Has agent Scott Boras failed?

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T15D23
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Has agent Scott Boras failed?

Postby T15D23 » Tue Apr 30, 2019 1:30 am

Has agent Scott Boras failed to adapt? Assessing his winners and losers in free agency
Ken Rosenthal

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My​ original plan​ was​ to​ wait until​ free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel​ signed​ a contract before reviewing​ the offseason​ performance of​​ his agent, Scott Boras.

Alas, The Athletic does not publish on the Twelfth of Never.

Keuchel’s lingering free agency – and Gio Gonzalez’s signing with the Brewers on Wednesday after leaving Boras for CAA – highlight the question of whether Boras, the game’s most prominent representative, is sufficiently adapting to a changing market.

Boras does not play the waiting game with every client – some of his best deals in 2018-19 were completed by early January. He also is not the only representative still trying to get a major free agent signed – a lesser-known agent, David Meter, faces the same quandary with reliever Craig Kimbrel.

Still, when The Athletic’s Jayson Stark tweeted his all-unemployed team on Feb. 12, the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, eight of the 31 players were Boras clients. No other agency had more than two players on the list.

Of those eight Boras clients, only two – Bryce Harper and Marwin Gonzalez – signed multi-year contracts. Mike Moustakas again settled for one year, while Matt Wieters and Carlos González agreed to minor-league deals. Martin Maldonado left Boras for Dan Lozano after his one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Royals essentially was in place. Gio Gonzalez left Boras after taking a minor-league deal with the Yankees. Keuchel remains free.

Boras had better luck in February and March during the 2017-18 offseason, negotiating multi-year deals worth a combined $329 million for Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta, though he fared less well with Moustakas, relievers Greg Holland and Tony Watson and others.

To hear Boras tell it, the problem is not his negotiating style, but the way that clubs use analytics to value players, often landing at similar dollar amounts in their appraisals.

“These markets are very different because we have got a dynamic where the valuation component is common to all teams by design,” Boras says. “Until clubs understand that this valuation system is inaccurate (by) a large measure, and that it makes clubs (perform) less well than anticipated . . . only then will this valuation structure alter itself and become more (a case in which) certain players are worth a great deal to certain teams and not worth as much to other teams, like it’s certainly been in the past.

“When that point is realized . . . we will have a true market. Until then, we have a false market. We have a situation that dramatically affects collective bargaining. And we have a structure in the game that is not in any way representative of what Major League Baseball has always been in the past. That is, the composition of a team is varied. It is different. And the contracts you give players in response to that is going to dramatically vary from club to club, as to interest and valuation.”

Boras is not alleging collusion – clubs acting in concert to depress free-agent salaries. What he seems to be saying is that analytics-based valuations create the effects of collusion. Whether the players’ union can prove such behavior is a violation of the collective-bargaining agreement is a discussion for another day.

Numerous club officials say Boras often is his own worst enemy, setting unrealistic price points that compel teams to pursue other free agents. Boras disputes such talk, citing in many cases a lack of offers reflecting a player’s true market value.

In this column, I will largely avoid back-and-forth claims, except when a reported offer is not in dispute. While Boras often is accused of raising expectations of clients he lures from other agencies, the purpose of this exercise is to determine how he fared with the deals he actually struck, not what might have been.

These lists do not include every Boras free agent in 2018-19; I picked the deals I viewed as the most meaningful and revealing. The recent six-year, $132 million extension Boras negotiated for Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts also is not covered, though it perhaps reflects an adjustment, at least in part, to the evolving free-agent market.

THE POSITIVE

*Bryce Harper (13 years, $330 million, Phillies)

As I wrote at the time, this was not a typical Boras contract – no opt-outs, a relatively low average annual value. The goal, it seems, was to beat Giancarlo Stanton’s previous record guarantee of $325 million, though Harper says he simply wanted the longest possible deal so he could settle in one place. As it turned out, Harper held the mark for less than three weeks before Mike Trout topped it with his 10-year, $360 million extension.

Judging strictly by total dollars, Harper fares quite well when compared to Trout. In Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) Trout reached 9.8 in 2018 and entered the season at 64.9 for his career. Harper was at 3.5 and 30.5, respectively, and received nearly as high a guarantee, though obviously his $25.4 million AAV is dwarfed by Trout’s record $36 million.

Bottom line: It’s difficult to quibble with the second-largest contract in major-league history.

*Yusei Kikuchi (four years, $56 million, Mariners)

Kikuchi, a Japanese left-hander with no previous major-league experience, received the third-highest guarantee of any free-agent starting pitcher, trailing only Patrick Corbin’s $140 million and Nathan Eovaldi’s $68 million.

Under the rules of the posting system, Boras faced an early January deadline, and could not protract the negotiation. He did just fine in the shorter time frame; Kikuchi, 27, could end up with a seven-year, $109 million contract if the Mariners exercise a four-year, $66 million club option after his third season. It’s not out of the question – Kikuchi will be 30 at the time.

*Zack Britton (three years, $39 million, Yankees)

Britton landed the largest contract of any free-agent reliever even though he pitched only 40 2/3 innings last season after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles in December 2017.

The Britton deal, like several others in Boras’ “positive” category, demonstrated the value of striking relatively early – the sides agreed to terms on Jan. 5. The contract includes what Boras called a “swell-opt” provision. Britton can opt out after 2020 if the Yankees decline to exercise his $14 million club option for ‘22.

*Hyun-Jin Ryu (one year, $17.9 million, Dodgers)

Boras generally prefers his clients to establish their values on the open market, but accepting a qualifying offer for the talented but frequently injured Ryu before fully exploring free agency was the right call.

Ryu, 32, pitched a total of 213 2/3 innings from 2015 to ‘18, including 82 1/3 last season.

*Matt Harvey (one year, $11 million, Angels)

An even earlier strike than Britton – Harvey agreed to terms on Dec. 18, receiving the largest one-year deal for a free-agent starting pitcher in the 2018-19 class after Ryu.

Harvey, 30, once figured to be a star of this class, along with another Boras client, the late Jose Fernandez. But since undergoing thoracic outlet surgery in 2016, Harvey has struggled to regain his previous luster. The Angels rewarded him largely due to his 4.50 ERA and encouraging peripherals in 128 innings after the Mets traded him to the Reds last season. With an 8.03 ERA after five starts, Harvey has yet to reward his new club’s faith.

*Trevor Rosenthal (one year, $7 million, Nationals)

This deal was reached on Nov. 3, just five days after the end of the World Series. Are we seeing a pattern here?

Rosenthal, 28, did not pitch in 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and signed a deal similar to the one Boras secured for Greg Holland with the Rockies after the ‘16 season.

The terms include a $15 million conditional player option that will vest if Rosenthal appears in 50 games or finishes 30. Don’t count on either – Rosenthal failed to retire his first 10 hitters of the season, and hit a batter and threw three wild pitches on Wednesday in only his second appearance since April 10.

*Jordy Mercer (one year, $5.25 million, Tigers)

The best outcome of any of player who left his previous agency to align with Boras for the 2018-19 offseason – and, you guessed it, another early decision, with the signing occurring on Dec. 14.

The market was deep in defense-first shortstops, and Mercer, 32, fared the best of them, receiving $250,000 more than Freddy Galvis, a lesser hitter who is three years younger. He also received $3.25 million more than his former Pirates teammate, second baseman Josh Harrison, who is a year younger and slightly more accomplished offensively.

THE NEGATIVE

*Dallas Keuchel (unsigned)

Wouldn’t we all love to know what Boras told Keuchel to persuade the pitcher to leave his previous agent, Darek Braunecker, in December 2017?

Here’s guessing it wasn’t, “You’ll be unemployed on April 25, 2019.”

At the start of the offseason, Boras labeled Keuchel “the soft-contact genius of his era” and “the greatest groundball pitcher in the game.” He wasn’t exaggerating: Keuchel, 31, ranked first in both categories among pitchers with 1,000 innings over the past seven seasons, the entirety of his career.

And yet, he is still unsigned?

Some in the game continue to whisper that Keuchel has an issue with his arm, but the pitcher worked 204 2/3 innings last season, made two five-inning starts in the playoffs and reportedly is throwing 95-pitch simulated games. If something showed up on his MRI, a deal can be structured to protect both parties.

One strategy now for both Keuchel and Kimbrel is to wait to sign until after the amateur draft in early June, when they no longer would be subject to draft-pick compensation. The reduction in acquisition cost likely would spur teams’ interest, but the pitchers’ salaries would be pro-rated, and by the time they were ready to pitch in the majors the season might be nearly half-complete.

The delay is hurting the values of both Keuchel and Kimbrel for this season, and any impact on their performances would compromise them in the future if they only signed one-year deals.

*Marwin Gonzalez (two years, $21 million, Twins)

Gonzalez, 30, did not help himself when his OPS declined from .907 in 2017 to .733 in ‘18. His lifetime on-base percentage of .318 entering free agency was another problem. But when he left his previous agency, Octagon, to join Boras in December 2017 – around the same time Keuchel made his change – he surely had bigger things in mind.

Back then, with Gonzalez coming off a World Series title, Boras probably figured the super-utility man could be another Ben Zobrist, who landed a four-year, $56 million free-agent deal entering his age 35 season three years ago. But as it turned out, Gonzalez received only $1 million more than Jed Lowrie, who is five years older, albeit coming off back-to-back .800 OPS seasons.

*Mike Moustakas (one year, $10 million, Brewers)

The comparison is not apples to apples, but how is it possible that journeyman right-hander Mike Fiers, 33, signed a two-year, $14.1 million free-agent deal with the Athletics while Moustakas, a two-time All-Star and former World Series champion, twice has failed to land a multi-year contract on the open market?

Moustakas, who first became a free agent at 29, rejected the Royals’ $17.4 million qualifying offer in November 2017, a move that seemed reasonable at the time, considering he was coming off a 38-homer season. Yet his combined two-year total since then of $18.7 million, including last year’s incentives (but obviously not this year’s), is barely above the one-year number he turned down.

Moustakas undoubtedly was hurt by his .308 career OBP, but he offers a number of positive attributes, including newfound defensive versatility with his move to second base. And he was not burdened by a qualifying offer in 2018-19.

*Greg Holland (one year, $3.5 million, Diamondbacks)

The initial one-year, $7 million free-agent contract Boras negotiated with the Rockies after Holland missed all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery was a masterstroke, seemingly setting up the closer for a massive payday.

That payday never came.

Holland made enough appearances in ‘17 to vest a $15 million player option for ‘18, but he declined that guarantee. The Rockies then made him a $17.4 million qualifying offer, and he declined that, too. Then, while Boras was in the middle of talks with the Rockies on the long-term deal Holland wanted, the team signed another free-agent closer, Wade Davis, to a three-year, $52 million contract.

Holland wound up in free-agent limbo, finally reaching a one-year, $14 million deal with the Cardinals on March 30, 2018. He pitched so poorly, the Cardinals released him on Aug. 1, and he spent the rest of last season with the Nationals.

Now 33, he is off to a good start with the Diamondbacks, converting all five save opportunities and posting a 0.00 ERA with 13 strikeouts in eight innings. But one way or another, he could have earned a lot more than his combined $17.5 million guarantee in 2018-19.

*Martín Maldonado (one year, $2.5 million, Royals)

Maldonado, 32, is another example of a player who left his previous agent for Boras anticipating free-agent riches – he switched from Magnus in August 2018 – and wound up disappointed.

Whoever was responsible for rejecting Maldonado’s two-year, $12 million offer from the Astros at the start of the offseason – Boras, Maldonado or some combination of both – severely miscalculated.

That deal would have been the third-highest guarantee for a catcher in the 2018-19 free-agent class, behind Wilson Ramos ($19 million) and Yasmani Grandal ($18.125 million).

Instead, Maldonado would up with a lower average annual value than Jeff Mathis, a similar defensive specialist, received in his two-year, $6.25 million deal with the Rangers. And Mathis – who signed on Nov. 20, nearly four months before Maldonado – is nearly 3 1/2 years older.

*Jeremy Hellickson (one year, $1.3 million, Nationals)

Hellickson, 32, re-signed with the Nationals on Feb. 8, looking to build upon the modest success he enjoyed last season, when he had a 3.45 ERA while averaging fewer than five innings over 19 starts.

Good team, fair park, but consider the list of free-agent right-handers who had lower fWARs than Hellickson yet received higher one-year guarantees:

Tyson Ross ($5.75 million), Marco Estrada ($4 million), Matt Shoemaker ($3.5 million) and Shelby Miller ($2 million).

*Gio Gonzalez (minor-league contract, Yankees; switches to CAA, opts out of deal, signs one-year, $2 million deal with Brewers)

Gonzalez, who left ACES for Boras in August 2015, is not exactly Blake Snell, and he turns 34 on Sept. 19.

Still, he’s better than many fans think.

Over the previous nine seasons, Gonzalez averaged 187 innings and a 3.49 ERA. He compiled a higher fWAR than Keuchel (8.6-8.0) between 2016 and ‘18. And after getting traded by the Nationals to the Brewers last Aug. 31, he posted a 2.13 ERA in five pennant-race starts and served as the opener in Games 1 and 4 of the National League Championship Series.

Assessing blame for Gonzalez’s tepid free agency is not easy. Boras says the pitcher did not lack for interest. The Blue Jays, according to a source on the club side, might have been willing to go as high as $11 million for one year, but were told Gonzalez wanted no part of Toronto.

In the end, Gonzalez landed a major-league deal only after departing for CAA, leaving Keuchel as Boras’ only remaining free agent.

The countdown to the Twelfth of Never continues.
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T15D23

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