and he’s got a veteran pitching coach (Dave Eiland),” says Boras. “They see Matt can be a dominant starter in the future if he commands his pitches. It’s a situation where he’s going down (to the bullpen) to get more experience and to work on control of his pitches with the intention of returning to the starting rotation.”

***

It’s natural to think that someone like Boras, an attorney at law and the founder and president of Boras Corp., and who also has a degree in pharmacology, would be a superior candidate to lead the Players Association if that opportunity ever presented itself. Former player Tony Clark is the union’s current executive director.

But Boras, who has always fought for the best for his clients since he began representing players in the early 1980s, says leading the union is not for him. Not ever.

“You make a commitment to mothers, you better honor that commitment,” says Boras with a laugh. “I met Bryce Harper when he was 14. I met A-Rod when he was 16. Families want to know. They’re hiring your company. There are a lot of rough conversations that go on, between me and the players. It’s not something the parent can do. It has to be about, sometimes, the player’s personal discipline. Often it’s about how they approach their psychology of what they have to carry out, what the expectations are, all the things that they must do. A lot of times, this is about turning the game off when they go home, having a balance in their life.

“I think I clearly best serve the game because of the fact that our (the Boras Corp.) total commitment is to one sport,” adds Boras. “You have companies that have wanted me to sell my players. I’ve been offered hundreds of millions of dollars to sell our company. I am not selling someone’s son to another business concern. My attitude is to say: I think I can best help you create the best union for what you players want the union to be by doing it from a platform in representing you individually.”

To that end, Boras says that the union and its representatives, and MLB, have done a commendable job tackling such issues as the performance-enhancing drug scourge through the creation of the Joint Drug Agreement, first implemented in 2004. Boras is not in favor of a “one-and-done” punishment system, where a player would be banned for life after one positive drug test. Alex Rodriguez was caught up in the Biogenesis doping scandal after parting ways with Boras — leading to a season-long ban in 2014 — but A-Rod first copped to PED use in 2009, when he said he used banned substances for the three years (2001-03) he played for Texas.

“I’ve studied medicine in a sense that I know there are irregularities that can occur unbeknownst to the athlete,” says Boras. “The second thing, there are a lot of things that are ongoing in a player’s life and career that would affect his judgment. There are those that have an invincibility about them. There is a lot going on in the pharmacological world that needs to be identified. You have to understand and have a grace and forgiveness for the human dynamic. Any employment environment allows for that, as long as it is not extremes. I think we’ve come to an answer where everyone agrees our current system has a very fair approach to PEDs.”

Baseball’s biggest agent says he is optimistic about the game’s future, too, despite the events of the past winter, and despite his concerns about elements of the CBA. When you have Scott Boras waxing positive on the future of the sport, attention should be paid.

“Revenues of the game are spiraling upward. We’ve got demand for the game,” says Boras. “With the interest levels that baseball has yet to receive, both from the economics and from the fan interest, I think the sport is going to have a new generation of followers. I’m very bullish.”

 

 

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