Major League Baseball’s previous couple offseasons didn’t necessarily favor the players. Some free agents sat on the open market far longer than expected, while others signed for less than expected or didn’t receive guaranteed contracts (or any deals) at all. Count the game’s most famous agent, Scott Boras, among those disgusted with the way free agency has gone in recent years, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today details. Speaking at this week’s GM meetings, the always colorful Boras lamented the lack of teams going all-out to win, saying that “the industry is in a competitive hibernation, and the fans are reacting to it,” referring to drops in attendance (as Nightengale notes, even the Nationals, Astros and Yankees drew fewer fans).
“We got a decline in attendance. We got owners charging more for generations that want to see the game, while we’re losing a generation of young people that are only interested in competition,” said Boras. “Clubs feel there are greater rewards for losing than winning. And there is nothing to drive them to win because they don’t think it’s smart.’’
Boras even took aim at current commissioner Rob Manfred, whom he criticized for finding the luxury tax and the present system as a whole “wonderful.” That system, in Boras’ estimation, is “corrupt,” as it fails to “properly place progressive values of players at all. It’s always regressive.”
Of course, Boras’ hope is that the system doesn’t penalize his newest free-agent clients. And he’s representing several prominent players now on the open market, including superstar right-handers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. Boras is also the agent for Red Sox J.D. Martinez, who elected against opting out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM on his contract. The agent discussed those clients this week.
In regards to Cole, who looks likely to smash David Price’s record guarantee of $217MM for a pitcher, Boras stated (via Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer): “If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of Cole. I think starting pitching has become back in vogue. It’s an aggressive market.”
Boras also represents outfielder Bryce Harper, who signed the largest deal ever for a free agent last winter at 13 years and $330MM. He opined that Cole and Strasburg are in line to have even more teams after them than Harper did last offseason, per Breen. And while there has been speculation that Cole, a Southern California native, wants to sign with a West Coast team, that’s not necessarily the case.
“I don’t think geography matters to any of these guys as much as the continuance of winning and being able to achieve their goal of getting that rare ring,” Boras said. “And I think in Gerrit’s case, when you’re that close, you’re looking at this process as one where I’ve got a box to check and I want to go out and put together the best effort to put me in that position to do that.”
You wouldn’t expect Boras to say anything else in this case, as doing so could have decreased his client’s earning power. But, regardless of whatever geographic preference Cole may or may not have, the East Coast-stationed Phillies will heavily push for him, Breen reports. They won the bidding for Harper a year ago, and though general manager Matt Klentak has suggested he’s averse to signing more free agents saddled with qualifying offers (as Harper was, and as Cole is), Cole would greatly help a Phillies rotation in dire need of front-end aid.
The Phillies are among the teams that may be in the market for “a lump of Cole,” but that wasn’t the last of Boras’ holiday-themed metaphors. In regards to Castellanos, he stated (per Patrick Mooney of The Athletic): “Old Saint Nick delivers once a year. Young Saint Nick delivers all season. So you’ve got a pretty good market for that kind of player.”
Whether “young Saint Nick” (Castellanos) really “delivers all season” is debatable. He’s clearly a flawed player, one who has been more good than great at the plate throughout his career and has clearly struggled defensively in the outfield and at third base. Nevertheless, as a 27-year-old who does bring an above-average bat to the table, expectations are that he will fare well in free agency. MLBTR has him landing the eighth-highest guarantee of anyone on the market – a four-year, $58MM deal.
Martinez is something of a souped-up version of Castellanos, but he’s a half-decade older (32) and perhaps even a less viable defender. No doubt, Martinez would have had difficulty outdoing the money left on his pact had he opted out. Boras addressed Martinez’s decision, saying (via Alex Speier of the Boston Globe): “J.D. wanted assurance of competition at a high level and the fact that he played so well in Boston, we looked at it and with those two things in mind, we wanted to make sure that was the focus and for that reason he decided to opt in. The contract we structured allowed him choices after each season so it was something that, in this year at this time, we felt really that was the best decision.”
As Boras noted, Martinez will have another chance to opt out after next season. In the meantime, Boras is sure to focus his attention on several other clients who – despite his (arguably justifiable) distaste for the current system – could break the bank in the coming months.