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Author Archives: B.J. Rains
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ted Lilly has been with agent Larry O'Brien since before he broke into the big leagues with the Montreal Expos in 1999. O'Brien formed Full Circle Sports Management a few years ago. Lilly recently spoke with MLBTR about his relationship with his longtime agent:
“I had some representation when I signed and just kind of got into it and it wasn’t the right fit for me. This was at the end of 1996 and I wasn’t really looking for an agent but I agreed to meet with Larry with really no intention of getting an agent. I didn’t feel that I really needed one and I wasn’t in the middle of anything. It was after my first year of pro ball and I wasn’t in the middle of any negotiations, but after talking to him and getting to know him, I didn’t make any commitments but just felt more and more comfortable with his genuine personality. I felt like his motives were in the right place, and it still is the same today. It’s not about the money. A lot of guys I’m sure say that but knowing Larry for as long as I have, when I say it’s still the same, it’s still the same that it really isn’t about the money. He really enjoys helping young guys out.
“I kind of thought I was going to get the Jerry Maguire deal which was what I got with the majority of guys I ran across. Style is one thing but for me, it takes a back seat to substance and that’s what Larry is about. What you see is what you get. It’s all real. He’s very bright and he’s helped me out in a lot of different ways. Certainly with my baseball career but some of the other things that go on outside that. He has a ton of experience in real estate and he’s helped me with some investments over the years too.
“When we met he wasn’t pursuing any clients at the time. He just wasn’t actively pursuing it. He had represented some guys before and done some negotiations but I think he was also successful in the commercial real estate industry and he represented players because he liked it. He had made a good living in his other business and understood the art of negotiations and dealing with people so he wanted to continue to do this to some degree and now he’s partnered up with a couple guys and they’ve turned it into a full-fledged group and they are doing well now. He’s brought in Kurt Varricchio who has some experience in representation himself and Barton Cerioni who has some negotiating experience in the law field so I think he’s put together a good team and group of guys that can help their clients on the field and whatever else they need.
“He’s definitely more than just my agent. He’s a good friend. He’s a very bright guy so as far as investments and making good choices, certainly in real estate and some other endeavors he’s done well. I think maybe because he’s Irish and he gets a little lucky too.
“I think it goes back to honesty and loyalty. I have told him this before and it’s a good thing, but he never turns anyone down. He’s never let any kids go. He’s loyal and sometimes being in the business, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but maybe it’s not the right situation, but it’s hard for him to do that. It might not always be best for the business, but you know he’s going to stick with you no matter what. To the end, whichever direction your career may go, Larry will be there. I think from what I’ve seen and having to be in professional baseball for 17 years, that’s pretty unusual really. In the industry you don’t see that. I’m sure the big agencies do a good job but having a number of friends that have gone that route, when their career is no longer as promising as it once was, they get forgotten about very quickly. Not with Larry. He’s done a great job.”
The risk and reward that comes with signing an extension before or during a player’s first year of arbitration can be a tricky one. Players can take the guaranteed money and set themselves up for life or play out the arbitration years and try to cash in with a bigger payday down the road. Washington’s Denard Span, Kurt Suzuki and Gio Gonzalez all signed early extensions and talked to MLBTR about their decisions.
Outfielder Denard Span (Signed a five-year, $16.25MM deal with Minnesota in March 2010):
“It was after my first full season in the big leagues, after the '09 season. It took me a little bit of time to get to the Major Leagues, I didn’t get there at 20 or 21 years old, so at the time the Twins came to me about the extension, it just made sense for me and my family. We realized what we possibly were leaving on the table if I had good years but we also thought about the risk of if I got hurt or anything like that. It just made sense for my situation.
“My agent set out numbers and I remember after my best year in '09, he said if you just do this for the next two, three years and don’t take this contract, this is what you would get in arbitration so we compared the numbers and it was a little bit of a discount to take the contract at the time and he put that out there, but the decision was ultimately my decision.
“I’ve been on the DL the past few years so I’d like to think it worked out fine but there’s so many unknowns and that’s the risk you take when you're dealing with any kind of guaranteed contract, whether to take it or play your cards and wait for that big payday.
“I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision. It was something that me and my family had to pray about. It was a situation where we felt like if I were to get hurt and never play again, at least all the hard work that I’ve put forth in this game, I’d at least have something to walk away from. That was one of the determining factors. I realized that when this contract is up, I wouldn’t be naturally young but I wouldn’t be old. I’m going to be 31, lord willing when I’m a free agent, so what I didn’t get in the beginning, I believe that I’m going to get at the end.”
Catcher Kurt Suzuki (Signed a four-year, 16.25MM deal with Oakland in July 2010):
“It’s a tough decision obviously. At the time you work so had to get to a point to where you're starting to get paid I guess and I think I was signed during my last season before arbitration, so it was the year leading up to arbitration, and obviously I knew I was going to arbitration next year but the multi-year deal, to have the security for your family, it was hard to look that much money in the mirror and say I don’t want it, I’m going to wait. You get security for your family. It’s a pretty good chunk of change. It was hard to turn down. Some guys take that route and some guys don’t. I thought it was a deal where I felt it was enough security for my family and I. I was married at the time.
“Obviously if you sign a long term deal before arbitration years, you’re going to have to take a discount because you’re obviously not in line to make the money yet. You’re kind of predicting the future so you have to take a little bit of a discount but at the same time, how much of a discount you want to take, you have to ask yourself and what are you happy with. After deciding with my wife, we felt OK with taking the deal and having that security.
“You break it down and you have comparables. My case was a little different because they said I didn’t have many comparables. I don’t know, they just said there wasn’t many people to compare me with that signed multi-year deals so like Russell Martin was a comparable but he didn’t sign a multi-year deal so it was kind of hard to gauge off somebody for a deal.
“There’s a risk. It was an amount that my wife and I felt comfortable with and it was worth taking. Later on I might have been looking to make more, obviously if I went year to year, but at the same time, we felt that money was sufficient enough to take the deal. I’m happy with how it worked out. Obviously there’s a chance you could have made more money but at the same time, with how things [worked] out I think it was a good deal.
“Denard and I talk about it all the time. He comes from Minnesota who has the similar philosophies as Oakland to try and lock players up long term before their arbitration years and we talked about giving up money but we also talked about how its hard to turn that much money down because you’re making a really good amount of money. The Major League minimum is a really good amount, but when you’re talking millions of dollars, to turn that down is tough to do. When you get offered that much money in your face, what are you going to do?”
Pitcher Gio Gonzalez (Signed a five-year, $42MM deal with Washington in January 2012, a record at the time for a first-year arbitration eligible pitcher. He was traded from Oakland just a month earlier):
“I looked at as you know what? The organization gave me a chance to play and Mike Rizzo (Nationals GM) believed in me from the beginning and he gave me something that I felt was reasonable and gave me an opportunity and I said why not? The only way to keep getting up there and is keep improving and try to make the best of it.
“You also look at the team and the guys that were coming up, you had Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, you had all these guys and the pieces they were putting together, I felt like that rotation was going to get better and better and I was like why not be a part of it?
“I think it was just me wanting to play baseball and I think it helped secure my family and me and it almost was to the point where it was like, you can roll the dice and see what happens, but you can never promise tomorrow. I was more excited to play here than anything. It was a new team, new uniform, I think the thing that really drove me to want to play here more was the fact that ‘Rizz’ believed in me from the beginning. He didn’t question anything and he gave me a opportunity and I felt like he gave me a great price for what was reasonable. He didn’t skyrocket me but he got me right where I needed to be to go out there and prove my performance.
“I liked it. Like I said, nothing is promised tomorrow. I think what ‘Rizz’ did was more than reasonable. He thought it was fair, I thought it was fair. We worked both sides out with no complaints. I was ready to grab a baseball and start pitching. Trust me, I was thinking way beyond the money. I was thinking more like World Series. Let’s go. Great rotation, great offense and defense. I was more than happy to play for them.”
Within the latest entry in MLBTR's Why I Chose My Agency series, Arizona outfielder Cody Ross talks about his relationship with SFX and his primary agents Mike Milchin and Mark Pieper. Ross signed a three-year, $26MM deal with the Diamondbacks this past offseason.
How did you come in contact with your agent Mike Milchin?
“I was with an agent right out of high school after I got drafted and I did my own deal but I ended up having to fire him. The guy who drafted me, Jim Olander, was good friends with Mike Milchin and he ended up calling me and Mike and Mark Pieper came out and sat down with me and basically told me what they were all about. I was in low-A ball and going into my second full year of professional baseball. That’s a time where you can really get taken in and smoothed by agents promising you equipment deals and wining and dining you and for some reason I had the ability to look past that and go with what was most important and that’s what can an agent do for you in arbitration and free agency.
“As a young player obviously you want to hear, ‘I’m going to be able to get you this bat deal and be able to get you this glove deal and this equipment deal’ but at the end of the day that’s not what’s important. What’s important and what sold me on them is they didn’t make any promises like that with me. What they talked about mostly was arbitrations and free agency contracts that they’ve signed and the way they go about it. They had a very good reputation as far as arbitration goes and I actually ended up going to a hearing with them and we ended up winning so I got to see it first-hand. The work and preparation that they do for each one of their clients, there’s a lot of good agents out there, but they put in the time and the work needed to be prepared to go to a hearing and that was huge. A lot of guys don’t do that."
What was it that impressed you about SFX?
“I actually sat down and interviewed quite a few agents and ultimately ended up picking SFX and couldn’t be happier. I’ve built a relationship with these guys that’s going to last not only through my playing career but throughout the rest of my life. I’ve built those kinds of friendships and that’s what you really want. That’s what the game is about, friendships and being able to call somebody your friend when the game is over. Obviously it’s a business and you want the best out of your agent. I’m not sitting here saying you should hire your friend as your agent. Not at all. You want to go out as a young player and interview multiple agents and ask them what they do in arbitration and what they do as a free agent and look at their rap sheet and their history and that was big for me.
“Here’s my thing. With my agent, Mike is always available, no matter what. I can call him at two in the morning or at noon on a Sunday and he’ll always be available and if he’s not he gets back to me ASAP. He makes me feel like I’m his only client and at the end of the day that’s what you want. You want to feel like your agent is almost like the movie Jerry Maguire, where your agent will do everything for you no matter what. That’s the feeling I get from my guy.”
How did SFX and Mike help get you what you wanted in your recent free agent experience this past offseason?
“Free agency is definitely an interesting process because it’s finally the time where you put in all that hard work and you get to choose where you want to play but sometimes choosing where you want to play doesn’t always end up being where you want to be. Fortunately for me it did and it worked out. A lot of times you go into free agency and teams you would like to play for don’t really have that sort of need.
“At the beginning of the offseason you know I was getting calls here and there and some feelers but it was kind of quiet and Mike just kept telling me to be patient and I was, and I believed in him that he was going to get the job done, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times where we would go a few days without hearing anything. But he always called me every night no matter what to kind of go over everything and some guys like that some guys might not. Some guys might not want to be called until they have an offer but I wanted to be in the process and know what was going on.
“I wasn’t picky although I did tell him I definitely wanted to try and get back over to the west coast because my family was from Arizona and I have two kids who are in school so those are things that we talked about, what’s important, location, length of contract, the AAV, those were the types of things we went over and like I said, luckily I got the best of both worlds. I basically got what I wanted and to be where I wanted to be. That was a lot to do with him being patient, us both being patient, but him really trying to look at every opportunity that was out there.”
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla went to arbitration with the Florida Marlins in 2009 after hitting 90 home runs and accumulating 270 RBI during his first three seasons in the big leagues. The Marlins filed at $4.4MM while Uggla requested $5.35MM. Uggla won his case, earning one of the biggest salary jumps ever for a player going through the arbitration process for the first time. Uggla, now a Gaylord Sports Management client, was a Beverly Hills Sports Council client at the time he won his arbitration hearing. He spent a few minutes reflecting on his case with B.J. Rains for MLB Trade Rumors:
“Obviously it’s a very long process. Negotiations are usually never quick. We negotiated all the way up until the time we had to give each other the numbers. My case was a little bit different because with the Marlins, once you submit your number, there’s no more negotiations. Usually in arbitration you can submit your numbers and still come to an agreement but with the Marlins, if you don’t come to an agreement before that then you're going into the room and going to the hearing, so mine was different.
“It made sense for me to go ahead and take that chance and go into the room because there was such a big difference and we were so far apart. I didn’t know it until they put their number in, but they put in $4.4MM and they were offering me $4.5MM or something like that, that was their highest offer, so it made sense for me to go into the room. Plus I believed that I was supposed to earn what I put in for.
“When I was as confident as I was in my case, it was worth every penny to go into the hearing. Say if I thought I was worth $5.35MM and they were coming in offering me $5.1MM, then you have to start weighing your options. If they are offering you $5.1MM and then they drop it down and put their number at $4.4MM, you have to weigh your options and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know if $200K is worth the chance of losing a million,’ but we were never close. We were never close. I had a chance to lose $100K from where they offered me because we never got within $800K or $900K.
“Inside the room, it’s not them truly trying to put you down. It’s a business thing. My side is business and their side is business. They are trying to get me for a certain price and I’m trying to get my salary to a certain price. It’s not necessarily them telling you how bad you are, they are just trying to present a case to where they believe you should earn X instead of Y. I knew that going in. It didn’t bother me at all. It’s just a process, the business side of it. A lot of people would say, ‘Man, I didn’t know I was that bad’ or ‘I can’t believe they would say that about me,’ but you better prepare yourself to hear it because they will say it. It’s not to demise your character or not to put you down in any way, it’s just for them to present a case to win their case, just like we’re presenting a case to say I’m a little better than I actually am.
“I talked to my agents and they’ve been in many cases before and they prepared me the best they could. They have booklets and stuff and I had a book real thick of comparisons and charts and stuff. My agents did a great job of going over everything. Anything and everything you could find it was documented.
“It’s a crapshoot. There’s no guarantee. You can present the best case you can and still get beat. I still have a great relationship with the front office of the Marlins to this day. You have to understand as a player, they aren’t trying to personally attack you. They are trying to get their payroll at a certain point and that’s one of the ways they are trying to do it. It’s the business side of baseball.”
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this for Dan Haren.
A three-time All-Star with impressive career credentials, Haren figured he would someday hit free agency and cash in with a long-term and lucrative deal.
But Haren, a ten-year big league veteran who has been traded three times, became a free agent for the first time in his career this past offseason coming off a down year and injury concerns to his hip and back.
“I didn’t necessarily hit free agency at the high point of my career,” Haren admits. “I had a lot of good years that if I would have hit the free agency at any of those times I would have been paid extremely well, not that I’m not paid well, but it just so happened that I got a little banged up last year. I’ll just have to prove myself again this year.”
Haren, 32, posted a 4.33 ERA in 176 2/3 innings with the Angels last season, the highest ERA he’s had in any of his eight full seasons. But must of his struggles were due to lower back tightness that he pitched through before eventually landing on the disabled list for the first time in his career in July.
With teams scared due to the back injury and a hip issue that hasn’t bothered him but always shows up during physicals, Haren was forced to take a short-term deal and try his luck again in free agency next year.
The right-hander signed a one-year, $13MM deal with the Nationals in early December, choosing a chance to compete for a World Series over more lucrative offers from other teams.
“I understood,” Haren said of the medical concerns. “I think baseball, their physicals are a lot more thorough these days. I think there were some red flags about my hip issues that I’ve had since my days in Oakland but I’ve never missed a day because of it. I had some back problems, which a lot of people obviously have back problems but structurally everything is fine in my back. Really it was my hip which was a little bit frustrating just being that I had never missed any time because of it.
“I was on the disabled list for a little less than three weeks for my back but I came back and I finished off the season pretty well. I saw the way the market was going and I just wanted to come to a team that was going to give me the best chance to win.”
Haren has proven to be one of the most durable pitchers in recent years, ending a streak of seven straight seasons of at least 200 innings pitched when the short stint on the DL left him at 176 2/3 innings last year. He’s also proven to be one of the best pitchers in recent years, posting a career 3.66 ERA in nearly 1,900 innings since breaking into the big leagues with the Cardinals in 2003.
But it’s been an interesting career path for a pitcher of his caliber. The former second round draft pick of the Cardinals was traded to the Oakland Athletics in a deal for Mark Mulder after making 28 appearances for the Cardinals in 2003 and 2004.
Haren pitched three seasons in Oakland before he was traded again, this time to the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2008 season. He signed a four-year, $44.75MM extension midway through his first season with Arizona but was traded to the Angels at the 2010 trade deadline.
With an option remaining on his contract with the Angels for 2013, Haren wasn’t sure what would happen this offseason. The Angels could have picked up the option to bring him back or released him and allowed him to become a free agent.
Then came news that he had been traded a fourth time, this time to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Carlos Marmol. Or so he thought. The trade appeared to be all-but-done but fell through at the last minute.
“I thought it was happening,” said Haren, who was in communication throughout the day with Angels GM Jerry Dipoto. “We had been texting back and forth all day that day and he told me the deal is pretty much done but it’s not completed so you’re not traded yet, even though everyone was calling me and saying I had been traded and it was on the internet that I was traded.
“I was assuming that I was traded. My family was there and we were all prepared to be with Chicago. It kind of prepared me for free agency, the chance of being on the east coast or the Midwest.”
The Angels declined the $15.5MM option on Haren’s contract by the deadline after being unable to complete the deal or find another willing trade partner. Haren received a $3.5MM buyout and became a free agent.
He went nearly a month before signing, eventually deciding to join an already stacked Washington rotation for a one-year deal shortly before the Winter Meetings.
“Part of it is me proving myself and part of it is coming to a team with one of the best chances to win a World Series,” Haren said. “Obviously their offer financially was competitive with other offers I was getting. That’s always a factor. If anyone tells you that money isn’t a factor, that’s a lie, but their offer was competitive with other teams and then it just gave me the best chance to succeed both personally and team wise.
“As the offseason went along and I was a free agent and taking a short term deal was going to happen, when taking a short term deal, you want to come to a team that is set to win that year and I think the Nationals give me the best chance. To be surrounded by a good rotation, a great bullpen, this lineup and what they did last year, it was kind of a no brainer. It just made sense for me to come here.
“Probably if I waited a little while longer I probably could have gotten another year or two (from another team) but when the Nationals showed interest I was just kind of content coming here for a year and seeing what I could do and seeing how far this team can go.”
And if he proves to be healthy, Haren just might finally get the chance he's waited for next winter.
The Cardinals and Adam Wainwright hope to come to an agreement this spring on a long-term contract extension that will keep the right-hander in St. Louis. His agent Steve Hammond will play a large part in determining whether or not that happens. Wainwright sat down with B.J. Rains for MLB Trade Rumors to discuss his personal relationship with Hammond, the man that holds his future in his hands:
“When I was drafted out of high school I went through the draft with my brother as my council. He’s a lawyer and he handled negotiations for me in that right so I didn’t per se have an agent at that time, but I didn’t want to mix family and business and I don’t think my brother did either. The first time that I kind of opened the door for agencies to come interview me or me interview them I should say was in the instructional league or the Gulf Coast League or maybe even Spring Training of 2001. I had all the agencies come in, I had the Boras group come in and the Hendricks brothers came in and some big agencies came in from up north. I really liked all of them to be honest with you but then I had Steve Hammond come in and visit me.
“The first time Steve called to interview I had never heard of him. It was around Valentine’s Day and my girlfriend at the time who I am married to now was coming to visit me and I needed a Valentine’s Day present so I went to the mall to get her something and I completely big leagued him – I forgot to show up for our meeting. He had his feelings hurt a little bit but he came back around the second time and I said I completely forgot, I was getting something for Jenny, please forgive me, let’s go out and meet again. We went to a Cuban or Dominican place to eat dinner and just talked about what he brought to a player’s career and what he’s looking for in a client and I really liked that. He didn’t sit there and tell me how great I was for an hour straight. He just shot me straight and told me about him and we talked about golf and baseball and instantly I thought this is the guy I want to go with but logically you sit down and say but do I need to go with one of these more established, bigger agencies? Looking at his career he had represented a lot of people that I knew. He represented Chipper Jones for a time and Orel Hershiser and some big guys so I knew he had the ability to be a great agent and he was a great agent but he brought the intangibles to that I was looking for.
“What I got from Steve was more than just an agent. He was a guy that I just got a great feeling about. All things being equal, I looked at all the agents and I realized they were all great agents so I said well what is the one thing that is different that is somebody that I need to pick and Steve Hammond had that. I looked at him as somebody I respected as a father. I looked at his family life. He and I had a lot of similar interests. He’s a former player but he loves golf and tennis and ping pong and doing all those kinds of things with his boys. I just got to interact with him a little bit and I really felt like I was part of the family and I felt like he was part of my family and since that time I feel like he is part of my family. Steve has become one of my biggest spiritual mentors in my life. He’s more than an agent. He gets mad when I introduce him as my agent to other people. He’s almost more than a friend too. I really do think of him as family. He’s almost like a father figure to me or an uncle figure or a brother figure – one of those family figures. He’s just a guy that I can look to. I trust him completely. I trust him with anything I bring to the table. I trust his advice and that was something that really caught my eye. You can get a feeling of someone’s character and integrity right away when you talk to someone a lot of times and he and I just clicked.”
Third baseman David Wright signed an eight-year, $138MM extension with the New York Mets last December. Months earlier, agents Sam and Seth Levinson of ACES faced a PED-related investigation from MLB. Wright recently spoke about his relationship with the Levinson brothers, what intrigued him about the ACES group coming out of high school and why he remained loyal to his agency last fall:
On how he first came in contact with representatives from ACES…
“I guess just like any other agent, they have guys in the agency that come out and scout some of these tournaments and stuff and try to set up interviews with players to have them, I guess you can’t have an agent before the draft but an advisor, and I remember I just clicked with the guys from ACES and in particular Keith Miller. I remember he came down and watched a couple of my high school games and we hung out and talked and obviously I had quite a bit of respect because I knew who Keith Miller was, he was a former player, a former Met, and it opened up my eyes that this guy played, he knows what it’s about.
“Then he sat with my family and I at home and he showed us some arbitration briefings and just how much work they put into free agency and what they do for their players during arbitration and stuff and that obviously opened my eyes and being fans of some of the players they represented, it seemed like they were a big enough company where they could throw their weight around and people knew them and respected them but at the same time, they were small enough where you got a lot of individual attention and they’ve lived up to that and more.”
On when Sam and Seth Levinson came into the picture…
“It was after I got to know Keith quite a bit, I had kind of narrowed my choices and agents down and that’s when Sam and Seth got involved and like I said, just the work ethic, it was something that attracted me to them. Just hearing them talk for the first time. It wasn’t so much a sales pitch. They were going over what they do for players as far as marketing, endorsements, obviously contract stuff. I was just really impressed with not only their body of work but also just their enthusiasm for what they do. It just seemed like they are very loyal and enthusiastic for representing baseball players and kind of drew me to them.
On staying with ACES despite the PED rumors and links to them last fall…
“I think for me I wanted to hear it from Sam and Seth’s mouth exactly what was going on before I even talked to the union or anybody else. I called those guys up and asked them point blank what was going on and they’ve always been open and honest to me. It’s easy to make assumptions or believe everything you read in the paper but I’ve known these guys for 12-13 years now and the only thing I can go on is the track record for how they’ve treated me and what they’ve done for me and there’s been no complaints on my end and no blemishes on their end. I’m very appreciative of everything they’ve done for me and I think they’ve done a terrific job.
On how they’ve been compared to what he hoped they would be when he signed…
“That and more. I never would have thought that when I was talking to Keith Miller back home in Chesapeake, Virginia, that I would get a chance to participate in six All-Star Games and go from start to finish of my career with one team. I never would have thought that. They have far exceeded the expectations that I had. It’s tough, you’d like to think that when you are 18 years old that you’re going to become an All-Star and be able to sign a nice deal but realistically I always tried to be more realistic than that. They have done a terrific job for me and I’m thrilled.”
In a day and age where sabermetric stats like wins above replacement have become more and more popular, it can be easy to overlook basic numbers.
In the arbitration case involving catcher Jeff Mathis and Angels in 2010, a difference of $600K was decided in large part because of one simple stat: games started.
Mathis and the Angels couldn’t agree to a contract for 2010, leaving them no choice but to go to arbitration. The club filed at $700K while Mathis countered with a request of $1.3MM.
“If there was any chance to work it out for us to get what we thought was fair, we would have done it,” Mathis said. “We wouldn’t have chanced to go in there and go through all of that.
“It’s not something that any player wants to go through or deal with. It’s a rough process, especially if you go all the way to the hearing like I did. There’s stuff that goes on in that room that I wouldn’t suggest anybody experience or be a part of. … You don’t want to be a part of anything like that.”
The case turned out to be one of the more fascinating arbitration hearings in recent memory. The Angels centered their case around Mathis’ poor offensive numbers. They pointed out that his career .200 batting average was among the worst in arbitration case history. His on-base percentage, slugging percentage and strikeout totals weren’t much better.
“They were really centered in on what the offensive numbers were,” said Mathis’ longtime agent BB Abbott. “That was their entire case, what Jeff had done offensively for the team.”
Because the numbers were poor, it was an easy and obvious area for the Angels to focus on. It seemed like the team had a good argument. And Abbott acknowledged this, saying in his case in chief that Mathis wasn’t someone who would usually impact a game with his bat.
But Abbott and his group found an area where Mathis did impact the game: defense became the focus of their case. A former catcher himself, Angels manager Mike Scioscia put heavy emphasis on the defensive side of catching. Mathis certainly fit that bill.
Mike Napoli received much of the attention in Anaheim because his offensive numbers were much better. He was seen by most as the starting catcher and Mathis was looked at as the backup. And that’s what the Angels argued.
The only problem with this analysis was that Mathis had started more games behind the plate the previous two seasons than Napoli. Mathis started 168 games at catcher during the 2008 and 2009 seasons while Napoli started 155.
“Because of Mike Scioscia and how he handles his catching tandem, they really had a couple of different starting catchers,” Abbott said. “That’s just a very rare thing. Because of Mike Napoli’s numbers and the offensive output that he had, it would be easy to slap that label as a starting catcher on him. Usually in those situations you have a starting catcher and a backup catcher.
“In Jeff’s case, the whole central theme of our case was that they had two starting catchers. They were co-starting catchers. Jeff had caught just as many games, in fact he caught more games than Mike over a two-year period. To put this guy into the salary structure of a backup catcher, in our eyes wasn’t appropriate. In the team’s eyes it was.”
To help prove their case, Abbott and his group used 12 quotes from Scioscia and other front office personnel to show how much weight the club put on a catcher and his defense. They also used a three-year comparable prior to their first time eligible arbitration years to show that Mathis had more starts behind the plate during that time.
The three arbitrators reviewing the case were Elliott Shiftman, Steven Wolf and Margaret Brogan. They took 24 hours to deliberate before deciding in Mathis’ favor, awarding him his number of $1.3MM.
“There were absolutely no hard feelings on either side,” Abbott said. “Jeff knew what was going to be presented in front of him, he was very well prepared. He knew exactly what the team's case was going to be and, like I said, the only thing we made and ultimately what won it for us was that, listen, we understand that he’s going to be at the bottom of the starting catcher salary structure but he should be in that salary structure and not at the bottom of the backup catchers' salary structure. Ultimately the arbitration panel agreed.”
The case was a big one for Mathis because of the future implications it could have had on his earnings. A player’s salary in his first year of arbitration can set the pay scale for the years to come.
“The arbitration panel is going to pick one or the other, so Jeff would have been coming off of either $700K or $1.3MM the next year,” Abbott said. “A win or loss in arbitration can continue to follow you. He was coming off $1.3MM and Jeff went to $1.7MM. If he comes off $700K, he’s going into the low $1MM figures.
“It’s either the gift that keeps on giving or the gift that keeps on taking away so that’s why going to arbitration your first year is a very tough decision and a very tough proposition because the salaries that come in subsequent years could be based on what that award is or that first year salary is and that’s something you have to consider when you are considering whether or not to take a case to a hearing.”
Mathis, now with the Marlins, broke his collarbone in the spring opener Saturday after a foul tip from Matt Holliday fractured his right clavicle. He could be out for as much as six weeks.
But reflecting back on the arbitration process and hearing, Mathis said, “When you first sign up to play this game you don’t ever think of that part of professional baseball and the more years you get into it and the stuff that starts happening with arbitration and free agency and all that. You really get to understand the business side of it.
“It stinks. It’s not something that you want to do or hear or hear from anybody else. It’s part of the game and baseball and the business side and you just deal with.”
It was probably much easier for Mathis to deal with it since he won.
Juan Pierre was one of the few people not outraged by the Miami Marlins' blockbuster 12-player trade that sent high-priced players Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto over the winter.
After all, it helped land him a contract to keep playing.
The 35-year-old Pierre signed a one-year, $1.6MM contract to return to the Marlins despite the belief that many free agents wouldn’t want to sign in Miami after they debuted a new stadium and high hopes for 2012 and then quickly dumped several high-priced players at the first sign of trouble.
“To me it was a no-brainer,” Pierre told a group of reporters at Marlins camp about signing with the Marlins. “I’ve been the underdog my whole career. This type of stuff isn’t bad. I know the media and the fans are upset with what’s gone on, but we had nothing to do with it.
“I’m probably here because they did do the trade. Honestly, a lot of other guys are here because of the trade. So, all you can do is make the best out of it.”
Pierre played three seasons with the Marlins from 2003-2005, playing a key role on their World Championship winning team in 2003. He stole 65 bases in 2003, which remains a club record, and in 2004 set the franchise record with 221 hits.
He returns to the Marlins for his 14th big league season after hitting .307/.351/.371 in 439 plate appearances for the 2012 Phillies. The left-handed hitter broke into the Major Leagues with the Rockies in 2000 and has also played for the Cubs, Dodgers and White Sox.
Pierre has seen plenty during his career but not even he could have predicted the path the Marlins took just months after a spending spree and the promise of huge things in Miami.
But he doesn’t see a big problem with it.
“People don’t understand the business side of baseball,” Pierre said. “I don’t even get all of it. That’s the part of the game I don’t even touch. I know it’s tough for the fans because you do grow attached to a player or grow excited, and then they trade them away for business purposes and bring in another guy. Fans don’t want to hear that.
“These guys that own teams are businessmen first. You don’t get to own teams being dumb businessmen. I know fans don’t want to hear that. Sometimes baseball players don’t want to hear it when you get attached to a city.”
The Marlins signed veteran infielder Placido Polanco to a one-year deal in late December and gave utility man Chone Figgins a chance to win a roster spot with a minor league deal and an invite to big league Spring Training shortly before camp opened.
Their roster is filled with an interesting mix of veterans looking to extend their careers and youngsters looking to break in and make a name for themselves. As Pierre sees it, it’s the perfect combination.
“If you’re a young guy or a guy on the fringe or whatever, this is where you want to be,” Pierre said. “I call it the land of opportunity right now. If you play well, the Marlins will have you in the big leagues, or they’ll get you to somewhere you can go play.
“Most of the guys in our 30s, we’re still hungry because we know pretty much we’re a year from not having a job. It’s a lot of our guys’ last go-round as far as being Major League guys, so we’re as hungry as ever.
“These young whippersnappers, they ought to be excited to be in a big league camp with a chance to make a Major League roster. So, I think you get all that hungriness together, it can pan out for a good season.”
But that problem with the fans remains. Most feel betrayed by the Marlins ownership group and attendance doesn’t figure to be very good. At least at first. “Our job as players is to go out and play hard,” Pierre said.
“The front office, for whatever reason, whatever they did, that’s something they’re going to have to mend. I know how it goes in Florida. You win and you win in consistent fashion and the fans are going to come out.
“All we can control is how we go about our business on the field every day and, hopefully if the fans get around guys, especially young guys who are going out and busting their butts every day, hopefully we get some wins and the fans will come around.”
The sexy pick by some to win the World Series a year ago, the Marlins went out and posted a 69-93 record in the regular season. With a depleted roster and first-year manager in Mike Redmond, nobody will be picking them to win much of anything in 2013.
There’s not much to look forward to this year in Miami. But happy and thankful to still be playing, Pierre has the perfect formula to turn things around.
“I live here, I know the buzz,” Pierre said. “With the new park, you get to winning, you get the momentum going, fans will come out. Winning heals all wounds.”
In the first of a six-week series at MLB Trade Rumors, B.J. Rains spoke with Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday on his agent Scott Boras and why he picked him and the relationship the two have.
Here is what Holliday had to say about Boras:
"I signed with Scott Boras after my first year in the big leagues in 2004. My brother had him as an agent so I was familiar with him and interviewed him when I interviewed a bunch of agents while trying to decide after the 2004 season.
I went to California to meet with Scott and Mike Fiore (works for Boras) and Steve Odgers (a training guru employed by Boras) and some of their people and saw their facility and I just felt like to me, in doing the research and looking into all of the possible agents, I felt like it was a good fit. I felt like they did a fantastic job. They had research capabilities and staff and they had an institution in California for working out and longevity of careers and it just felt like they had all of their bases covered. Scott had a lot of experience as a player and obviously his resume as an agent spoke for itself and the players he’s had.
You want an agent that you can trust that they know what they are doing. I think for me, he’s somebody that has your best interest in negotiating your contract and he also has people on staff that can help you with your game and not just your contract. They offered a lot of services outside of here. They have a psychologist on staff, people who are doing research for arbitration cases years in advance. They have a research team, a marketing team, a sports nutrition team. I just felt it wasn’t just about negotiating your contract. They offered a lot more.
Also the personal relationship with somebody that you enjoy sitting down and talking to them. Scott is as accessible as you want him to be. I could call him right now. He’s got a lot of clients and people say they don’t hear from Scott but he’ll give you as much or as little attention as you want. I’m not a high maintenance guy, I don’t need to talk to him a lot, but if I need anything, I can call him anytime. I talk to Mike Fiore once a week, but like I said, Scott is as accessible as you want him to be.
I see him from time to time. Whenever we play in L.A. I’ll have lunch or dinner with him. If I wanted him to come to St. Louis he’d come anytime I want. It’s just one of those things where again, I don’t need a lot of maintenance.
Scott has been better than I hoped he would be. I’ve really enjoyed it, not only what he’s offered me as an agent but just getting to know him as a person and the father and husband that he is and all the wisdom that he has that I’ve enjoyed from not just baseball but all walks of life.
I laugh a lot of times when people have opinions of Scott. They couldn’t be further from the truth, the majority of them. I enjoy spending time with him and I think he’s really fun to be around and really good at what he does. I don’t have a negative thing to say about him."