Nearly three years have passed since I did an entry in the Boras Blast From The Past series, but Ryan Madson's surprising one-year, $8.5MM contract yesterday with the Reds got me thinking about whether agent Scott Boras had previously settled for a one-year contract for a top client in his prime coming off a strong season. Madson is clearly at the top of his game, as a durable 31-year-old reliever who posted a 2.37 ERA, 32 save season. So far I haven't found a similar situation with Boras, although the story of Greg Maddux accepting arbitration as a free agent in 2002 is an interesting one.
At age 36, Maddux hadn't won a Cy Young award in a while, but he was still very good. In 2002 the Professor posted a 2.62 ERA, second in the National League behind Randy Johnson. Teammate Tom Glavine, who is a few weeks older than Maddux, finished third in NL ERA and signed a three-year, $35MM deal with the Mets in early December 2002. Later that month, Maddux made the surprising decision to accept arbitration, the equivalent of a one-year deal for 2003.
According to Murray Chass of the New York Times, Boras explained the decision by saying, "At this point in time it was a choice of venue for him. He had multiple offers, but he really wanted to have another crack at it in Atlanta. He's confident he's going to be pitching for a long, long time and he's very durable, so working on a one-year contract won't bother him. He has some goals that he has not yet achieved in Atlanta that he wants to resolve." According to the AP, Boras said "many clubs at the ownership level were interested" in Maddux, adding, "At this point in time, at least for this year, they wanted to return to Atlanta and give it one more shot of winning there." Boras' choice of "they" rather than "we" leads me to believe the decision came more from the client than the agent. After all, Boras is known for pulling rabbits out of his hat in January (Madson notwithstanding).
Despite Boras' claims, it seems possible that Maddux's market was limited. The AP article said no other teams publicly talked about pursuing him. Part of the problem was the recent collective bargaining agreement, which added a 175% luxury tax on the portion of teams' payrolls over $117MM in 2003. According to SI's Tom Verducci in November of 2002, "Most teams are expected to treat the luxury-tax threshold as a de facto salary cap," and teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, and Red Sox were anxious to avoid it. It also appears Boras came out of the gate aggressively for Maddux, seeking a five-year deal according to Verducci.
The Braves had already planned for life without Maddux and Glavine, having acquired Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton and signed Paul Byrd. Maddux's decision to accept arbitration busted the Braves' budget, so the team immediately traded Kevin Millwood to the rival Phillies for Johnny Estrada. GM John Schuerholz said, "We had no choice but to move payroll." Seven years later, a similar situation occurred with the Braves when reliever Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration and had to be traded due to payroll constraints. Soriano did not become a Boras client until several months later.
Maddux seemed headed for a hearing to determine his 2003 salary, but a few days prior he split the difference between his and the team's arbitration submissions, agreeing to a $14.75MM salary. It was the largest one-year contract in baseball history. Though Maddux led the NL in walk rate in '03, he posted his highest ERA since 1987 in his final and most expensive season with the Braves.