Mike Piazza Rumors

Dennis Gilbert Reflects On His Career As Top Agent

Scott Boras may have the most impressive client list of any agent in baseball today, but it wasn’t long ago that he shared that title with Dennis Gilbert.  From the early 80s until his retirement in 1999, Gilbert was in charge of negotiations for some of the biggest names in the game, from George Brett to Jose Canseco to Barry Bonds.  He built a reputation for getting top dollar for his players and churned out record-smashing deals for his top clients.  Ultimately, however, Gilbert sold his powerful Beverly Hills Sports Council at a young age, then got back into the game a couple years later as a special assistant to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

Throughout his career, there’s been one constant for Gilbert: the life insurance business.  When a friend of his who worked as a baseball agent passed away unexpectedly, Gilbert took over for some of his clients and quickly built his business from there.  Still, he never left the insurance industry and juggled both by surrounding himself with the right people in both worlds.  It was an impressive feat, given the amount of attention and hours that being a baseball agent requires.

In 1993, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote a tremendous piece comparing Boras and Gilbert when they were both at the top of the business.  The consensus from around the game was that the two men achieved their success quite differently.  “One guy’s a salesman, and the other’s a warrior,” Reinsdorf told Verducci. “Dennis is smooth. While he’s taking your money, he makes you very happy.

It may be a cliche, but Gilbert is one of a kind.  He still greets people with warmth and a few card tricks, and he tends to make lasting impressions.  There was no one in his field in the 1980s or ’90s who had a comparable demeanor, and there’s no one now either, nearly 15 years after he transitioned out of the business.

I don’t have a ton of interaction with agents on a daily basis, but I don’t think any of them do.  My approach was unique and I built some strong relationships during that time,” Gilbert tells MLBTR.

Gilbert had a strong rapport with executives around the league, but he had more than one client who rubbed folks the wrong way.  Canseco was viewed as a brash and arrogant; Bonds’ rep was as a standoffish individual who didn’t care for the media.  Of course, the stain of steroids didn’t help either player’s image.  To hear Gilbert tell it, most people didn’t have a full idea of what either man was about and chose only to zero in on the more odious aspects of their personalities.

The part of Jose that I know about was when he had money he gave his money to his father, mother, sister, brother and a lot of friends around him and he just took care of a lot of people.  He had a very big heart and I think that’s a part that people never saw,” Gilbert says.  “Barry did a lot of things under the radar also. Going to children’s hospitals, signing dozens of bats every year and handing them out and doing a lot of things that people weren’t cognizant of.  They both had soft sides to them.

Gilbert’s relationships with certain people in baseball continued even after he sold off the BHSC.  He was Mike Piazza’s agent during much of his Dodgers prime, and even though Gilbert was no longer representing the catcher towards the end of his stay there, he was “in the room” around the time when Piazza was traded to the Marlins.  Once again, in Gilbert’s mind, public perception didn’t quite match reality.  As most Dodgers fans understand it, the new FOX ownership group was reluctant to pay the All-Star catcher fair market value on his next contract, necessitating the trade to Florida.  On the contrary, Gilbert says that Rupert Murdoch’s baseball arm did everything it could to make things work.

Today, he’s on call for “anything that Jerry Reinsdorf needs” in his role with the White Sox and says that he’s optimistic that the club will have a quick turnaround after a down 2013.  He’s considered team ownership, with exploratory talks to purchase the Rangers and, most recently, the Dodgers.  One might think that he’s wistful for his days as one of the very top agents in the game, but that’s not exactly the case.  Gilbert says that he enjoyed negotiating the contracts and “the baseball part” but isn’t wild about some of the outside stuff the job also calls for.  His future could take him in a number of directions, but it’s safe to say that he won’t be sitting opposite of Reinsdorf at the negotiating table again.

This Date In Transactions History: Mike Piazza

8020049  Mike Piazza With the amateur draft coming up in just over three weeks, we've spent most of our time here at MLBTR covering the first round. Quality players come from every round though, and there's perhaps no more famous example of a late-round pick turning into gold than Mike Piazza. The Dodgers selected him in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, who was a friend of the Piazza family and godfather to Mike's brother Tommy.

Piazza moved from first base to catcher in the minor leagues at Lasorda's behest, and he hit his way to the big leagues less than four years later. After a brief cup of coffee in 1992, Piazza opened the 1993 season as the Dodgers' starting catcher, and hit a robust .318/.370/.561 with 35 homers as a 24-year-old. He won the Rookie of the Year award unanimously, and finished ninth in the MVP voting.

Over the next four seasons, Piazza hit .342/.409/.590 with an average of 33 homers per year, being named to the All-Star team and winning the Silver Slugger Award each year. He never finished lower than sixth in the MVP voting during that time, finishing as the runner up in 1996 (Ken Caminiti) and 1997 (Larry Walker). Piazza was a star of the first order, but contractual issues began to surface.

Scheduled to become a free agent after the 1998 season, talks about a contract extension between Piazza and the Dodgers went nowhere. Furthermore, Peter O'Malley and Terry Seidler were in the process of selling the team to FOX. Afraid that they were going to lose their star to free agency and not have anything to show for it, Los Angeles took a drastic step.

Thirteen years ago today, the Marlins and Dodgers pulled off a seven-player swap that sent Piazza and Todd Zeile to Florida in exchange for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Manuel Barrios. To say the trade wasn't well-received in Southern California would be an understatement.

Piazza's time with the Marlins as short lived, very short lived in fact. He had five hits in five games with them before being traded to the Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz. Piazza spent parts of eight years with the Mets before moving to the Padres and Athletics late in his career. He retired as a .308/.377/.545 career hitter with 427 home runs to his credit, unquestionably the best hitting catcher in baseball history (min. 1,000 games caught).

We see players traded right before reached free agency every season, but it's not often a player of Piazza's caliber is involved, and he was traded twice in one week.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.

New York Notes: Mets, Piazza, Yankees, Aceves

Eight years ago today, the Yankees signed Ramon Ramirez to a minor league contract after winning his rights via the posting system with a $350K bid. Ramirez, then 21, had been with the Hiroshima Carp, appearing in just two games with them from 2002-2003.

Here's some links from the Big Apple…

  • Bud Selig briefly spoke to SI.com's Jon Heyman (Twitter link) about the Mets' ownership and dire financial situation. "We're in unchartered waters. I talk to Fred (a lot), we just have to hope it works out," said the commissioner. The team is said to be seeking another loan on top of the $100MM it's already been granted by the league.
  • Mike Piazza is helping coach Team Italy this spring, and he told ESPN New York's Adam Rubin and Newsday's David Lennon that he would like to own a team someday, but not necessarily the Mets (Twitter links). When asked if he's been contacted by anyone about owning a club, Piazza replied "I can't confirm or deny."
  • Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe that he doesn't believe he'll be able to acquire a starter before the Opening Day, and perhaps not until June. "Normally anything of quality doesn't become available until after the June draft," said Cashman. "That's why you try and get as much as you can get accomplished in the winter. I know New York doesn't handle patience very well. But I'm from Kentucky, so it's a little easier for me to deal with."
  • Cashman also spoke to Abraham about why the Yankees non-tendered Alfredo Aceves, who eventually signed with the Red Sox. "I offered him a minor league contract, that was it. I wasn't going to do anything more than that," said the GM. "Because of the back issue, we could not give him [a Major League contract]. He was throwing off the mound for us and he always hit a wall. So we ultimately continued to fail throughout the entire process to get him off the DL and active. He had a lot of success for a period of time, but then ultimately we'd had to take steps back and we'd have to shut him down and re-do the treatment."

Odds and Ends: Pokey, Lowe, Boss

Before you fire up the grill, check out these links.

Mike Piazza Retires

Catcher Mike Piazza has decided to retire.  I thought he had a little bit left in the tank as a possible DH this year, but it seems that teams did not agree.

Piazza finishes with a .308/.377/.545 career line in 19 seasons.  He mashed 427 home runs and is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  Dodgers or Mets cap?  Marlins?

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Johnson, Bonds, Piazza

So far during the 2008 regular season, 28 players have either been DFA’d or released. At the same point last year, that list only included 14 players. In the past four seasons, only 2006 (22) had more than 14 players DFA’d or released this early in the season.

This will be an interesting trend to watch the rest of this season and into the early portion of 2009. It appears to be an indication that teams are showing less patience to work trades for fringe players or teams may be placing higher premiums on prospects, unwilling to move even mid-level prospects for a guy that might be the 24th or 25th man on a 25-man roster. Either way, it could mean fewer trades in 2008 and beyond.

The list of players DFA’d so far this year includes some that have been productive Major Leaguers at some point in their career and could be again, including Kirk Saarloos, Juan Castro, Dan Johnson and Hideo Nomo. OK, maybe Nomo is a stretch. With players like this being made available it is even more reason for teams to avoid trades and wait. And of course Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza are still sitting out there. Let’s take a look at what is being said about these players in the Blogosphere…

  • Mets Fever wonders if Johnson is worth a flyer from the Mets but wonders who would go to make room.
  • Fanhouse sees Johnson ending up right back where he started (almost), signing with the Giants.
  • Beyond the Boxscore wrote this prior to Frank Thomas signing with the A’s, but the question, "Who Needs a DH?" is still relevant with Piazza, Bonds and Johnson. They take a look at several teams that could be in the market.
  • I am convinced that by the All-Star break, we will have seen 30 different versions of "Why [insert MLB team] should sign Barry Bonds". The latest comes from Jays Nest who argues for the Blue Jays signing the all-time home run king.

Cork Gaines writes for Rays Index and can be reached here.

Gammons’ Latest: Crisp, Piazza, Wells

ESPN’s Peter Gammons has a new blog post up.

  • Peter Angelos might put the kibosh on any Brian Roberts trade.
  • The Red Sox apparently wouldn’t mind shipping Coco Crisp to the Cubs for Sean Gallagher and another prospect.  The Sox might hope Crisp is the Cubs’ backup plan to Roberts. 
  • Gammons says Tommy Lasorda suggested the Dodgers consider Mike Piazza as a backup catcher; they are not interested.  It would’ve been fun to see Piazza finish his career in L.A.
  • Another free agent, David Wells, "hasn’t gotten a sniff from any team."  It’s only April 23rd, so desperation hasn’t quite sunk in. 

Reds Interested In Piazza?

WEDNESDAY: Hal McCoy ran this one by Dusty, who implied that he hasn’t had any discussions about Piazza specifically.  Meanwhile Fay says the Reds have "mild interest" in his latest article.

TUESDAY: This morning, Mark Healey of Gotham Baseball wrote that Reds manager Dusty Baker expected his team to sign free agent catcher Mike PiazzaReds beat writer John Fay checked in on the rumor, and it he didn’t get a denial.  Whether or not Piazza is the target, the Reds are looking for catching help and/or a right-handed bench bat.

Piazza, 39, hit .275/.313/.414 in 83 games last year.  He earned $8.5MM from the A’s and didn’t catch at all.  A shoulder injury knocked him out for much of the season, and he cleared waivers in August.  The A’s offered him arbitration after the season, which he declined.  They stand to snag a supplemental draft pick if he signs with the Reds.  This winter we heard rumblings about retirement, the Rays, or even Japan for Piazza.

Odds and Ends: Schilling, Piazza, Howard

Tax day roundup…

Rosenthal’s Latest: DeWitt, Murton, Vargas, Hatteberg, Pena, Baek, Piazza

Ken Rosenthal has his latest column up at FoxSports.com. As usual he is not shy about stirring up rumors. Let’s take a look at what the rumor-guru has to say:

  • Rosenthal notes that the Dodgers will go with Blake DeWitt at third base who has never played a game above AA. This comes after the Dodgers failed to acquire either the Astros’ Mark Loretta, who was unavailable and the Royals’ Esteban German, who was too expensive. The Royals were asking for the Dodgers’ third best prospect, shortstop Chin-Lung Hu.
  • He indicates that the Padres and the Rays are pursuing Matt Murton but the Cubs are holding out for a top pitching prospect in return, knowing Murton will be a starter on another club. Rosenthal quotes one GM as saying that the price "is way too high as of now". As many as five teams have shown interest in Murton.
  • The Mets are among a dozen teams that have inquired about Brewers pitcher Claudio Vargas, who will not be in the rotation to begin the season. [Update: Sorry about this one. I had forgotten that the Brewers released Vargas earlier this week]
  • The Reds have put Ryan Freel on the market, but more teams appear to be interested in Scott Hatteberg. However, Rosenthal indicates that it is unlikely for the Red to trade Hatteberg even if Joey Votto is named the starter.
  • The Tigers, Reds and Orioles all tried to acquire backup catcher Brayan Pena from the Braves, but the Braves do not appear interested in letting him go
  • Rosenthal says that Pat Gillick’s history in Seattle may have played a part in the Phillies inability to land M’s reliever Cha Seung Baek, who is out of options but made the roster as a reliever.
  • Finally, Rosenthal notes that Mike Piazza is still working out with hopes of landing a gig at some point in ’08. Rosenthal thinks that Piazza may have to come to the realization soon that his career may be over.

Cork Gaines writes for Rays Index and can be reached here.