MLB Free Agency: Examining the Scott Boras Factor
There is one name that is heard most often among baseball circles this time of year, and it is not the name of a player.
His name is synonymous with money and power in Major League Baseball. His name is Scott Boras; quite possibly the greatest sports agent that has ever lived.
Few men, if any, have a better understanding of how the rules in MLB are written. He is a man who has the innate ability to get his clients every penny that they are worth in a free-market forum.
That is why so many men flock to him for representation.
Some of the biggest names in baseball turn to Scott Boras for his expertise, and he always delivers.
Boras has been in the business for 28 years and has negotiated hundreds of contracts in that time. His specialty has been setting records in terms of player compensation.
He's done it time and time again.
Here is a look at some of the more recent contractual accomplishments he has generated, as well as a look at some of his key tactics and how it will have an impact on this year's market and beyond.
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Son of former big-league All-Star Cecil Fielder, Prince Semien Fielder was drafted seventh overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2002 amateur draft.
Fielder was drafted right out of Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Florida.
While he played for the Brewers during his first seven years (six full) as a Major League ballplayer, he only saw a taste of Boras' abilities once while with the team.
In January of 2011, Boras negotiated a one-year arbitration settlement for Fielder in the amount of $15.5 million.
That figure was the largest single-season arbitration contract in Major League history; 24 percent higher than the previous record of $12.5 million negotiated in 2008 for Mark Teixeira...by Scott Boras.
That same $15.5 million broke another record at the time: it made Fielder the single highest-paid Brewer in team history.
Upon the end of the 2011 season, Fielder hit free agency. It was there that Boras showed his true abilities.
Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers for nine years and $214 million.
That was the fourth-largest contract ever signed by a Major League Baseball Player. Only Alex Rodriguez's $275 million, 10-year contract with the New York Yankees; Rodriguez's $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas and Albert Pujols' $240 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels are in the same class.
Those two Rodriguez contracts were also negotiated by Boras.
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Adrian Beltre was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1994.
Beltre was granted free agency in October of 2004 from the Dodgers and was given his first taste of Boras Magic that winter.
Boras was able to negotiate a five-year, $64 million contract with the Seattle Mariners for Beltre, carrying an average annual salary of $12.8 million.
The most Beltre had ever earned in a single season prior to that was $5 million in 2004, a year which saw him hit 48 home runs with a .334 batting average.
Having failed to live up to those same 2004 statistics while in Seattle, Beltre once again became a free agent in 2010.
Boras negotiated a one-year, $10 million contract with the Boston Red Sox for Beltre. It included a player option for the 2011 season as well.
The idea behind that player option was for Beltre to be able to improve his market value while in Boston without fear of injury. If he did get hurt he could take the second year at $5 million, or $10 million once he hit 640 plate appearances.
At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Beltre finished ninth overall in MVP voting after posting a .321 batting average with 28 home runs and an American League-leading 48 doubles for the Red Sox.
Clearly, he was headed for the open market.
Boras negotiated a five-year, $80 million contract with the Texas Rangers, where Beltre has been an All-Star twice already, has two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger Award while having finished 15th in the 2011 MVP race and third in the 2012 AL MVP race.
The deal he signed with the Rangers was signed at 32 years old for $32 million more than he signed with the Mariners some six years prior.
The Client Comes First
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Historically, a Scott Boras client goes to free agency and gets the biggest contract possible.
That just seems to be how things are done at the Boras Corporation. It is where he has had the most impact on the Major League Baseball market.
Boras has come under fire before when advising his clients on becoming fully rehabbed instead of trying to rush back to help their respective teams.
Such was the case with then-Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew.
Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendricks blasted Boras and Drew for the amount of time Drew was taking to rehab from an injury, ultimately questioning both the player's and agent's motives.
While historically a Boras client always goes to the market, there has been one instance whereby the advice of the mega-agent was ignored.
Los Angeles Angels ace Jered Weaver went against the advice of his agent and signed a five-year, $85 million extension to stay with the Angels 18 months before hitting the free-agent market.
For Weaver, staying in Anaheim was more important that the likely tens of millions of dollars he left on the table.
For Boras, that is an extremely rare thing. If history has taught us anything, it is that a Scott Boras client set to hit free agency will hit free agency. There is no such thing as a home town discount.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Beyond
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That brings us to Jacoby Ellsbury, a Scott Boras client on the Boston Red Sox with just one year left on his contract.
There is plenty of chatter surrounding the young center fielder. Should the Boston Red Sox trade him now? What would his value be?
As a Boras client, Ellsbury will hit free agency at the end of this season. However, two of the last three seasons have seen him plagued with injury.
The one year he was not, 2011, the man had an AL-best 732 plate appearances with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, a .928 OPS and finished second in the AL MVP voting.
In addition, he won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
Twice in his career Ellsbury has led the American League in stolen bases.
He is obviously a very special player; one a team in transition like the Red Sox must make a decision on. Do they trade him now, knowing that they will not be able to re-sign him, or do they hold on to him and hope for another MVP-caliber season, accepting the draft pick when he leaves?
It is this type of quandary that several teams have had to face over the years.
The Diamondbacks pulled the trigger on a trade for Stephen Drew, knowing he would hit free agency this year.
However impossible it may seem to retain Ellsbury, the Red Sox, and other teams who deal with Boras, can always look to Matt Holliday in St. Louis as inspiration.
Again, the Client Comes First
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St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday is a Scott Boras client.
Holliday was traded to the Cardinals from the Oakland Athletics midway through the 2009 season. Oakland knew it had little to no chance of re-signing Hollliday, so it hedged its bets.
In return, the A's received a slew of young prospects, something heavily coveted in Oakland.
At the end of the season, Boras negotiated a seven-year, $120 million contract for Holliday (with an eighth-year team option worth $17 million) back with the St. Louis Cardinals with a full no-trade clause.
It is possible to return to the team you were playing for when you hit free agency in a Boras negotiation.
Matt Holliday is a glowing example of how Boras works.
It does not matter what team a player is on before he hits free agency. What matters is how badly his next team wants him, and that needs to be expressed monetarily.
Scott Boras is a very wise man, and he does right by his clients. It is the market, not he who determines a players true value. He acts as purely a catalyst to find that value.
Love him or hate him, Scott Boras plays a tremendous role in how free agency and trades are worked out.
Just because Boras is the best player in his game doesn't mean he should be hated for being that good.