The Scott Boras effect on the Washington #Nationals

The super agent Scott Boras often gets a bad ‘rap’ for squeezing every last nickel out of a deal, but that is why many players choose Boras to represent them as the number of years to maximize income in sports is very limited and players want to capitalize on it. Generally Scott Boras delivers big results, and earns his fee in the process.  Boras gets paid well for his services which goes far beyond just negotiating contracts, and it’s rumored that Boras gets a 5% commission (the maximum allowed by the MLBPA) on all salaries and even a higher percentage on sports marketing opportunities.

Vince Gennaro the author of “Diamond Dollars: The Economics of Winning in Baseball” and a consultant to MLB teams while also appearing regularly on MLB Network talks all the time about the “Scott Boras Effect”.  Gennaro is a proud stats geek and the President of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) while teaching Sports Business Management programs at Columbia University, and he calculated back in 2011 that Boras negotiated 6% of the 959 MLB free-agent contracts signed between 2004 and 2011 while capturing  21% of the total dollars committed, with the average Boras client earning $25.8 million more than the average non-Boras client. Controlling for factors such as player age, expected performance, and “marquee” value,  Gennaro also estimated that Boras using expert negotiating skill, was responsible for 39% of that $25.8 million premium.  That’s the “Scott Boras Effect”.

For years there has been the grandstand chatter that Scott Boras has too much influence on the Washington Nationals.  When the Nats signed Max Scherzer earlier this year, Barry Svrluga wrote an article titled, “Does Scott Boras run the Nationals?” and Svrluga followed that up with,

“There has been, over the past four days, a bit of a conspiracy theory surrounding the Washington Nationals, who you might have heard bought the services of right-hander Max Scherzer for seven years and a cool $210 million. Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, the most prominent agent in the game.”

When Scott Boras talks, people listen as evidenced any time you see him at the Winter Meetings, GM Meetings, or even the All Star game festivities.  Boras appeared on MLB Network radio to talk about several subjects from the CBA to Chen to Chris Davis to Denard Span.

boras winter meetings

Whether you believe Rizzo is part of these negotiations or not or everything is done directly with Ted Lerner is debated often.  The best line on this might have been delivered by Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun who was writing a piece on Chris Davis who is a Boras client and relating that to how the Nats got Scherzer with the owner a integral part of the negotiation and Schmuck wrote, “Obviously, Boras goes to ownership for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: because that’s where the money is.”

The Boras Corporation, with the addition of Stephen Drew, now controls 9 projected Nats players on the 2016 Opening Day roster and 10 players on the 40 man roster.

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Bryce Harper
  3. Danny Espinosa
  4. Gio Gonzalez
  5. Jayson Werth
  6. Max Scherzer
  7. Oliver Perez
  8. Stephen Drew
  9. Stephen Strasburg

+ Brian Goodwin who is on the 40 man roster.

There is no other team close to the number of Boras players on a roster, and from projections of 2016 rosters, the Royals and Rangers have the second most Boras players with 4 each.  With the 9 Boras players projected for the Nats 2016 Opening Day roster that would equate to 36% Boras players.

The Nats might not be finished with acquiring Boras clients as Denard Span is still a possibility for the 2016 roster, and then you can get really creative to think Boras could work on Ted Lerner to start the Chris Davis to DC rumors.  Remember what happened with Prince Fielder a few years ago when he was spotted in Georgetown just before he signed his lucrative 9 year $214 million contract with the Tigers. You usually need at least 2 teams bidding to drive up contract prices unless you have teams bidding against themselves by creative tactics, and Boras is a master negotiator!

Many feel the Boras-Nationals relationship has been good and mutually beneficial, and it will pay off for the Nats when Strasburg and Harper are ready for long-term deals.  There are few guarantees in our lives, and unless you know something the rest of us don’t, there are no guarantees that Stras and Harp have long-term deals attached by a secret handshake or a wink-wink. You will soon find out how the relationship is going forward as Strasburg is less than 1 year away from Free Agency himself.  The Boras effect is real and it’s not necessarily a negative until you start to feel like there are players being paid well over market values and/or signed as a bailout to rescue Boras on players who need a home.

Count former Nats GM Jim Bowden as a fan of Boras as Bowden said, “If there will ever be an agent in the Hall of Fame, it’s going to be Scott Boras.”

The Nats had just finished their first post-season appearance in 2012 losing in heartbreak fashion to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS with a blown save by Drew Storen.  It made the Nats ripe to be reactionary and get a veteran closer.  Rizzo passed up a few opportunities in trades and free agency in the off-season between 2012 and 2013.  Almost out of nowhere, the Nats inked Rafael Soriano to the highest reliever contract in MLB history. Soriano remained unsigned into January 2013 and had a Qualified Offer hanging over him and the Nats signed the Boras client in a surprise move to a 2 year deal.

The fears of many were realized as Soriano’s K/9 dropped from 9.2 to 6.9 and his ERA rose from 2.26 to 3.11 in his 1st year with the Nats, and it got much worse in the 2nd season of the contract.  If Soriano wasn’t tied to a Qualified Offer, it would have made more sense, but Rizzo had other options he passed up to strengthen the set-up role or even other closers for that 2013 Nats roster.

While signing Stephen Drew to a 1 year deal for $3 million plus $1.25 million in incentives isn’t earth shattering to the payroll, the question already has been whether or not Drew was the best middle infielder candidate for the bench given his poor offensive stats the last few years along with declining defensive metrics (negative UZR at shortstop and 2nd base).

Immediately after the rumored signing came this from Bill Ladson:

Was signing Stephen Drew a smart strategic move and a coincidence that he is represented by Scott Boras or a rescue of a Boras player who needed a team?  Drew missed a good chunk of the 2014 season as he didn’t sign with the Red Sox until May 21st of 2014.

Boras had this to say after the Scherzer signing, “We really don’t make those decisions. Mike Rizzo is the architect of the team. The Lerner family, they make these decisions. Usually how this happens is that when a club is losing, they have high draft picks. We represent a lot of high draft picks, and we have three or four of them here. Now, those high draft picks are very talented. They develop a core, and now they start seeking our free agents. So you get this period of time where you have a culmination of draft and free agency, and then it creates a volume of players on the team. Certainly, the Lerners have done that. They’ve said they were going to do that, and they continue to take, I think, correct steps in their baseball evaluations in what they’re doing.”

None of this means anything for when the time comes for contract extensions that Boras will do the Nats any favors as most hope Boras will take care of the Nats in getting Bryce Harper to be a lifer in DC. In fact at the Winter Meetings, Boras was peppered with questions on the subject of Harper getting an extension from the Nationals and Boras had this response,

“If the Nationals harbor any hopes of keeping Bryce Harper in D.C. long-term, the onus will be on them to initiate negotiations. So that’s really something I’m sure the brain trust of the Nationals have to sit down and look at. And when they have a plan, we’ll let you know.

There you go.  Onus meet Mike Rizzo.

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