Baseball players jumping from one agency to another is nothing new. In fact, it seems there are some who will change affiliations more frequently than they change their underwear. When agents and baseball executives talk about an instance of that happening, they often use a phrase that conjures up images of evildoers chasing ivory-rich elephants in sub-Saharan Africa: “player poaching.” That terminology focuses on the unscrupulous agents who make it common practice to steal players out from under their colleagues and while that certainly takes place, not every case is exactly alike and things are never that cut and dry in the agency world. Sometimes, it’s the players who are acting unscrupulously. In the case of some minor leaguers, they’re employing two, three, or four agents at once in an effort to rack up as many gifts and favors as possible.
Plenty of stories have been written about individual cases of players being lured from one agency to another, but there hasn’t been much discussion about players employing several agencies simultaneously. There’s no way to quantify how many minor leaguers are engaging in this practice, but upwards of a dozen agents speaking on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that it’s quite commonplace.
A few years ago, one agent called a club to discuss the terms of his minor league client’s release. The exec, in turn, informed the agent that he had already spoken to the player’s representative just hours ago. The agent was shocked, but not surprised. His client had been stringing him along while actually working with a different agent.
“You see this a lot with guys from the Dominican Republic and in the Latin markets,” the agent said, echoing a sentiment shared by many in the field. “They don’t understand that there are rules and limits as to what an agent can give you. So they’ll employ two or three agents and they all have regular contact with the player. You have one giving them money, one giving them equipment…I’ve seen cases of guys having three or four agents at one time. There’s really no one policing it.”
Lower-caliber minor leaguers can juggle multiple agents without oversight because they do not have to fill out an agent designation form with the MLBPA until they reach the 40-man roster. Nearly every agent that spoke with MLBTR had a story of a player using multiple agents, whether it happened to them, a partner within their agency, or someone else in the field. As one might imagine, the victimized agents tend to find out about these things in strange ways.
One agent visited his client’s minor league clubhouse only to find a Foot Locker stock room’s worth of free shoes crammed into the player’s tiny locker. The abundance of free swag was the baseball equivalent of a woman finding a lipstick stain in an unfamiliar shade of red on her husband’s collar. That agent’s suspicions were confirmed soon after – his client had been taking advantage of multiple player reps.
Another veteran agent told MLBTR’s Steve Adams that he saw a little-known Single-A player who already had representation sign on with another agency because he was given an endorsement deal from Easton. When his original agent asked the player what had happened, the player replied that there was nothing in writing or even a check, just a $10K cash payment. Major equipment companies typically don’t dole out lucrative deals to unheralded minor leaguers and they certainly don’t do it with a burlap sack of money. It’s more than likely that the player’s allegiance was simply paid for by the rival agent.
Nearly every agent that spoke with MLBTR made two generalizations on the topic at hand. First, the players doing this, more often than not, are international prospects. Secondly, even though plenty of savvy veterans have been fooled, the greener agents are more susceptible to getting played.
“I don’t want to say that it’s a B.S. excuse for agents, but I feel that anytime a guy is working you for equipment and other crap, that should send up a red flag for you,” said one experienced agent.
Even though the MLBPA doesn’t oversee the non 40-man players, there are multiple ways that agents can protect themselves. Five veteran agents told MLBTR that they require all of their clients to fill out agent designation forms, regardless of their status. Agents can still submit these forms to the union and if a player is registered with more than one representative, all parties involved are notified. From that point, the union will step in and mediate. Of course, at that point, an agent might not even bother putting up a a fight.
“I believe it takes a certain kind of makeup to succeed. I don’t care how good you are, it just doesn’t matter. I’ve seen all kinds of ridiculous talent in this game but if they’ve got a ten cent head, it’s probably not going to work out,” one agent said. “That doesn’t mean they have to be smart, but with certain kind of guy you can tell he ain’t gonna make it if he’s playing these games and worrying about [gifts].”
Agents say they’ll only engage in business with players that are of high character. The aforementioned player who asks for a pair of spikes and $200 before forming a partnership? He’s probably not a guy you want to be involved with. It could also be a bad sign when you’re talking with handlers rather than the player himself.
“The further you get away from dealing directly with a player by dealing with a chain of people around him, the more likely there is to be abuse,” longtime agent Barry Meister said. “When you’re recruiting a young player, and talking to his family, you have to be sure the person you’re speaking with is the person who is making the decision. I suspect that you’ll have far more luck going directly to the player than talking to a handler or someone in the entourage or the guy’s brother.”
The end game of staffing multiple agents is almost always to rack up as much money and as many gifts as possible. Agents who want to avoid being turned into a walking Amazon wishlist can protect themselves by complying with MLBPA regulations. The union stipulates that an agent cannot spend more than $2K on any single player within a year, a mechanism designed to help cut back on player poaching. Staying inside of that dollar figure also leaves agents less susceptible to getting worked over or, at the very least, lessens some of the sting if their minor leaguer does get into bed with other agents.
Newer player reps would be wise to take that advice because the consensus amongst agents is that the union won’t be cracking down on guys simultaneously rostering multiple agents. While agents appreciate their voices being heard on matters with the MLBPA – something widely attributed to the late Michael Weiner – the union, they say, has bigger fish to fry and probably doesn’t have the resources to police every instance of a minor leaguer acting unethically. Also, in many cases, the players are staffing multiple agents in part because they’re new to playing the game at a professional level and don’t really have a grasp on how a player-agent partnership works. At the end of the day, the importance of pre-screening goes both ways for players and agents who are looking for a productive and honest business relationship.