From left to right: Howard Kusnick, Taylor Green, and Joshua Kusnick at Miller Park.
Joshua Kusnick of Double Dimaond Sports Management was nice enough to chat with us this evening. Kusnick represents 13 players in the Brewers' system, including highly regarded prospects like Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, and Taylor Green.
Over the last couple of years, Kusnick has developed a reputation as an agent that works outside the box, so to speak, as he maintains a blog on which he’ll often discuss the life of an agent or what is happening with the players he represents and he is open to the media and fans, even going so far as to reaching out to this blog to see if there is anything he can do to help us.
In the interview he reveals his philosophy as an agent, sheds some insight into last season’s Sabathia trade and drops a few names to watch closely in 2009.
You can listen to the interview here:
OK, this is Jared with Right Field Bleachers and I have Joshua Kusnick on the phone, the agent for many of the young Brewers, and I’m just going to ask a few questions.
First off, how is the offseason going for you so far? Keeping busy I imagine?
Yeah, you know, it’s been a little bit different feel this year because of the way the economy has been, but we’ve been working incredibly hard for everybody and we just got back from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
We got a lot of good feedback from a lot of the companies and more importantly the team. We had our meetings with Mr. Melvin and Mr. Ash and we got a pretty good feel for what’s in store for the guys this year and what everybody’s expectations are of our players.
Of course, Alex Periard and Omar Aguilar got added to the roster, so that was nice. We’re expecting hopefully things to continue into the year and everything’s been pretty smooth thus far. It’s been hectic, but it’s been good.
Can you talk a little bit about how you came to where you are today? Why’d you choose to become an agent?
Uh, it kind of happened by accident, like any good endeavor. I’ve worked in sports since I was probably 14, 15 years old. My father, Howard, has been an attorney for over 25 years and I used to be one of those paparazzi-type people trying to get autographs of all the minor league guys when I was a kid, 14, 15 years old.
I never really cared too much about getting autographs really, but it gave me a really good venue and vehicle to talk to pro athletes and practice talking to pro athletes without getting star struck.
And, by the time I was 18 years old, I had a pretty outgoing personality, and I spoke to my father and we discussed what I was going to do for school and whatnot.
I went to Florida State and the year before I left, I ran into a scout at one of those games and he had offered me a job with the team he was with at the time for really low-level scouting, probably just associate work, and I helped him out with his draft figures that year.
Then, the following year, I spoke to my father and we decided to open an agency when I was a teenager. And the first client we ever signed made it to the big leagues. And that was all she wrote.
OK, do you mind if I ask who the client was?
Ha, uh, yes, because we don’t represent him anymore, but he’s no longer playing so it evens out.
You seem to have a different approach to the business than most agents, you know from your blog to the way you relate to media and fans, a little more open I guess. Can you talk about your philosophy as an agent and why you choose to go about it that way?
Yeah, when I first started, when everybody first starts in the industry, you’re starting with absolutely nothing and I made the decision years ago that I was going to do things my way or I wasn’t going to do it at all and if it works, great, and if not, then there’s always other jobs.
I love reading. I love writing. I’ve always been very close with media types, even before I was an agent. There’s obviously a separation between players and fans because players need to live their lives without fear of anything. They have a right to privacy too.
But, professionally, I don’t think there’s any reason for there to be a huge veil. I don’t think I’m saying anything that’s too controversial or too secretive. I’m not stupid. I don’t let inside information slip for the most part. But it’s important to keep the fans and the media in the loop, especially with the guys coming up because nobody knows who these guys are.
You need to bring something different. You’ve gotta have a different approach.
With me being as young as I am, I’m going to be 27 in May, if I acted like a suit and tie when I was 21 years old, there would really be no incentive for the player to hire me as opposed to a guy who is 45 years old in a suit and tie.
That was my gimmick getting in is just being different. And obviously there’s a natural maturation process. I’m hopeful people can see the difference now from what I was a few years ago and it’s worked so far.
Hopefully, whatever I’m doing keeps working in the future. Like I said, it’s important to keep everyone involved because it’s a form of entertainment, it’s like showbiz. Obviously there are more emotions involved because it’s a sport, but you’re providing a service to the fans and without them, where would everyone else be?
You mentioned your age. Have players been hesitant to work with you because you’re so young, or do you see it as an advantage?
I mean, it’s both. It’s difficult at some levels because it’s easy for other people to harp on that and say I’m crazy or say I’m young or say I’m this and that. But when I get criticized, it’s usually not about the quality of my work or my agency’s work with my father, it’s about the basic stuff.
And most players—they don’t get enough credit for this—they’re very smart. They’re very sharp. They can tell when somebody is lying to them. If somebody is promising something that sounds too good to be true, it oftentimes is. My approach is pretty blunt. I’m a blunt guy.
You know, “This is what I can do. This is what I can’t do. If you like it, great. If not, go hire someone else.” I only promise things I can deliver or else I’m going to look like a liar and I’m going to get fired anyway.
I’ve worked hard to get rid of the age stigma and my father has been a huge help with that and a calming influence.
As for the positives, obviously I’m in the same age bracket as the majority of my clients. It’s a lot easier for them to tell me certain things or relate with me for certain problems they’re having because of how old I am. And maybe they wouldn’t necessarily have that with somebody else. It works perfectly.
My whole agency is my father and myself. If a player feels more comfortable dealing with one as opposed to the other, that’s how it works. But my father and I are involved with absolutely everybody. So, it’s good.
It’s worked so far, like I said, and we’re not going to change the dynamic of the agency anytime soon. And we’re just really thankful to be here still because we know how easy it is to fail in this industry.
From reading your blog, it sounds like being an agent isn’t always the glamorous wining and dining it can be made out to be. Can you talk about that a little bit? Life on the road?
It’s a grind. I travel the majority of the year. It’s an anonymous job for the most part. I’m not in this to get famous. That’s the player’s job. I’m just here to get everybody paid and make sure that they’re taken care of as best as they need to be and what they want. I do what I’m told. I give the best advice I can.
You know, it’s not all parties and Hollywood. It’s a grind. I’m up until 3 AM, 4 AM every day talking to guys on the West Coast if they need to call me. I’ve never altered that sleeping pattern. I’ve developed it.
It takes a toll on your personal life obviously, but you give up everything to do this job, and it’s worth it at the end of the day if you’re willing to pay the price. But people who come into this field as a fan, it’ll never happen. You really need to sterilize yourself from the idea of fandom and just really look at it as a business venture and treat it as such.
It’s just a grind. I’m going to Milwaukee tomorrow. March is going to be crazy for me with Spring Training. And then the season starts and most of the year I’m going to be gone.
And it’s just minor league city after minor league city, major league cities, meeting with teams, meetings with companies, meetings with other players, then you have to balance the draft. It’s difficult because I have a smaller size agency staff wise, I’m hands on with everything.
It’s hard to trust people within the industry, and as far as giving responsibility to other people, I never put that burden on them. I’d rather take responsibility for everything and if something doesn’t go well, it’s my fault. Instead of having to blame somebody, I’d rather it just be on me.
Coming up in the agency world is not an easy thing and most people flame out after a few years. I’ve seen lots of people in the industry come and go.
But, like I said, I think I’ve shown that I have some degree of staying power and it’s not because I’m lacking for substance. I’d like to believe that I can back up everything that I’m talking about, but we’ll see.
You represent a lot of Brewers prospects. Do you know how many you’re working with right now?
Was that just a natural thing, kind of word-of-mouth, people in the same system talking to each other? Or how did that come to be?
The first two players we had signed were Lorenzo Cain and Darren Ford. Darren played at Chipola Junior College and Lorenzo played at Tallahassee Community College.
I lived in Tallahassee at the time and I was actually scouting a Mariners’ prospect named Michael Saunders who was at TCP, and I actually saw Lorenzo by accident and it was one of the best mistakes of my career.
We got Lorenzo and then we got Darren and then they both went out together and then we did a good job for them and then we got everybody else.
We’ve been able to retain everybody, which is the more important thing because it’s not who you start with, it’s who you finish with. And now we have some of the bigger names in the system. But when we signed some of the guys, they did not start off as the bigger names.
We like to believe that the agent’s personality is reflected in the players that he represents. And guys like Taylor Green and Lorenzo and Darren were all draft and follows and all worked hard, nothing has been given to them.
Luis Pena has been in the system for nine years and Omar Aguilar was a draft and follow and Periard was a mid-round sign.
None of these guys, except for Jeremy Jeffress and Brent Brewer, were high-round guys, and not to take away from their work because Jeremy and Brent are two of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen in my life, but we like to believe that the guys that we have will reflect favorably upon us.
We work hard. They work hard. And I think our work ethic has paid off to the point where we’ve been able to get the other Brewer guys because they see how hard we work as opposed to everything else that is out there in the industry. And I think that people react to that favorably.
What’s your relationship with the Brewers’ front office like?
Positive, for now. My father and I have a great relationship with everybody from Bruce Seid to Gord Ash to Doug Melvin. If there’s something that happens, we can call anybody. And I know a lot of the scouts because they’ve drafted a lot of our guys.
From the previous regime, I was very good friends, professionally speaking friends wise, with Jack Zduriencik and Tony Blengino and Tom McNamara, who are with the Mariners now.
It’s a unique relationship with Milwaukee. We’ve had players with all 30 teams, but it’s just like a phenomenon. That’s not the right word, but it’s just a weird occurrence that we have all these guys in one system and we’ve been able to just manage it.
We have a good relationship with everybody we deal with as far as negotiating the draft. With the Brewers, you build relationships with certain teams and they know what to expect from you and you know what to expect from them and occasionally it can help things run a little bit more smoothly.
As the Sabathia trade details started to come out last year, a couple of your clients were mentioned as possible player-to-be-named later candidates. It kind of dragged out for several months, not many details coming out. How difficult was that for you and your clients?
It was interesting. The two players never let it affect their on-field performance, which is a total testament to Taylor and Michael. I knew a little bit more than I let on on the blog obviously, but towards the end, I just stopped blogging about it because it really got me in trouble because at that point I learned that fans have a certain expectation to demand facts from people they don’t know.
So, at that point, I learned the age-old adage to shut my mouth.
I knew at one point in time it was just down to Taylor and Michael and even later I knew it would end up being the details that if they made the playoffs, it’d be Mike and if they didn’t it would be Taylor, vice versa, whatever.
And for me it was difficult because I like to have a plan in place for every situation of what’s going to happen to these guys in the future. It was taxing trying to figure out what was going on because obviously the teams don’t care enough about the agents to inform us, which is well within their rights. I’m not criticizing that all.
It was tough that the names got leaked. I really wish they hadn’t at all, but the world is a smaller place with the Internet now and that’s just the reality we live with. But they handled it and it did not bother them at all.
In fact, it got a little bit more stressful in their offseason when their season was finished and we were just sitting on pins and needles waiting for the season to end to figure out who was going to get named.
But they handled it as well as could be expected. And Taylor is going to be a great player in the big leagues. Mike is going to be a great player in the big leagues. And, you know, I think both sides are happy one way or the other.
The Brewers made the playoffs and the Indians got a big leaguer in Mike Brantley and the Brewers got to keep a big leaguer in Taylor Green. I think that was one of those trades that worked out for both sides.
You deal with the difficult stuff like that, but on the flipside, it has to be really rewarding to see your players doing so well in the minors as they advance through the system.
It’s unbelievable. These guys put in so much work that the fans usually don’t get to see. I mean, it’s a year-round job. And they give up their lives for this. These guys aren’t millionaires for the most part.
They’re living off of nothing, minor-league salaries and whatever their signing bonuses were, and to see some validation in all of their work is just awesome.
Alex Periard got named to the preliminary roster for the World Baseball Classic and Taylor and Lorenzo and Jeremy and Brent, I mean, any given guy that we have has a chance to be in the Future’s Game. It’s just great. One of the few, few traveling highlights I get every year is going to the all-star games.
It’s that real bright spot where you can see that they’re almost there. Watching these guys, like Luis Pena, who God willing makes the big-league team out of spring this year, you know, he’s been working on that his whole life.
He’s come back from arm surgeries, was on the roster, got removed from the roster, is back on the roster, it’s an unbelievable feeling watching these guys come up and just seeing where they’ve come from.
I’ve known Mike Brantley and Lorenzo Cain since they were in high school, so to see where they were and where they are now, it’s probably the most rewarding aspect of the job.
And what does 2009 have in store for you and your clients, more of the same? Success and moving up the system?
I hope. Luis, Omar and Alex are on the 40-man, so at any given point in time I would hope to see them all in Milwaukee this year. And, you know, there are guys like Lorenzo who could sneak up there this year, but the one guy who I absolutely wouldn’t put it past is a guy like Taylor Green to fool everybody and get up there this year. He’s such a special kid and a unique talent.
Jeremy Jeffress has a chance to get up there this year for sure. Brent Brewer, some fans have been a little bit down on him. Brent is going to be a superstar. I don’t care what anybody else says. He’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen in my life.
And even guys like, you know, we’re expecting Steven Chapman to bounce back this year, stay healthy and have a productive season.
A guy like Chris Dennis, who not too many people know about, has ridiculous raw power. A guy like Nick Tyson could bounce back. And we’re excited to follow the progress of other guys that have left the system: Michael Brantley, Darren Ford, Patrick Ryan, Mel Stocker.
All these guys have great opportunities this year. I’m excited for everybody we have and speaking for what your target market is, the Brewer guys, everybody is going to be fine. We’re very excited about 2009.
You mentioned Taylor Green and there’s been some question about his final position and what it will be. He’s moved to third and he’s played second. What do you think his best position is?
I think he’s a third baseman. If you see him enough, you just look at the kid and go, “That’s a baseball player.” He’s one of the better defenders I’ve seen and he doesn’t get enough credit for it. He works his ass off. And Taylor, you know, he’s a third baseman.
That’s where I would love to see him end up and that’s where I think he’s going to be. And obviously, the stat gurus see his numbers offensively as better at second base, but Taylor has worked so hard to make himself into a third baseman.
You know, he’ll play wherever. Wherever he goes, he’ll be fine. He’s that kind of kid. But I think he’s going to end up at third.
Is there a guy that you represent that you think is poised for a big year if you had to pick one?
Brent Brewer. I think Brent has got a chance to be that guy and come out of nowhere, not really coming out of nowhere because everyone knows who he is, but everyone is kind of down on him. People forget how young he is and how he was a football player coming out of high school and turned down Florida State. He had those opportunities presented to him.
But this kid works unbelievably hard. The Brewers rewarded him by sending him to the Fall League at the end and he hit three home runs and hit .300 in a really limited space.
I think Brent has got a chance to win the Huntstville job. And if you’re in AA, anything can happen. I just think that eventually all the work that Brent put in is going to completely pay off. He’s such a great kid and he worked so hard. I think Brent’s the guy poised for that breakout year.
Now, obviously, guys like Cain have had that in my opinion and Green and Omar and Jeffress, of course. The guy that people are down on is Brent and I’ve never agreed with it. I’ve seen the kid play enough and I think that Brent is the guy that’s going to come up and “Oh, wow, he really is that good.” I’ve always believed that with Brent and he’s such a remarkable young man and I think it will be Brent this year.
Is there anybody else Brewers fans should be watching in particular as far as players you represent?
Yeah, we’ve got some guys coming up in the lower levels of the minors. Kristian Bueno, a lefty who was drafted in 07. I really like Kris. He’s a good left-handed pitcher. I think Nick Tyson could have a really good bounceback year.
Chappy for sure I think will have a bounceback year. I think that things are going really well and the under-the-radar guy that not a lot of fans probably know about would be Chris Dennis.
I mean, Chris has ridiculous raw power. I would put it a tick below what Matt LaPorta’s raw power grade was, and if Chris can just cut down on the strikeouts a little bit, I think he’s got a chance to hit a lot of home runs in the minors.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No, I’m good. I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to you guys. I’ve got a lot less time the last few months to check up on stuff just because of how demanding the job has become.
It’s been good. I really enjoy reading your guys’ site. I love BrewerFan still. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to be a presence anymore so I’m trying to get this stuff done and thank all of you guys for being so good to me and my guys over the years.
Plus, I probably should say hi to my girlfriend Amber so she doesn’t kill me.
Alright, well, no problem at all. Thanks, we really appreciate it. Have a good one.
Thanks for having me.