The upcoming free agent market will be shaped to an unusual degree by agent Scott Boras and his clients. That’s true not just because he represents so many of the top players heading to the open market, but because several of his clients have opt-out opportunities this fall. It’s all reading tea leaves at this point, but Boras did offer at least a few subtle hints in the course of an interview with Jon Heyman and Josh Levin on the Big Time Baseball Podcast (audio link).
He was asked first about Stephen Strasburg, who just turned 31 and is presently polishing off an excellent and healthy campaign. Given a chance to chat about the talented righty, Boras was muted. Indeed, he began by pointing out that Strasburg can opt out either this winter or next — which is true, and notable, but isn’t exactly a patented Boras sales pitch.
So, does that mean that Strasburg is leaning against an opt out and/or that Boras will recommend he hang onto his four-year, $100MM commitment? That’s impossible to say. And Boras made clear we shouldn’t assume any such thing, saying: “I make it a practice to not discuss anything with players about their contracts until they’re done performing and certainly we’ll have time to address that and I’m sure Stephen will give me direction on it.”
Boras was not similarly restrained when the hosts raised the topic of Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez, another prominent opt-out candidate. Though he didn’t specifically address the opt-out decision (three years, $62.5MM in his case), Boras left little doubt that he has begun compiling talking points on the slugger.
Martinez, per Boras, is “one of the top 5 offensive players in the game … and that is the vision of J.D. Martinez that I believe all teams have.” But the premium hitter is not a bat-only player, says his agent. He’s in the lineup every day and “plays forty or fifty games in the outfield,” says Boras. “I don’t think teams would in any way view J.D. Martinez as a DH,” adds the always-entertaining player rep, who also emphasized Martinez’s leadership and provision of hitting information and “intensity” to teammates.
Whether it’s fair to read anything into these comments is up for debate. Strasburg is famously quiet and may simply prefer his agent support that low profile. But those decisions are of critical importance to the respective teams and the overall market landscape. While their names were at least mentioned, Boras unsurprisingly passed on the chance to highlight Elvis Andrus and Jake Arrieta — two other clients who don’t seem to be in position to strongly consider opting out of their deals.
Boras also largely passed when asked to comment on two key Nationals players, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. Boras says the team has made clear its “strong interest” in retaining Rendon. Having previously sputtered, contract talks won’t start again until the Nats wrap up the 2019 campaign. It still seems unlikely that a deal will be made before Rendon has a chance to test the market, though that’s not written in stone.
As for Soto, Boras acknowledged some recent comments from president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo regarding the team’s obvious interest in a long-term deal with the exceptional young hitter. But he did not read more into them than was intended or give any hint that there was particular interest or disinterest in dealmaking on the part of the 20-year-old Soto. “Those are things that we kind of leave in the space of the offseason before we ever begin discussion,” said Boras.
If there was another topic that really seemed to pique Boras’s interest — aside from the need to protect the health of players, in relation to the recent Kris Bryant injury — it was the upcoming free agency of Nicholas Castellanos. The outfielder has been aflame since landing with the Cubs, with Boras explaining that his talent has finally been freed by “getting into a lineup where people really can’t work around him and have to throw to him and they also have situational pressure.”
With Castellanos having “taken advantage of that situation to illustrate his skills,” and shown the defensive chops of one of the “ten to twelve best right fielders in the game,” Boras obviously feels he’s got a significant piece to market. Castellanos is still just 27 years of age and has certainly impressed in Chicago, but it remains less than clear just how robust his market will be. Boras says he believes “everyone understands now what kind of ballplayer that Nick Castellanos is.” And that may be true. But what isn’t clear is whether teams really believe Castellanos to be more than a 2.5 to 3 WAR range of performer — and whether they’ll be willing to commit big money over a lengthy term to acquire such a player.