Scott Boras and the Means of Production

Like him or not, Scott Boras is the best at what he does. (via Cathy Taylor)

Like him or not, Scott Boras is the best at what he does. (via Cathy Taylor)

Maybe you hate Scott Boras. Maybe you’re indifferent. But you almost certainly don’t like the guy. No one really does … except his clients.

The players.

He’s in the news right now because he’s facing off against everyone’s favorite front officer, Theo Epstein — the world-famous curse-breaker who can smell surplus value in the water from a mile away. However, Epstein’s decision to maximize Kris Bryant as an asset by starting him in the minors despite his jaw-dropping spring is secondary to the real issue — which is the fact that Scott Boras is the best advocate for the players at large that we can hope for in the current economic landscape of the world.

He’s known as a money-grabbing villain — which he clearly is — but who is he clashing against?

A massive cartel of highly organized money-grubbing villains.

Boras called the result of the Cubs’ decision, “Ersatz baseball,” implying that major league baseball isn’t what it claims to be without the best players on the field. If he hasn’t already, expect Boras to trot out that phrase a lot in his efforts to profit off of a much needed change to MLB service time rules.

Writers and fans can criticize front office greed until the Sun swallows the Earth, but when it comes to getting real results that favor the players, Boras’ obnoxious tenacity is the only real option … unless you’re of the opinion that a worldwide economic revolution is both a necessity and that the spark that begins it will come directly from major league baseball.

You’re unlikely to find a diehard Boras apologist. He’s hated for many reasons. His name is synonymous with greed and sensationalism. If you Google his net worth, the site automatically suggests the search criteria “Scott Boras drowning child,” which leads you to an article written for a site called The Brushback in 2004. The article, entitled “Scott Boras demands $35 Million to Rescue Drowning Child” is a perfect example of how the super-agent has been viewed by fans and the media for some time — as the idiopathic face of greed in sports, thanks in large part to his own celebrity.

When he said things like Alex Rodriguez is worth $500 million, however, his notoriety—or infamy—grew. And in addition to blossoming into an appropriately grease-slicked scapegoat, his fame grew as a parallel to the growth of player compensation. A-Rod ended up getting that ignominious $252 million deal with the poor, exploited New York Yankees — or so the narrative seems to go. Boras may have been hyperbolic as a negotiating tactic, but unlike the easily comparable and quantifiable theater of player compensation, a clear idea of team resources is hard to come by.

When the scales finish teetering, it’s almost laughable that many fans see Boras as the greedmongerer. The entirety of his incorporation is estimated to be worth $100 million. Even the lowly Tampa Bay Rays are estimated to be worth more than six times that amount, and again, it’s not as if all the teams’ chips are out on the table. Ownership can release “detailed look(s)” at their finances, but skepticism tends to arise when billionaires try to procure sympathy.

Boras is also hated within his own industry. According to a 2006 article by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Boras is disliked within the sphere of sports agents for plucking clients off of the top of the heap — even “stalking” players represented by less prominent agents.

There are a lot of really good agents out there who do a tremendous job for their clients. They shouldn’t have to worry about their clients being outright stolen from them as they get ready to reap the rewards of their years of hard work. It would be great if the union helped support and protect such efforts, which ultimately will benefit the players it so ably serves.”
— Jim Musney, player agent and president of Musney Sports Management

This is where the duality of Boras’ role in major league labor relations becomes apparent. As the net he can cast gets larger, smaller agencies began to “rush to negotiate substandard contracts for fear they’ll lose players to the competition and be left with no commission,” according to Crasnick. Clearly, Boras wouldn’t allow this to happen if his chief concern was the players. He’s in it for the money. Just like everyone else. But when it comes to the collateral damage his methods cause within the sports management/agency industry, it’s a case of two-steps-forward-one-step-back. He may limit a few negotiations along the way, but with a few mega-agencies — like Boras, Inc. — at the top of the fight between players and ownership, the players stand a better chance of getting a fair share of the profits … or, at least, the best players do.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

You could try to knock down a brick wall by throwing cue balls at it, but wouldn’t you rather break out the wrecking ball?

Boras is definitely a businessman. He’s inexorably slimy, and he preys on his own kind. However, is his admittedly conniving practice any different than MLB’s “almost diabolical” dragooning of smaller international leagues to land the top player from the Nippon Professional Baseball league and the Korean Baseball Organization?

The point is not to defend Boras. It is to provide a reminder that Boras, the players’ best bet in these negotiations, is an underdog in many ways. Teams are just conglomerated versions of Boras on the other side of the collision of forces, and teams have almost all the real power. It’s basically like someone with a business card-sized fridge magnet trying to slow down a maglev train long enough to jump on. Boras is just fighting for fractions of fractions of the deluge of profits largely created by the players.

In addition to cannibalizing the weak within his own industry, Boras is also hated because he is ultimately a major driving force in the growing distance between the players and the fans. When baseball began, the players were everyday Puds and Rubes like the rest of us. Now, as salaries have become absurd and players have to deal with the duplicity of fame, it’s much easier to see them as assets, property of the team with fluctuating value.

The players union has clearly shown it is not interested in wading deep into minor league waters in an attempt to improve conditions for minor leaguers. Comments about the situation being “unfortunate” are about as far as the MLBPA has gone so far. It is focused on its own fight against the owners — because it has to be. The union doesn’t have the resources to fight ownership and management on all fronts. And it’s certainly not as if Boras is on a crusade for fair labor — which is evidenced by the stature of his clientele — but he is the closest thing to an advocate minor leaguers have in their efforts to getting a fair shake and maximizing their earning power.

Maximizing their earning power might seem like a selfish endeavor but, just as teams seem to collude as they combat players in arbitration hearings over as little as $100,000 (to limit the ultimate growth of arbitration salaries), Boras must view his clients monolithically, as teams view players, in an effort to maximize every contract — and ultimately, his cut thereof.

Fans root for their teams, so Boras is an easy target for vitriol when a player “gets greedy” and leaves town, but the reality of the matter is much more complex than that. The MLBPA is pressuring every player to push the market to new heights because teams — read: billionaire owners — are avidly attempting to minimize expenses wherever possible in an effort to line their much deeper pockets even more.

If players are supposed to accept the contentiousness of going toe-to-toe with their own teams in arbitration hearings as being “just business,” then fans might benefit from having the same attitude when their teams refuse to pay what the market demands for their favorite players.

As far as Bryant and the Chicago Cubs go, the two sides were basically battling over potential leverage in future contract extension negotiations. Unless the reigning Minor League Player of the Year loses a limb at some point over the next year or two, the Cubs are almost certainly going to approach Bryant about an extension. With an extra year of control, the Cubs will be able to save themselves a few million dollars over the course of a hypothetical extension.

At the same time, their quest for a fully enhanced asset might also become contentious to the point that an extension is no longer something Bryant would consider. At this point, Bryant’s leverage amounts to a seemingly absurd statement along the lines of I will not sign an extension with the Cubs. I will pursue free agency in 2022. Or he can file a grievance with the commissioner’s office, an office much more influenced by owners than players. Or he can demand a trade. Almost all of his options will be frowned upon by fans as an unprecedented climax of player greed.

But what about the greed of ownership?

It’s not just about a few million dollars or a year of team control. It’s also about the future of contract negotiations for players who haven’t even picked up a glove yet. Fans will always choose the team over the players, but when it’s “just business,” doing so is like choosing the Kevin Spacey robot in Moon over Sam Rockwell. Wouldn’t you wanna be the one who could jump in there and save the Sams from being endlessly used up like a drawer of K-Cups by the massive corporation that built the SpaceyBot?

Rooting for the actual players seems like a given … unless you’re more into game theory than, well you know, the game itself. There is a certain intrigue to the organizational architecture produced behind closed doors, but ultimately, it would be nice to see the players get a fair cut of the product they create when they step onto the field.

Recently, Boras lobbied against the Cubs’ projected Kris Bryant service time maneuver in an interview with CBS Sports.

The opiate of player control cannot supersede the greater importance of MLB’s integrity and brand, which says that this is where the best players play. You can’t have that. Clearly, there’s an obligation to put the best players in the big leagues.”

That may just be his artful way of ultimately earning a bigger cut of future negotiations, but that doesn’t mean what he said is false.

Epstein’s response was a thinly veiled effort to paint Boras as a disrespectful grandstander.

I have a lot of respect for Scott and he by and large does a great job for his clients. The only part about it that bothers me is that he certainly could have picked up the phone before going to the national media about this. He never once called me and asked me if Kris would make the team or anything about his situation. So just from a personal level and professional respect, that would have been something that I would have done if I was in his shoes. Beyond that, Scott has a forum and obviously people are publishing what he says. He has a job to do and he has a great client who is a fantastic kid. The person who is handling this with the most professionalism and maturity is Kris Bryant. I couldn’t be more proud of how he is handling a very difficult situation.”

Epstein wasn’t necessarily wrong when he implied Boras’ immaturity and a lack of professional respect, and everyone knows Boras takes advantage of his stature in the media when at odds with a team in negotiations. However, Epstein pretending that a phone call from Boras would have changed anything while saying just a few moments later that, in 13 years as a front office decision man, he has “never once put a young prospect on an Opening Day roster when he had to make his major league debut,” seems to make this a clear-cut case of the pot calling the kettle black. Epstein criticized Boras for publicizing the issue … during an interview with the media. These are clearly two sides of the same million-dollar coin.

If you peel away the coy pretense, it begins to look a lot like jejune bickering over whether or not the rich kid has to share his toys.

Additionally, what if the abbreviated beginning of Bryant’s career ultimately costs him a shot at the Hall of Fame? It may sound absurd to posit something drastic like that. After all, Bryant needs to stay in the minors for only 12 days during the regular season for the Cubs to get what they want — an extra year of control. However, a lot can happen in 12 days. Somehow, the late former Negro Leaguer and Chicago White Sox player Minnie Minoso has still not been inducted in the Hall. He has 1,963 career hits and a .298 lifetime batting average. Would he have a plaque on the wall today if he had begun his career a few games earlier and retired as a .300 hitter with 2,000 total hits? Maybe not, but milestones are sacred in baseball. A few games, a few towering home runs sailing over the work sites at the edges of The New Wrigley Field, might be the difference between immortality and the boilerplate for Bryant.

However, stats and accolades aren’t the real issue at hand. The issue is whether or not the current rules are allowing the business side of the game to detract from the on-field product.

Boras summed it up well.

“This is not a baseball decision. The Cubs’ responsibility is to win.”

Of course, the Cubs aren’t the only team to bear that responsibility. There are 30 teams vying for the World Series every year, but sometimes, business gets in the way of all that. The Cubs have a better chance this year than they have had in a long, long time. And Bryant could clearly help them right now, but the Cubs aren’t concerned only with Wrigleyville. They have to stand firm for the overarching well-being of the other 29 clubs as well.

In the situation at hand, a win for Boras and Bryant is a loss for all 30 teams. Not only would such a result nudge the scales in the players’ favor, like when a player wins an arbitration hearing, but a win for Boras and Bryant would be a milestone in baseball’s version of the perpetual clash between laborers and management, between workers and owners. Like arbitration, service time rules may change in the future — and both team and player are simply playing by those rules in this battle of wills — but the clashes between baseball’s Davids and Goliaths will not change by way of simple rules changes.

It’s unfortunate that these circumstances lead players and labor-conscious fans to root for a money-grabbing villain like Boras as the champion of the working class, but in our economic system, the market concerns itself only with what is profitable. While it might be laughable to think of millionaire baseball players as the working class, they represent as much in the hyper-saturated economy of major league baseball. Boras can’t afford to be subtle. He has to make up for his disadvantages in his continuous fight against team ownership with obnoxious tenacity.

And since that economy is a capitalist economy, there are no emboldened altruists going to the mattresses for the players against the conglomerated superwealth of the owners who have any kind of staying power. The only way owners can be combated is through a consistently profitable venture like Boras, Inc. That’s not to say that an economic revolution is the only way these issues can be addressed. There would be complications no matter what system was in place, but these are the complications at hand and they are largely the result of something much bigger than baseball.

It’s unfortunate — to put it ironically.

But, is it but or because… it’s “just business?”


Tyler Drenon is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in the southwest corner of Missouri. He has written for VICE, The Classical and SB Nation. Follow him on twitter @basteball.
23 Comments
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Frederick Graboske
7 years ago

The best interests of any team are to retain the best players for as long as possible. In the case of Bryant, why wouldn’t the Cubs want to delay his debut if it means an extra year of team control. A few weeks of Kris Bryant at his current age is in no way equal to 1 year of his (anticipated) production in 5 years. So, Epstein’s decision is for the good of the team. I don’t recall Boras making a similar statement about another of his clients, Bryce Harper, when he was sent down in 2012. That extra year of team control delays the player’s (and, more importantly, Boras’s) big payday by 1 year. In the end, they are shown the money, gladly paid by wealthy owners seeking a WS title for their teams.

Drew
7 years ago

Well, ACTUALLY…

tz
7 years ago

Good article, especially on the balanced profile of Boras. The only small point I’d make is that the Cubs most likely are not considering solidarity with the other owners in their decision to send Bryant down, but ironically trying to maximize his time with the Cubs knowing Boras’s history of having his clients sign elsewhere.

I worry about the long-term financial viability of baseball. With the long run of revenue growth that the sport has enjoyed, there seems to be almost a false sense of certainty that baseball teams are growth assets that prospective buyers can flip for a huge return upon re-sale. This is parallel to the build-up before the bursting of the real-estate bubble, except that the potential risk of declining revenue is much sharper. Not only are ticket-price increases bound to eventually become an unrealistic source of growth, but there is the potential for future TV deals to be much less lucrative due to traditional cable TV’s competition from internet-streaming.

I’m beginning to think that somebody out there needs to put a ton of political pressure on baseball’s anti-trust exemption. Even though it’s likely to not be overturned, it may cool the overinflation of franchise values and force a discussion on the financial sustainability of MLB. This would, in turn, force the players union to take a tougher stance – and as much as I hate the thought of a strike, I think the threat of a strike and its long-term impact on revenues might motivate ownership to capitulate in a meaningful way.

Emro
7 years ago
Reply to  tz

TZ, I have to disagree with you. Although I agree that baseball as a business should be a failing prospect, it isn’t because it can’t be valued strictly as a business. As I read in another article on ESPN (Pretty sure it was a Bill Simmons article on the sale of the Clippers), a sports team is more akin to a work of art. Art intrinsically has no value. It has a perceived worth dictated by what people are willing to pay for it. It is unlike a NASDAQ listed business which has strict rules requiring it to give financial reports on its well being. Although your reference to the anti trust exception alludes to this, given its current state professional sport teams have no real comparisons to other businesses.

BTW, every major league player making serious money should be required to make a trip to Marvin Miller and Curt Flood’s graves and kiss the ground they’re buried under. Without them this is a moot subject.

RMR
7 years ago

The Cubs responsibility is to win. But that responsibility extends beyond April 15, 2015. By retaining Bryant’s services for a year longer when they would have otherwise, the Cubs are increasing their chances of winning. The calculus isn’t just about money, it’s about winning. The problem is that the way the Cubs help themselves win is by harming the player. In other words, the problem is with the rules that create misaligned incentives.

Jack P
7 years ago

Great replies by all! It’s funny how the Bryant situation has totally exposed this portion of the agreement AGREED TO by the player’s union. The Cubs acted in the best interest of the club and their fan base and Boras knows it. He is no more than an advocate/blowhole for hire.

This clause gets employed routinely and nary a word is said. It will be used on Javy Baez if they keep him in the minors til June. It happened last year with Polanco, Springer and Singleton. I heard little outrage–particularly over Baez.

Bryant was given a $6.7 million signing bonus out of college. Let’s try not to weep so desperately. I assure you that if he comes anywhere close to the hype, Cub management will shoot him a solid 3-4 years for now and he’ll somehow scrape by til then.

Mark L
7 years ago
Reply to  Jack P

I find your attitude bizarre – the Cubs acting in the best interests of their fans by not playing Bryant right away; and the union (who, just because they signed up to the CBA, doesn’t mean they agree with every part of it) being the bad guy here.

What do you think of Epstein’s “he needs more time to get up to speed” comment? Isn’t that what spring training is for? And how much difference will the 20 minor league games he plays make?

Hub 312
7 years ago

What Boras doesn’t address is, why wouldn’t the Cubs also want the best players on the field in 2021, especially when it’s reasonable to assume they’ll be more competitive then than in 2015? The Cubs are trying to build a team that will seriously compete for a playoff spot every season for the foreseeable future. 2015 is no more important than 2021. If Boras is standing in the way of a “reasonable” extension, why throw away Bryant in 2021 in exchange for 12 days of Bryant in 2015, when the Cubs are only projected to be a second wild-card at best even with Bryant? Therefore, I conclude that Boras should be ignored on this issue as his statements are fundamentally unserious from the point of view of the Cubs and their fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if when you google the “Stanford marshmallow experiment,” they have a video of Boras as a kid eating that first marshmallow rather than waiting a few minutes to get two.

Mark L
7 years ago
Reply to  Hub 312

How can you possibly predict anything about the Cubs of 2021? Literally anything could happen between now and then. This decision is entirely financial on the part of the Cubs.

Hub 312
7 years ago
Reply to  Mark L

“How can you possibly predict anything about the Cubs of 2021?”

I just did. Watch me be right.

“This decision is entirely financial on the part of the Cubs.”

1) Assuming the above is true: So what? That doesn’t prove that it doesn’t make great baseball sense too, with “great baseball sense” meaning “how you build a winning team.”

2) Last night’s Cubs game was rained out. You want to blow 2021 for 12 days in April, 2015 one of which was a rain out? Talk about “Anything can happen between now and then.”

3) If the Cubs wanted to put the best team possible on the field right now, they’d trade their entire farm system for Cole Hamels. That’s why Boras’s comment is either the stupidest thing anybody associated with the sport has ever said, or brilliant PR. I opt for the latter.

Patrick
7 years ago

Scott Boras is as greedy as the owners are. Fans in general will side with the team in a dispute over the player.

The percentage of total MLB revenue that has actually gone to players has dropped. Plus the new thing is handing good young players team friendly contacts. Most MLB players are “underpaid.” Think about how many fans come out to watch Kershaw pitch. No fan wants to hear about how a player making $10 million a year is underpaid.

Hank G.
7 years ago

I really don’t understand the vitriol expressed towards Boras. Yes, the more money the client makes the more money Boras makes. Doesn’t that mean that their interests are aligned? What player would want an agent whose interests are not aligned with his?

Simon
7 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

Most fans get a bad case of the stupids whenever Boras is mentioned. Boras doesn’t have some sort of mind control over his clients. He’s only doing what they tell him to, but the endless Boras-Svengali chat continues regardless.

Paul
7 years ago
Reply to  Hank G.

Nobody is bashing Bryant for choosing Boras.

On a more general note, some people seem to mix up what is expected and what is “good.” People can understand that Boras is trying to maximize his money, the player is trying to maximize his money, and MLB team owners are trying to maximize their money, and still not think it’s good. Just we expect something to happen–such as murder–doesn’t mean we can’t judge it.

MikeG
7 years ago

I see both sides to this issue and either way there will be complaints with the outcome. Early in the article states the issue of minor league conditions and that’s where the MLBPA should focus on. At some point all the members were in the minors and maybe didn’t get that 6.7 million dollar bonus but maybe less than ten thousand, if even. Reading about and speaking with the minor leaguers it’s a shame how they are paid. The percentage who go to the Majors should pressure the PA to fight for the kids.

Mark L
7 years ago

The number of fans who want the disgustingly rich 30 MLB owners to make more money is genuinely baffling to me. Yes, control players at the lowest possible wage for the greatest possible time! We will cheer you for this!

Marc Schneider
7 years ago

I have no problem at all with Boras (or the players) seeking as much as they can. But it’s a bit disingenuous for Boras (or players) to complain that teams aren’t trying to win, while the players are solely focused on winning and the money is secondary. Does anyone think that Max Scherzer, for example, would not have gone to Houston if the money had been substantially better than the Nationals’ offer? The very fact that someone retains Boras suggests that they want to maximize their return and I have no problem with that. But don’t pretend that it’s about winning.

Tyler’s anti-capitalist rants are silly. There is, of course, a struggle between owners and labor over profits. But the players DO NOT, despite Tyler’s Labor Theory of Value notions create 100% of the value of a franchise. The owners, in the guise of the leagues, create much of the value. How many people would go out to watch a bunch of major league players play in a sandlot? Tyler seemingly thinks that owners have no right to profits at all.

I’m not defending the owners per se. Like any business, they will exploit the power they have and I’m glad the players now have some power. Boras does what he has to do. I also agree that, in general, business has obtained too much power relative to the rest of society. But I can’t agree with Tyler’s seeming pining for some sort of socialist order, which history has shown to be a utopian chimera.

TylerDrenon
7 years ago
Reply to  Marc Schneider

Thanks for reading this, Marc. I think we essentially agree on the main points, and for the record, I’m much more inclined toward misanthropy than socialism, so I’m not optimistic about a utopian government/economic system of any kind.

It seems as though both sides of the Boras-Cubs situation have resorted to attempting to sway public opinion via thinly veiled ad hominem. Epstein’s semantic contortion didn’t amount to much more than calling Boras immature and disrespectful for simply attempting to do his job by getting Bryant Super Two status. Boras is guilty of the same kind of “it’s all about winning” histrionics, of course. In fact, he’s famous for them … and in my humble opinion, he’s much better at turning a phrase than Epstein.

As far as the owners go, you’re right. I don’t think they deserve much for simply owning the team. The profits generated by the game could easily be managed, reinvested, and/or donated to charitable causes without diverting a huge portion of those profits into the massive funnel of team “ownership.” As many do, I lean toward criticizing the suspect role of ownership in the game due to the fact that they are tax exempt organizations, like churches. If that changes (i.e. owners begin pouring massive amounts of revenue back into the community via taxes), then I would be much less concerned about their cut, but I agree very much with your last paragraph … especially the first three sentences.

Jason S.
7 years ago
Reply to  TylerDrenon

Teams in MLB are NOT “tax exempt organizations”. Either you were told wrong or misunderstood something you read. MLB, as in the comissioner’s office, WAS in the past tax exempt, but that is no longer true. They dropped this in 2007 to get out from under some reporting obligations required of the tax exempt status and they understood that changing their status would not result in them being taxed now. Individual teams and owners certainly are not “tax exempt” barring some kind of crazy local state rules that might exempt them, but at least on a federal level they are not.

Tyler Drenon
7 years ago
Reply to  TylerDrenon

This is true. I apologize for the oversight and/or incorrect phrasing. In 2007, the Commissioner’s Office, not the teams, chose to forgo the exemption so they didn’t have to publicly disclose their executives’ salaries.

The tax status stuff was just icing on top of the cake there. The point was: All parties except ownership, within the game and beyond it, would benefit if owners could be subtracted from the equation almost entirely.

Thank you for pointing out the error though. I genuinely appreciate it. Sorry again.

Paul G.
7 years ago

The whole Kris Bryant thing is the result of the typical absurdities that result from labor negotiations. There is some issue important to both sides, neither side wants to give in, and they finally settle on some overly complex compromise that no one sane would ever devise if not the need for the compromise. Said compromise is then gamed by both sides to the hilt. If it proves to be too one-sided or otherwise has negative effects it gets reworked in the next negotiation.

The players and owners agreed on X. The Cubs are responding logically based on X. It is what it is.

Ideally teams should promote minor leaguers to the majors solely based on merit, players should be paid what they are worth at all times (which would include massive pay cuts for ineffective players), owners should receive an excellent profit, teams shouldn’t lose their best players because they cannot afford them, fans should always be happy, and so on and so forth. I doubt there is any generally agreeable solution that would provide all these benefits and if there was someone would probably find a loophole that would wreck it.

As for Scott Boras, he has no power here. He knows it. Yet he has to do something for his client so he does this futile gesture. It’s all in the dance.

jay
7 years ago

Mark L…aka Scott B.

A.C.
7 years ago

In the end does it really matter when Kris Bryant debuts? If Bryant ends up being a star player the Cubs will most likely try to sign him to long term contract long before he is eligible for free agency like Evan Longoria, Buster Posey were and many other players.