Scott Boras Rumors

Rafael Soriano Changes Agents

TODAY: Soriano has hired Alan Nero and Ulises Cabrera of Octagon Baseball, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports on Twitter. The righty tells Sanchez that he is “working out every day” in preparation “to get back to playing baseball and helping a team win in whatever role I’m asked.”

YESTERDAY: Free agent reliever Rafael Soriano is set to replace agent Scott Boras, according to James Wagner of the Washington Post (Twitter link). It is not clear whether he has chosen a new agent.

Soriano hopes to sign a deal and return to big league action, per the report. He has been inactive for the first two months of the year despite plenty of apparent interest. Presumably, the fact that he has yet to do so had something to do with the parting.

Boras has negotiated Soriano’s contracts since the fall of 2010 — as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times then reported on Twitter — and has done rather well for his now-former client. Soriano has earned a total of $49MM over four years, exercising an opt-out clause negotiated into his deal with the Yankees and overcoming a qualifying offer to find better money over two years with the Nationals (though a significant piece of that was deferred).

Most recently, the Marlins were said to be dabbling in the Soriano market, though no deal was completed and the team apparently no longer has interest. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth provided a complete look at the possible suitors last weekend (with our readers voting the Cubs as the odds-on favorite to bring him in).


Ricketts, Epstein Defend Handling Of Kris Bryant

Scott Boras’ recent comments regarding the likelihood that the Cubs will not promote his client Kris Bryant for Opening Day have added fuel to a debate that has gone on for years about when top prospects should be promoted, and how (or whether) clubs should weight service-time issues. (Bryant, of course, has added fuel of his own by hitting nine home runs in 32 Spring Training appearances.) Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein both commented on Bryant and Boras today.

  • Ricketts spoke at a luncheon in Chicago Wednesday and defended his team’s right to promote players at its discretion, writes Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune. Boras, Ricketts said, has “the right as a fan to express his opinions. He has the right as an agent to represent his client. But we have the right as a team to make the player personnel decisions.”
  • President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that promoting players for the first time at the start of a season isn’t his usual approach regardless of service-time questions, via David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com. “I can say this: This is my 13th time putting a team together at the end of spring training and I have never once put a young prospect on an Opening Day roster when he had to make his major league debut,” said Epstein, who added that his approach with young players when he was GM of the Red Sox was to allow them to start their season in the minors and “get in a good rhythm” there before being promoted. Epstein suggested that the timing of a player’s big-league debut is important, and that having a player debut on Opening Day, when bad weather and lots of press attention are significant factors, might hurt the player.

Quick Hits: Zimmer, Boras, Draft, Dozier

The Rays will honor the late Don Zimmer by announcing that his #66 jersey will be retired in a ceremony on Opening Day.  Zimmer only wore #66 for one season during his 11 years as a senior advisor for the Rays, as he increased his uniform number by one every season to reflect how many years he had spent in baseball.  The beloved long-time coach, manager and player passed away last June.

  • Using Max Scherzer‘s signing with the Nationals as an example, Scott Boras discusses how he markets (though the agent dislikes that term) and presents his major free agent clients in an interview with Bloomberg’s Joshua Green.  Boras and his staff identify which teams are ideal fits for his clients and then specifically tailors each pitch to relate to each team owner during negotiations.  With Scherzer, Boras had four lengthy meetings with Nats owner Ted Lerner highlighting how Scherzer would create more value to the franchise both baseball-wise and from a business perspective.
  • MLB.com’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo debate which club has had the best farm system of the last five years.  Callis chose the Nationals since they’ve found more superstar talent, while Mayo picked the Cardinals due to their system’s overall depth.
  • The possibility of an international draft has been a topic of discussion throughout baseball lately, with proponents like commissioner Rob Manfred advocating a “single modality of entry” to allow consistency in the way MLB teams sign amateurs from various parts of the world.  Flipping the idea around, however, Rob Neyer of FOX Sports suggests that MLB could instead ensure consistency by abolishing the amateur draft.  Instead of a draft, MLB could allow teams to spend a predetermined amount on amateur players (be they domestic or international) each year. Neyer favors doing so in such a way that would stop baseball from penalizing winning by having the top teams take lower draft picks.  The idea could also be easily modified so that teams with the worst records would be able to spend more money.  In either case, Neyer believes his system would encourage all teams to hunt for talent both at home and abroad.
  • It’s becoming rare to see pre-arbitration players sign extensions that don’t cover at least one free agent year, yet Brian Dozier‘s new contract with the Twins is such a deal, Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards writes in his analysis of the extension.  Edwards thinks more players could possibly pursue “a safe deal” like Dozier’s if they “place an emphasis on getting to free agency.”
  • Orlando Hudson is in the Diamondbacks‘ camp to work with the infield, though he plans to be back on a diamond in more than an instructor role, MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports (via Twitter).  Hudson hopes to play winter ball and attempt a Major League comeback for the 2016 season.  The 37-year-old former Gold Glove second baseman last played in the bigs in 2012 and had seemingly hung up his spikes following brief stints in the Mexican and Dominican winter leagues in 2013.


Boras Challenges Cubs Regarding Kris Bryant

Agent Scott Boras had strong words today for Cubs ownership regarding the timeline of the promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. In the view of Boras, the team — and, in particular, its final decisionmakers — must decide whether to prioritize winning over long-term contractual matters.

At base, the issue revolves around service time and major league readiness. By keeping the 23-year-old Bryant in the minors even for just two weeks to start the 2015 campaign, the club can prevent him from accruing a full year of service and thus delay his free agency by a full season. The controversy over Bryant is not a new one, of course; we saw similar debates last year, for example, involving players such as Gregory Polanco. It is, however, in particularly sharp focus given the player’s massive potential — as exhibited in his outstanding spring performance thus far (six home runs in 23 plate appearances) — and the club’s own emergent competitiveness.

“Cubs ownership has a choice,” said Boras. “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? [Cubs owner] Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.” In addressing the issue, Boras compared Bryant to several other top prospects who were allowed to start the year with their clubs in spite of service considerations, often with successful results. He had particular criticism for the team’s decision not to call up Bryant late last year, saying: “I believe the issue with Kris Bryant is not whether he should be on the 2015 team. The issue is, why wasn’t he called up in September of last year when he could have prepared for the 2015 season?” In comments to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Boras was even more strident, saying that holding Bryant down is tantamount to “damaging the ethics and brand of Major League Baseball.”

In response, club president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that the decision whether to include Bryant on the active roster to start the year was his alone, upon consultation with his front office team. “Comments from agents, media members, and anybody outside our organization will be ignored,” he said.

Epstein emphasized that there is more at play than contract status. “As I told Kris last September and again at the start of spring training, we view him as nearly big league ready,” Epstein said. “The remaining area for improvement is his defense — something Kris agrees with. Kris is 6-foot-5 and a half and therefore faces obstacles other third baseman don’t face.”

Though Epstein held out the possibility of Bryant heading north with the team, he noted that lingering shoulder soreness was playing a role in the decision:

“More than anything, we want him to get in a good rhythm defensively before he makes his major-league debut. That has not happened yet, in part due to some shoulder fatigue that is not a concern but has limited the amount of game action he’s been able to have at third base. If enough time remains to get Kris into a good rhythm defensively at we may consider putting him on the club. If not, we see nothing wrong with using the early part of the season at Iowa to get him in that rhythm.”

As for the notion that Bryant should have received a September call-up to prepare him to start 2015 in the bigs, Epstein tells Nightengale that the decision was made in part based upon the fact that Bryant had just experienced his first full professional season. “When we talked after the season,” Epstein said, “he was really happy how he held up physically, but he’s an honest kid, and said that he was little mentally drained from the grind of the long season. I think it was the right thing, let a guy go through his first full season, and feel good about the numbers he put up.”

Bryant entered the year as a consensus top-three prospect league wide after destroying the upper minors last year in his first full season as a professional. Over 594 plate appearances split evenly between Double-A and Triple-A, he slashed .325/.438/.661 and hit 43 home runs. Of course, as Epstein notes, observers agree that there remains some polish to be applied to his work at the hot corner.

As for the Cubs roster, one major impediment to significant early playing time for Bryant was removed over the offseason when the team dealt away the solid Luis Valbuena. But Chicago traded for Tommy La Stella as another cheap, youthful option and also has former prospect Mike Olt in camp.


Scott Boras & The Waiting Game

Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the last two members of MLBTR’s Top 50 Free Agents list who are still looking to find a new team.  It comes as little surprise that both pitchers are represented by the Boras Corporation, as one of Scott Boras’ signature tactics is his willingness to wait deep into the offseason to find an acceptable deal for his clients.  As the agent memorably put it two years ago, “People call me all the time and say, ‘Man, your players aren’t signed yet.’ Well, it doesn’t really matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.”

According to MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, 69 Boras clients have signed free agent contracts since the 2008-09 offseason, and 29 of them have signed on or after January 14.  I chose that date as it’s roughly a month before the opening of Spring Training camps, and while you could argue that Jan. 14 isn’t that late for major signings, consider that only nine contracts worth more than $30MM have been signed after that date during each of the last seven offseasons — and seven of those deals went to Boras Corporation clients.

Not even Boras client, of course, waits to sign a contract.  Jayson Werth and Jacoby Ellsbury are notable examples of Boras clients who signed mega-deals in early December.  In several other cases, however, Boras instead waits for the first rush of signings to take place and then surveys the market to see which (usually deep-pocketed) teams still have key positions to fill.  While this strategy inevitably thins out the number of suitors for a free agent, the teams that are left are theoretically more motivated to sign the player due to the scarcity on the market.

Waiting also has the upside of potentially creating a market where none existed.  The best example of Boras’ patience paying off was Prince Fielder, who wasn’t generating as much attention as expected when he hit free agency following the 2011 season.  After Victor Martinez tore his left ACL, however, Boras suddenly had the perfect storm of circumstance — he already had a strong relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, and the club was now in sore need of a big bat.  Little over a week after news of Martinez’s ACL tear broke on January 17, Fielder signed a nine-year/$214MM contract with Detroit that was, at the time, the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history.

This isn’t to say that waiting always works for Boras and his clients, as the new free agent rules put in place prior to the 2012-13 offseason have forced some Boras clients to suffer through longer-than-expected free agent stints.  While Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse still found healthy multiyear deals in the 2012-13 offseason despite respectively waiting until February 11 and March 25 to sign, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales weren’t as fortunate last winter.  Drew had to wait until May to re-sign with the Red Sox, while Morales had to wait until after the June amateur draft to escape the draft pick compensation tied to his services and subsequently sign with the Twins.  In those cases, a market simply didn’t emerge, and the lack of a proper Spring Training for Drew and Morales undoubtedly contributed to those players’ struggles in 2014.

Needless to say, Boras only wants his clients to wait out the market on their own terms, not on the qualifying offer’s terms.  The agent has harshly criticized the QO system, arguing that it acts as a roadblock to a truly open market and “penalizes premium performance.”  Defenders of the qualifying offer might counter that Boras is exaggerating by describing mid-tier free agents like Drew or Morales as “premium.”  Indeed, most top free agents who reject the QO have still found major contracts, including Boras Corporation client Max Scherzer just a few weeks ago.

Rodriguez and Soriano, of course, don’t have qualifying offers hanging over them, though both veteran relievers face other concerns about their ages (Soriano is 35, K-Rod 33), declining fastballs and whether either is a reliable option for a team looking for a closer.  Despite these question marks, Boras’ track record makes it a good bet that both pitchers will end up with a comfortable one-year deal.  Four teams are known to be interested in Rodriguez, while Soriano would seem to be a logical fit for those same clubs as a possible Plan-B option.

Then again, maybe I’m thinking too small for Soriano given how Boras has twice found larger-than-expected contracts from unlikely sources during the righty’s two previous turns in free agency.  Any team’s plans can unexpectedly change all the way up until Opening Day (or even beyond), and more often than not, Boras has managed to squeeze every bit of value out of every minute of his clients’ free agent status.


Marcell Ozuna Joins Boras Corporation

Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna is now being represented by the Boras Corporation, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports.  According to MLBTR’s Agency Database, Ozuna had previously been represented by the Kinzer Management Group.

As Ozuna isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2016 season, it’s probably no surprise that Frisaro reports that Miami hasn’t discussed a contract extension with the 23-year-old outfielder.  The cost-conscious Marlins may not want to make a notable financial commitment to Ozuna unless they can get some kind of a bargain over his arb years, and Scott Boras’ track record would seem to make such a team-friendly deal unlikely.

Ozuna’s first full season in the majors has been a successful one, as the 23-year-old has posted a .261/.316/.440 slash line, a 110 wRC+, 18 homers and 56 runs scored in 448 PA.  He’s also been solid in center field, exhibiting a strong throwing arm and saving eight runs according to the Defensive Runs Saved metric.

MLBTR’s Agency Database contains agent information for more than 2,000 Major League and Minor League players. If you see any errors or omissions, please let us know via email: mlbtrdatabase@gmail.com.


Draft Notes: Astros, Huntington, Rodon

We’re under two weeks away from the first round of the 2014 amateur draft, which kicks off on June 5.  Here’s a collection of draft-related info…

  • No one knows what the Astros are going to do with the first pick,” an executive from a team with a top-six draft pick tells Peter Gammons.  Another rival executive feels Houston may not take Carlos Rodon first since “many of the Astros people believe that picking a pitcher at the top is a gamble because of the historical predictability of pitchers.” (Though of course, the ‘Stros took Mark Appel last year).  The exec feels the Astros are “looking…closely” at high school outfielder Alex Jackson, and if Houston passes on Jackson, the Marlins also like him a lot as the potential second overall pick.  Miami is favored to draft a hitter due to the number of pitching prospects in their system but “they love [Tyler] Kolek and it would be hard to pass on Rodon,” Gammons writes.
  • Also from Gammons’ wide-ranging column, he polls executives about which teams had the best drafts of the last decade, and also muses about there would be much more casual fan interest in the draft if picks could be traded.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington feels that a deep selection of talent is available, write Charlie Wilmoth and David Manel of Bucs Dugout. Huntington also addresses the pressure to select local players and how the Bucs are adjusting to picking near the end of the first round rather than with an early selection.
  • If Rodon does go first overall, it doesn’t seem like the Astros would give him a record bonus simply because of how the draft’s rules have changed, Baseball America’s John Manuel writes.  Scott Boras (Rodon’s adviser) argues that MLB should alter the draft format since the current rules hurt teams at the Major League level; the agent suggests such changes as not subjecting first-round contracts to the salary allotment cap or not taking away a team’s first round pick for signing free agents.

Quick Hits: Cain, Int’l Prospects, Bush, Boras

Matt Cain has been placed on the 15-day DL in order to recover from a cut on his right index finger that already cost him one start earlier this week.  While making a sandwich in the Giants’ clubhouse last Tuesday, Cain dropped a knife and tried to catch it in mid-air, cutting his finger in the process.  While the injury isn’t serious and Cain could return to the rotation as early as Saturday, the Giants ace may have earned himself a mention in future lists of oddball MLB injuries.

Here are a few notes from around the baseball world…

  • The Rangers have done the best job of signing international prospects since 2006, as ranked by Baseball America’s Ben Badler.  Not only has Texas signed 14 international players (the second-most of any team in that span), but several of them are making waves in the minors and the likes of Martin Perez, Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar have contributed to the Major League club.  The Royals, Pirates, Twins and Red Sox round out the rest of the top five in Badler’s rankings.
  • Former first overall draft pick Matt Bush is halfway through a 51-month prison sentence and he talks to FOX Sports’ Gabe Kapler about his regrets and his battles with alcoholism.
  • Scott Boras’ inability to adapt to the new qualifying offer system in free agency is why clients Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew are still waiting for new contracts, Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel opines.  While Boras has pulled impressive deals seeming out of nowhere for many clients in the past, McDaniel argues that teams have more information now and are less apt to give up a draft pick or commit major dollars to “second tier free agents.”
  • Fangraphs’ David Laurila catches up with right-hander Mike Ekstrom about playing in Italy and his Baseball Round The World website, which chronicles the experiences of Ekstrom and other players who continue their careers in far-flung locales.  Ekstrom pitched 61 Major League innings with the Padres, Rays and Rockies from 2008-12 and spent last season at the Triple-A level in the Athletics’ and Angels’ systems.

Boras Corp. Loses Grievance Claim Against Beltran

The Boras Corporation — the powerful agency led by Scott Boras — has lost a grievance action that it brought against recent Yankees signee Carlos Beltran, report Bob Nightengale and Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today. Boras had sought $1.3MM in damages from Beltran for leaving his agency in October of 2011, prior to inking a two-year, $26MM contract with the Cardinals.

The ruling by arbitrator Shyam Das held that Boras could not enforce the following provision in his contract with Beltran: 

"You understand and agree that we invest substantial resources, time and effort in preparation for free-agent contract negotiations and salary arbitration hearings. Therefore, you agree that if you terminate our agency authorization during or after a championship season, and before the following championship season you sign a free-agent or arbitration-eligible contract (whether single- or multi-year), you agree to pay us 5% of the entire contract regardless of who negotiates it on your behalf."

This provision had been part of Boras's contracts for fifteen years, with many other player reps utilizing some form of it as well. The agreement of which this clause was a part must be re-executed annually, leading Boras to argue that Beltran had prematurely terminated the agreement. But Das effectively read it out of the contract, deciding that it was not "permissible under governing MLBPA regulations" and holding that Beltran's termination of the agreement foreclosed any obligations to pay Boras a cut of any future earnings.

Of course, the broader importance of the ruling is what it means for player-agent relationships going forward. Without the implicit threat of the provision's enforcement, there is somewhat less disincentive to look for a new agent in the middle of a representation term. Boras warned of dire consequences: 

"It basically makes the agent an at-will employee. Is this what you want? You should be responsible for the work you do. We need accountability on both sides. … The understanding of this rule is that it now promotes the vast majority of agents to take any deal they can get. The agents' conduct will be affected. This rule gives owners a lot more power. This is not in the best interest of major-league baseball players."

Meanwhile, for Beltran, the case was also about principle. He said:

"I felt like I had to win because he was basically suing me because I left him and he was trying to collect money without having done anything for me. It's not the money. It's the intention. Scott Boras had to do something that wasn't right. If I haven't done anything for you, haven't negotiated your contract, how could I sue you and try to collect money because you left me and because you hired another agent? That didn't make any sense to me.''

In addition to the broader impact, the ruling seems to have implications for already-framed disputes. Boras has an action pending against Edwin Jackson, who left Boras Corp. before landing his $52MM deal with the Cubs. And Robinson Cano famously bolted for upstart agency Roc Nation in advance of signing a monster $240MM contract, though no action has been initiated in that situation. "I never worried about it,'' said Jackson. "Come on, you can't have it both ways. You can't take away guys from another agency, but when your guys leave, sue them."


Cafardo On Arroyo, Overbay, Drew, Boras

In his latest column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe revealed that he is part of a BBWAA committee that will explore the Hall of Fame voting process and discuss what changes (if any) need to be made.  Some of the issues likely to be addressed by the committee is whether to allow voters to name more than 10 players on their ballots, whether or not long-time broadcasters or statistical analysis-centric writers should be given a say in HOF voting.

Here's the latest hot stove news from Cafardo…

  • Two new teams have joined the hunt for Bronson Arroyo.  At least one of his suitors is moving closer to giving Arroyo the third contract year he's looking for, though that third year could come in the form of a vesting option.  Cafardo isn't sure if the Twins were that mystery team, though they've been interested in Arroyo all winter.  He also cites the Yankees and Phillies as interested parties, as those two clubs join the likes of the Orioles, Mets and Pirates as those linked to the veteran righty this winter.  Cafardo reported last month that Arroyo has received two-year contract offers from four different teams.
  • Free agent Lyle Overbay is an option for both the Astros and Brewers at first base.  Milwaukee is also still considering signing Michael Young for first, or trading for Mitch Moreland of the Rangers.
  • Agent Scott Boras says “there are five or six teams who I have actively talked to concerning Stephen [Drew],” including the Red Sox.  As you might expect, Boras denied that Drew's market is in any way limited, noting that Drew doesn't have a new contract yet since "free agency is a long process.  It just doesn’t end at Christmas. It’s a January, February, and even a March process."
  • Boras "has a tremendous stake in the Red Sox’ present and future," Cafardo writes, noting that the agent represents not just Drew, but also top youngsters Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Deven Marrero.
  • "The silence on [Kendrys] Morales is deafening," as teams are reluctant to give up a first round draft pick as compensation for the slugger.  At least one team said they're leery about spending significant money for a DH, though Boras, Morales' agent, counters by noting the impact that David Ortiz has had on the Red Sox and also noting that his client can play first base.
  • Johnny Damon has stayed in shape and would be willing to resume his career.  The 40-year-old hinted at retirement if he couldn't find a contract last offseason and indeed Damon ended up sitting out the 2013.  Damon is also a Boras client, and the agent tells Cafardo that Damon has yet to contact him about officially retiring.
  • Manny Ramirez wants to continue his career, his hitting coach David Segui predicts, though Segui hasn't spoken to Ramirez in over two months.  “Manny will always be able to hit,” Segui said. “He loves to play, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s still looking for something.”  Ramirez's agent, Barry Praver, said in November that his client looking for a return to the Majors.  Ramirez, 41, last played with the bigs with the Rays in 2011 before being suspended for PED use.  Over the last two years, Ramirez spent some time with the Athletics' and Rangers' Triple-A affiliates and also played in Taiwan.
  • A National League GM predicts that one of Masahiro Tanaka's many suitors will "come in and blow everyone away.  There’s going to be a dance where everyone is in the same boat and then there will be a team that breaks the bank for him.”