By Tony Massarotti
Before we even begin, let me issue the disclaimer that I may have to excuse myself at some point. Every time I write about Scott Boras and the Major League Baseball Players Association, particularly as it pertains to Kris Bryant, I feel like I’m going to puke.
Much to the chagrin of Boras and the MLBPA, Bryant was sent to the minors earlier this week by the Chicago Cubs, who were faced with the no-brainer of all no-brainers: essentially, by keeping Bryant in the minors for 12 days now – a period that covers a mere nine games thanks to the abundance of off-days in April – the Cubs ensure that they will have access to him for 162 more games during the 2021 season. So instead of 6 x 162, the Cubs gets 6 x 162 plus another 153 this season.
The penalty for Bryant is that he gets to free agency one year later, which has rendered Boras and the MLBPA so frustrated and powerless that they’re running around like a bunch of 3-year-olds howling for their nigh-nigh.
Awwwwww. Poor little boo-boos. They look so cute when they’re mad.
Somebody call a wahmbulance.
Yep, the Cubs are manipulating the rules. They sure are. They are using the system to their advantage the same way Boras so routinely does. And nobody, by the way, is suggesting that Boras does not have the right to do so. Far more often than not, Boras takes his players to free agency the first moment he can because he knows that the only way to maximize a player’s value is to take him to the open market. That is part of the reason Boras has made himself the best agent and negotiator in the game, perhaps in all of professional sports.
Boras isn’t an agent, folks. He’s a power broker. There’s a big difference.
And make no mistake: with Boras, it’s always about power. And leverage. As long as he has those, he’s happy. When he doesn’t, he starts throwing around words like “ethics,” “integrity” and “brand,” enlisting the aid of the almighty players union and accusing the other party of unfair play. He talks of “the opiate of player control,” somehow overlooking the fact that he is the biggest dealer on the market.
Seriously, how many players blindly give Boras control of their careers? Often, he serves them well. Sometimes he doesn’t. When the latter happens, Boras almost always finds a way to blame someone else. Once, with the Red Sox, Boras turned down salary arbitration on behalf of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek that would have garnered Varitek somewhere around $10 million. The player ended up signing for $7 million less. When Jered Weaver eschewed Boras’ advice and signed with the Los Angeles Angels instead of going to free agency, Boras didn’t show up at the press conference. Instances like this can’t help but make one wonder whether Boras is more interested in winning a negotiation than he is in serving his client.
But we digress.
Back to Bryant.
Drafted with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 draft, Bryant feels like the next Mike Trout. Last season, in his first full minor league season, Bryant hit 43 home runs and finished with an OPS of 1.098 while batting .325. This spring, he has assaulted pitching to the tune of a .425 average and 1.652 OPS. Bryant certainly looks ready for the major leagues, particularly at a time when the Cubs have increased spending and appear ready to compete, and he certainly deserves to be on the Opening Day roster.
Bryant is represented by Boras.
Ask yourself this question: if Bryant were represented by, say, Craig Landis, would the Cubs have acted the same way? Last spring, Landis’ prized client, Mike Trout, signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract with the Angels that essentially delayed Trout hitting the open market for three seasons. (Trout will earn salaries of $33.25 million per year in the final three years of that deal.) Boras likely regards that kind of contract as a mistake because Trout might have commanded 2-3 times that amount if he hit the market following the 2017 season. Instead, he’ll have to wait until after the 2020 season.
Never mind that Trout will still be just 29 when he hits the open market. Trout sacrificed leverage in 2017, though he did get paid.
Don’t you see? If Boras had a greater history of doing that kind of deal, the Cubs might have Bryant on their roster right now and be eyeing a long-term contract in the next few seasons. But he doesn’t. So because the player’s agent has a history of being a hardliner, the Cubs have resorted to taking a hardline approach with the player.
Ultimately, this falls on Boras. Which is probably why he’s getting so defensive about the Cubs doing his player a disservice when the fact is that Boras is really the one who has forced this issue. (Bryant, of course, needs to take his share of the blame here, too. When you hire Boras, you know what you’re signing up for.)
Before anyone takes the party line of the MLBPA for suggesting that the Cubs are somehow costing Bryant future earnings … don’t. Please. Stop. Bryant hasn’t had a single major league at-bat yet. Everyone likes Bryant’s potential, but he hasn’t even earned the benefit of the doubt. Further, Bryant is open to signing a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract anytime he wants, whether he hits free agency or not. I’d be willing to bet that Theo Epstein and the Cubs would sign Bryant to a 10-year contract after this season so long as he produces in the majors the way he has in the minors.
If Bryant wants his money early, he can almost certainly get it. But what Boras wants early is the power of leverage on the open market, which he has to wait for. And because of that, the MLBA issued a statement on Monday threatening “litigation, bargaining or both,” to any clubs involved in “this decision, and other similar decisions.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m quaking with fear over that one. What the Cubs did was manipulative, but entirely within the existing rules. The MLBPA already has more power than any other union in the four major sports, even if by default. As much as Boras would like to – he once suggested the Boston Red Sox should re-sign Stephen Drew and Xander Bogaerts, both Boras clients, effectively squeezing out Dustin Pedroia, who is represented by the Levinson Brothers – neither he nor the union is likely to get roster control anytime soon.
See you in court, fellas.
Let’s make something clear here: nobody should feel badly for major league owners and teams. Television money has been pouring into the game at such an alarming rate that the percentage of revenue being redirected to players, on a percentage basis, is lower than that in other sports. But the MLBPA has always been far more interested in serving the star players than the majority of its constituents, which is why the union circled the wagons during the steroids scandal and resisted testing, sacrificing the credibility of all players to protect the guilty ones.
So with all due respect, when someone like Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza fails to get the benefit of the doubt, don’t blame the voters. Along with many others, the MLBPA helped create the culture of distrust.
Nice move there, men.
In this world, especially in the current media climate, there is a tendency and seeming need to label people. He’s a management guy. Or he’s a union guy. I’m really neither. There are times when I side with the union and times when I side with ownership and management. It depends on the specifics. (In some circumstances, I’d hire Boras in a second.) All I know in this case is that I’m on the side of the Chicago Cubs, largely for one reason.
When you do business with Scott Boras, you have to use every piece of leverage you can.
Because he would absolutely use it against you.
Tony Massarotti covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.