Agent Scott Boras jabbed back at Major League Baseball’s comments to ESPN’s Crasnick this evening, writes FanRag’s Jon Heyman. Specifically, Boras questioned how the league could reconcile the notion of commenting on any offers made to unsigned players — a reference to Manfred telling Crasnick that some players had received “nine figure” offers.
“I find it interesting that free agents have nine-figure offers since the CBA mandates that teams not share that sort of information,” said Boras. “I am also curious how a public statement communicated to all teams about offers on the table and players demanding too much money from a central league office … is any different from the infamous ’information bank’ in the 1980s.”
MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem responded to Boras’ comments (also per Heyman):
“If Mr. Boras spent as much time working on getting his players signed as he does issuing inflammatory and unsubstantiated statements to the press, perhaps the events of this off-season would be different.”
Boras, without missing a beat, replied by pointing out that Halem made no denial that the league’s comments on the nature of offers some players have received contained the type of information that should not be made public and should not be known about by league officials. He also invoked statements from former union chief Donald Fehr made more than three decades ago:
“I’d be embarrassed,” Fehr said of MLB owners back in 1987. “But they aren’t. And the reason they aren’t is that they have decided that winning a battle with the players over salaries is more important than winning on the field. Winning on the field is secondary these days. The owners apparently feel they will come out no matter what.”
To Boras’ credit, it does seem curious that the league’s statement would openly acknowledge the size of offers that some players have received. In addition to running counter to the CBA, the comments hardly paint players in a favorable light at a time in which commissioner Rob Manfred is spearheading efforts to broadly expand the game’s appeal to a younger audience. If anything, today’s statement only furthers the popular “greedy player” narrative — one which often ignores that the alternative is for the even wealthier owners to simply pocket money not spent on player contracts.
While those numbers weren’t exactly a secret after being leaked to the media by various sources, likely from both the agent and team side of the equation in various cases, it was nonetheless surprising to see the league stating those numbers in a factual manner (even if it was merely in reference to media reports; it’s not clear which was the case in this instance).
Of course, it’s also worth noting that Boras is making a reach by likening the current economic state of free agency to one in which owners were proven to have colluded, resulting in mass one-year deals throughout the league and, eventually, an “information bank” in which owners readily shared intel on the types of offers that were being made to free agents.
Boras’ usage of Fehr’s comments, though, was more likely in reference to the spirit of competition (or lack thereof) and the number of “tanking” teams that aren’t endeavoring to put forth a winning club in 2018. Viewed through that lens, there’s some merit to the reference, but teams today certainly have greater incentive to tank than the more financial motives of those late-80s clubs. Furthermore, the five-year deal for Lorenzo Cain as well as reported seven-year offers for Eric Hosmer and five-year offers for J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish underscore the fact that it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
That point seems particularly worth highlighting; while many critics of the labor side of this dispute express difficulty in sympathizing with millionaire players that aren’t finding often outlandish contractual demands met, the larger issue isn’t so much that players like Hosmer, Martinez and Yu Darvish aren’t receiving offers in excess of $150MM. Rather, one of the main gripes — certainly the one voiced by Boras and MLBPA chief Tony Clark today — is simply that not enough teams are making any sort of effort, and their refraining from free agency entirely has eliminated the game’s general spirit of yearly competition (both on the field and on the open market). In addition to limiting the market for the top-tier talents, the absence of 10 or more teams on the free-agent market dramatically erodes the market for mid-range free agents who, in prior winters, would’ve happily taken two- and three-year deals from teams that may not be clear division-championship-level contenders. Obviously, there’s time yet for offers from some such teams to materialize.
Of course, as has been pointed out on many occasions — the players themselves bear no shortage of responsibility in the matter. The current structure of amateur talent acquisition in Major League Baseball disproportionately rewards noncompetitive clubs in both the draft and the amateur international market, thereby encouraging teams to strive for high draft picks rather than taking an against-the-odds shot at a Wild Card berth. Those measures, as well as the luxury tax that many of the game’s heaviest spenders are treating as a soft salary cap, were agreed upon by the union in the most recent wave of collective bargaining a bit more than one year ago.