Boras Blast From The Past: Ben McDonald

Last time in our Boras Blast From The Past series, we talked about his first client, Bill Caudill.  This time let's discuss Ben McDonald.

McDonald, a junior at Louisiana State University, was selected first overall by the Orioles in the 1989 amateur draft.  It was suggested by the Washington Post's Richard Justice that scouts viewed McDonald as the best pitching prospect since Doc Gooden. The #1 overall selection by Baltimore didn't stop LSU from using McDonald in six of their last seven games, infuriating the Orioles according to Justice.

Initially McDonald was advised by his father and was said to be seeking a $275K bonus, similar to Andy Benes the year before, as well as a three-year deal worth $425-700K.  The two sides couldn't even agree to that.  Then Scott Boras entered the picture, and talk began about McDonald returning to LSU for his senior year.

Eventually the Orioles, led by president Larry Lucchino and GM Roland Hemond, offered McDonald a deal worth around $700K over three years, second only to Bo Jackson's $1.1MM in 1986.  McDonald, however, was reportedly offered a two-year, $2MM deal from an upstart new baseball league that was to begin in 1990 with the backing of Donald Trump.  Boras initially demanded the Orioles match the offer.  Then he backed off and just requested that the Orioles match the $1.1MM.  If the Orioles failed to sign McDonald, they'd receive a compensation pick between the first and second round in 1990.  Boras' comment on the negotiations, according to Justice:

Every situation is unique.  That's the thing Baltimore must understand. This has become a free agent negotiations because of external matters [the new league].

On August 18th, 1989, Lucchino and Boras finally hammered out a three-year package worth $950K plus incentives.  Justice's sources said the independent Trump league never actually made a formal contract offer.  McDonald debuted with six appearances out of the Orioles' bullpen in '89, and was underwhelming given his brief minor league experience.

McDonald's Orioles career was viewed a disappointment.  His best year was 1993, when he pitched 220.3 innings with a 3.39 ERA.  In 1995, a year when arbitration hearings were done in June, McDonald submitted $4.5MM and the Orioles submitted $3.2MM.  McDonald and Boras were willing to meet in the middle, but the Orioles instead tried to win the case.  McDonald won.  Subsequently, the Orioles non-tendered him in December since they were could only cut his salary by a maximum of 20% and were concerned about injuries.  It would be a while before the relationship between Peter Angelos and Boras was repaired.  From Buster Olney's Baltimore Sun article:

The team officially severed ties with McDonald yesterday, choosing not to tender him a contract rather than extending the required minimum offer of $3.6 million. Orioles general manager Pat Gillick called McDonald's representative with the news, and agent Scott Boras responded with about 30 seconds of silence.  "The least we could tender him at was $3.6 million," Gillick said, "and we weren't comfortable with that…We're not really sure what the market is [for McDonald]."

McDonald drew interest from the Yankees and Brewers, and ultimately signed with Milwaukee on a two-year, $5.75MM deal with a player option and plenty of incentives.  McDonald had a strong first year with the Brewers, posting a 3.90 ERA in 221.3 innings.  Brewers GM Sal Bando offered McDonald a big extension in '97 – three years, $18MM plus a $6MM option (according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).  Boras turned down the extension, requesting a guaranteed fourth year.  The decision turned out to be a blunder, as McDonald never pitched again due to injuries. 

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