Commentary

Boras took a hit, but he'll survive

Originally Published: November 19, 2007
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

When Scott Boras contemplates the definitive week from hell, it goes something like this:

He checks the daily mail at his Newport Beach, Calif., office and finds a letter from his meal ticket, Alex Rodriguez, who informs him his services are no longer required. A few frantic phone calls later Boras discovers that his longtime nemesis, Jeff Moorad, has just left the Arizona Diamondbacks' front office to rejoin the agent fraternity, and is in the process of negotiating a 10-year, $350 million deal for A-Rod with the Yankees.

Speaking out

Nationals president Stan Kasten was blunt in his assessment of what Scott Boras' role is, as a representative, in an interview with XM Radio over the weekend:

"I used to think as Scott as a necessary evil, and now I've changed, I no longer think he is necessary. He and I are friendly enough personally, but I think the way he conducts himself is perfectly consistent with the job he's given within the system we have. I think the system could be better, and I've talked about this publicly, for all of sports, for all of fans, and for all of players, if the union took over that job, and we had an agent free universe, I think everything would be better. Boras is what he is, and he's done what he does, and I've signed many contracts with Scott, but it makes it difficult.

"I had this conversation with Andruw [Jones] who was a little put off by the whole situation with the Braves and how his departure was handled, and I was thinking to myself, that he needs to realize that his agent makes things difficult from time to time, and there are some teams that don't want to deal with it. It's well known that the last time he [Jones] did a contract with the Braves, he did it without using Scott. We've seen at least twice this week when that's happened, with A-Rod and Kenny Rogers, I don't think it's a trend, Scott's going to continue to be very successful, but there are times when Scott is not a plus, and we see examples of that from time to time"

-- XM Radio

The next day, the toilet at chez Boras overflows, the car won't start, Braves first baseman Mark Teixeira calls and says he's having second thoughts about their relationship, and union leader Donald Fehr tells The Associated Press that upon further review, a salary cap might not be such a bad idea after all.

In contrast to the aforementioned nightmare, Boras' current reality is less a death blow than an embarrassment -- the agent's equivalent of a fly ball bouncing off Jose Canseco's head and over the fence for a home run.

To review, Boras made some serious missteps in the biggest negotiation of his career and received such a massive dose of vilification that he went underground for several days. And just when you wondered whether he had suffered any permanent damage, long-time client Kenny Rogers put out an all-points bulletin that he had just fired Boras and would now negotiate directly with the Detroit Tigers.

That said, Boras will survive. He'll soon receive a commission of $14 million or so for A-Rod's deal with the Yankees, and he didn't even have to pay Kinko's to print and collate a 100-page "homage to Alex" binder. It's not as if poor Scott is walking out of the casino in a barrel. If this is what it means to be a loser, we should all be so fortunate.

As Rodriguez's contract talks with the Yankees speed toward a mutually satisfactory conclusion, here's what we know: The two sides have an outline in place for a 10-year, $275 million deal, with the potential for lots of incentives as A-Rod approaches Barry Bonds' career home run record down the road.

We know that A-Rod, after seeking guidance from investment icon Warren Buffett, got the ball rolling by contacting the Yankees directly. The Steinbrenners, who wanted no part of Boras, are now dealing with him because baseball's labor contract decrees they do so. And for all his skills, Rodriguez is not particularly adept at negotiating incentives, perks and other creative flourishes in big-ticket contracts.

But if you know anything at all about Scott Boras, you know how much it killed him to be excluded from the process, even temporarily. Say what you will about the man, but he prepares for contract negotiations with the fervor of an Olympic athlete. And this time around, he missed the 100-meter final because he forgot to set his alarm clock.

Suffice to say, there isn't much mourning in front offices throughout the game.

"I shouldn't be happy over another person's misery, but this one doesn't bother me too much," said a National League executive who is not a Boras fan.

For a multitude of reasons, the A-Rod affair will not go down as Boras' crowning achievement. The decision to exercise an opt-out clause during Game 4 of the World Series -- and no matter what Boras says, it came from his end -- was incredibly ill-timed. Then the bidding war that Boras was expecting failed to materialize, to the point that Rodriguez, with the support of his wife, Cynthia, felt the need to reach out personally to the Yankees to achieve détente.

What was the ultimate cost to Rodriguez? As ESPN's Buster Olney recently reported, the Yankees were willing to begin talks with Boras with an opening offer of five years and $150 million, in addition to the three years and $81 million remaining on his deal (with $21 million coming from Texas). The Yankees might, indeed, have been willing to go to nine years and $260 million in the end, but we'll never know for sure.

If you're going to play poker the way Scott plays it and push every hand to the brink, you're going to risk losing some hands. More often than not, Scott has either had the better cards or played the better game.

-- An American League executive on Scott Boras

As countless writers and front-office executives claim, Boras "miscalculated" and "misread the market" for his star third baseman. Nevertheless, after A-Rod's two weeks in the wilderness, the Yankees are still willing to give him a record deal that will keep him in pinstripes until he's 42 years old, at an average annual value that exceeds the $252 million contract that was once decreed the ruination of the industry. So who's really playing who here?

If the market for A-Rod was so flimsy, why didn't the Yankees say, "You had your shot to gauge the market -- we're starting from square one"? The answer is simple: They need A-Rod just as much as he needs them, and they want this reunion to go down with no hard feelings from Rodriguez's end. If you think Boras didn't realize this, and hadn't considered the possibility of the Yankees getting back in the game, you're delusional.

We'll find out eventually whether Hank Steinbrenner was the hero here or the second coming of Tom Hicks. But you could make the case that the Yankees served as enablers for Boras and A-Rod, and caved big-time by relenting on their vow not to negotiate once the Texas subsidy was no longer part of the equation.

In the end, A-Rod's punishment will amount to little more than a flesh wound. Maybe he's a smidge less popular today than a month ago, but who really cares? Just as national columnists were speculating on the jolt to A-Rod's image last week, Barry Bonds was indicted by a federal grand jury. In a week or two, everybody will be hyperventilating over Johan Santana trade rumors or the latest update on the Mitchell report. In the modern news cycle, today's Armageddon is invariably tomorrow's afterthought.

Since his arrival in New York, Rodriguez has been pilloried for swatting a baseball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove and yelling "Ha!" to distract Blue Jays third baseman Howie Clark from catching a pop fly. He survived being photographed with a stripper on the cover of the New York Post beneath the headline "Stray-Rod." He went 57 straight postseason at-bats without an RBI and batted eighth in the 2006 American League Division Series against Detroit. And now, after he hit 54 homers and drove in 156 runs to ensure his third career MVP award, we're supposed to believe he suffered irreparable harm because he exercised a clause in his contract?

Everyone already viewed A-Rod as a diva and image-obsessed. So are big league players and executives going to roll their eyes any more today when he declares, "I always wanted to be a Yankee"? Within the confines of the clubhouse, Rodriguez and Curt Schilling are always going to lead the majors in eye rolls. That's no different today than it was three weeks or five years ago.

As far as Boras is concerned, popularity is never part of the equation. Considering that his "Q" ratings are just north of O.J. Simpson's and Osama bin Laden's, he didn't exactly have far to fall in the public eye.

What matters is Boras' perception among his clientele, and that remains to be seen. We know for starters that the Players Association has a major stake in Boras' emerging from this saga with his clout intact. You see the union's devotion to Boras every time a younger, less established agent complains that one of Boras' "scouts" in the minor leagues is trying to steal a client. And you see it when Fehr issues a statement saying the union is worried about collusion in regard to A-Rod's contract talks. The union loves and protects Boras because he negotiates the record contracts that set the market for the smaller deals. He creates the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Could the A-Rod affair prompt future Boras clients to take matters into their own hands? Some people will view Kenny Rogers' break from Boras as a sign that a revolt is imminent. But Rogers is 43 years old, and this isn't the first time there's been a strain in his relationship with Boras. Beyond that, A-Rod is a special case. Unless Kyle Lohse has George Soros on speed dial, we can't see another Boras client soliciting back-channel advice from a billionaire investor anytime soon.

[+] EnlargeScott Boras and Alex Rodriguez
Larry Goren / Icon SMIScott Boras' (left) cut for Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal? Around $14 million.
The reality is, Boras has made his fortune and reputation by outworking other agents, outmaneuvering clubs and building an operation that's the equivalent of the 31st major league team. The side effects include lots of rhetoric, a reputation for concocting "mystery teams" in negotiations, and an approach that leaves too many clubs feeling vanquished rather than gratified, the way an equal partner in a negotiation should feel.

The Boras approach inevitably leads to casualties. Jeff Weaver has been a vagabond since turning down a multiyear offer from the Dodgers. Kevin Millwood went through a rough stretch before signing a five-year, $60 million deal with Texas. And we're not even counting the Kenny Hendersons and other amateur players who've heeded Boras' advice in the draft and taken their lumps.

"If you're going to play poker the way Scott plays it and push every hand to the brink, you're going to risk losing some hands," said an American League executive. "More often than not, Scott has either had the better cards or played the better game."

Boras' mystique is so strong among fellow agents, some competitors believed the entire A-Rod scenario was orchestrated -- that Boras hatched a plan for Alex to reach out to the Yankees with an offer of détente. Now that Boras' air of invincibility has been punctured and it's come to light how angry Rodriguez was over the opt-out backlash, we know that's not the case.

Agents and baseball executives are also watching to see how Boras massages the final numbers in the A-Rod contract -- and portrays his involvement in the process -- to put the best possible face on events. Don't be surprised if Boras, with an assist from the Yankees, makes Rodriguez's deal come out looking an awful lot like a $300 million haul.

As one AL assistant GM observed, "I'm sure Scott will tell people, 'I work for Alex. He wanted to be with the Yankees, and if it meant I had to take a step back and allow him to have a direct dialogue with the owners, I'm never against that. I want what my client wants.' Of course he'll spin it that way."

And when Boras spins, people throughout the game roll their eyes. Unlike one of his signature clients, pitcher Greg Maddux, Boras never mastered the art of changing speeds. It's a little late to start now.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer

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