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Boras Blast From The Past Rumors
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.
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.
We're starting up a new feature here at MLB Trade Rumors called Boras Blast From The Past. Basically we'll dig into the history of super-agent Scott Boras for interesting stories.
Today let's talk about Bill Caudill, Boras' first client. Caudill was a 28 year-old righty reliever coming off an All-Star 1984 season for Oakland in which he posted a 2.71 ERA in 96.3 innings. The A's traded Caudill to the Blue Jays in December of that year. Boras was 33 years old at the time and set out to negotiate a long-term contract for Caudill, a former minor league teammate.
Boras came out of the gate seeking $1.3MM a year, according to Steve Nidetz of the Chicago Tribune in '85:
The Toronto Blue Jays are balking at paying former Cubs' reliever Bill Caudill $1.3 million a year, but, according to Caudill's agent Scott Boras, Lloyd's of London is impressed enough by his client's season last year that it has agreed to double his insurance policy to $3 million. "They just estimate Bill's relative value and they assess it," said Boras. But, ask the Blue
Jays, can Lloyd's insure wins and saves?
Boras negotiated a five-year deal worth $7MM guaranteed for Caudill with the Blue Jays, minutes before an arbitration hearing was to take place. Pat Gillick was GM at the time. A Financial Post article from '85 said, "With special incentives he could earn as much as $750K more per year. Boras's economic advisers feel that $8.7 million is an accurate value of the pact." An article in the Chicago Tribune in February of '85 states, "Caudill's agent, Steve Boras, said the contract was worth more than $1.3 million a year." Yes, they called him Steve Boras.
Boras also came up with a new idea to maximize Caudill's endorsement possibilities. In fact, endorsements were a major reason Caudill signed with the Blue Jays and he even put out a line of clothing in Canada. From the Post article:
Since the rights to the team logo (which is on the uniform) are owned by the team, Boras had it written into Caudill's contract that he could appear in the uniform for endorsement, promotional and commercial purposes as long as the Jays give prior consent.
The Caudill contract started this trend, but Jays exec Paul Beeston admitted at the time that they probably wouldn't prevent other players from endorsing products in uniform if the team approved. Even with his first client, Boras had visions of grandeur. He described Caudill's goals as "To be remembered as the first player who brought a World Series to Canada, and to put the city of Toronto officially on the baseball map."
Caudill pitched well in his first season for the Jays (1985), posting a 2.99 ERA in 69.3 innings (and that was amid a death threat over the size of his contract, according to John Robertson of the Toronto Star). But he struggled in '86, posting a 5.19 ERA over his first 17.3 innings. It was at that point that Boras pulled the following stunt, according to Sports Illustrated:
An airplane passed over Toronoto's Exhibition Stadium on June 25 carrying the following message: JIMY — GIVE CAUDILL THE BALL. The hint to Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams was paid for by Bill Caudill's agent, Scott Boras.
Williams did not give Caudill the ball that day, and he posted a 6.19 ERA on the season. The following offseason Boras told Neil MacCarl of the Toronto Star that a new changeup, better conditioning, and a visit to Dr. Frank Jobe would result in a return to form. On April Fool's Day of 1987, however, the Blue Jays released Caudill and ate his remaining $3.3MM. He signed with the A's but didn't make it through that season, retiring with elbow and shoulder problems. Caudill now works as a scout for Boras.