05 November 2007

Scott Boras & Alex Rodriguez: Making Sense of the Cents

There has been a lot of speculation as to why Alex Rodriguez decided to opt out of the remaining three years of his contract with the Yankees, and more specifically, why his agent, Scott Boras, chose to announce it when he did, i.e. during the last game of the World Series. Boras has said that he didn't mean to upstage the World Series, and he's "sorry", or whatever, but that's a load of crap, and we all know it. Scott Boras leaked that info (or had someone leak it) exactly when he wanted to, (and then crossed his fingers and prayed that the Red Sox would win that game) so that everyone would know that

A) they were serious about testing the market, and
2) Alex Rodriguez is the most important human being you have ever laid eyes on.

Screw the Red Sox. Screw the World Series. Screw Major League Baseball. Alex wants his money, and he wants it now. Don't believe that garbage about needing to know whether or not Mariano and Jorge and Joe Torre were returning. That was just a convenient excuse to do what they wanted to do in the first place: get ALex out there on the auction block, where he can go to the highest bidder.

Scott Boras never does anything wihtout a design on making more money for his players and ultimately, for himself. He's a master tactician, like Tony LaRussa without the surliness and with better hair. He works his butt off to get his players the best possible contracts, frequently to the dismay of the teams and towns that sign them. He spends hours preparing carefully worded statements and charts and graphs and tables full of specifically selected statistics and other data that will paint his players in the best possible light, even (and sometimes, especially) if that means completely obscuring their true worth.

There are more stories about Scott Boras getting ridiculously and inappropriately lucrative contracts for his baseball players than anyone in any sport you've ever heard of, and with good reason. Sure, he represents some great players, All-Stars, Cy Young and MVP award winners, etc., and has done well for them. Besides A-Rod, he represents or has represented Greg Maddux, Carlos Beltran, Barry Zito, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Eric Gagne, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones, Kevin Brown and J.D. Drew, to name but a few.

Many of those are or were very good players, but many of them also have created quite a headache for their employers by performing well below expectations while costing their teams millions of dollars. Beltran, Drew and Zito were disappointments in their first year of free agency, though at least Beltran has since redeemed himself. Bernie's contract was an albatross for three of its seven years. After the first two years of his seven-year, record $105 million contract, Kevin Brown waffled between being a Cy Young contender and not pitching at all, doing a lot more of the latter than the former while with the Yankees. Gagne, Damon and Varitek all got hurt soon after signing big free agent contracts.

But two players, specifically, highlight Scott Boras' ability to make teams pay through the nose for sub-par talent: J.D. Drew and Darren Dreifort.

Darren Dreifort earned $55 million from the Dodgers between 2001 and 2005, and he pitched just over 200 innings in those five seasons, winning exactly nine games in the major leagues. He didn't pitch at all in 2002 or 2005. Almost any contract he signed would have been a waste of money, and of course you couldn't have predicted that he would fail so miserably and so completely, so soon. But you could have predicted that a 29 year old with a 39-45 career record and an ERA just over 4.00 (despite spending his whole career in Chavez Ravine), one who had never managed to pitch more than 192 innings in his six, mediocre seasons in the big leagues, would not suddenly be worth $11 million per year. And you'd have been right. For some reason, though Scott Boras managed to cloud the Dodgers' judgment just long enough to get them to sign that ludicrous contract. And for some reason, teams will still talk to him.

But Drew may be the even more remarkable case. Under Boras' guidance, he spurned the Phillies and went to the independent leagues, not because he disliked the Phillies (which, in my mind, is both understandable and a pretty good excuse for not wanting to play for them) but becaus ethe Phils refused to meet his signing bonus demands ($8 million, if I recall correctly). Drew then signed with St. Louis, the following season, for way less than the previous year's demands, and played six injury-plagued, generally disappointing years. He was traded to Atlanta, where he played a solid and mostly healthy season and parlayed that into a $55 million, 5-year contract with Los Angeles. Whereupon he resumed the getting-hurt-and-generally-disappointing-the-fans act. Amazingly, Boras talked him into opting out of that contract after two years, and an organization I generally consider much smarter than the Dodgers, namely Boston, signed him for five more years and $70 million! Oh, and he played worse, and less often. Will they ever learn?

In any case, Scott Boras knows what he's doing. If he can get $55 million for a waste of roster space like Darren Dreifort, imagine what he can do for someone who's actually good, like Alex Rodriguez!

The only reason for Alex Rodriguez to opt out of the (depending on your source) $72 to $90 million he was already guaranteed plus an additional $150 million or more of guaranteed money is that he thought he could get more. He (and more important, Boras) thought they could do better than $222M to $240M for eight to ten years. Heck, they thought they could do better than $252M for ten years, his previous contract. They thought they could get ten years and $350 million out of New York, and if not them, then someone, or they would not have done it. Simple as that. They wanted A-Rod to be the highest paid player both in average dollars per year and total contract dollars, and they wanted it by a substantial margin, so that there could be no mistake who the most valuable player (and the most valuable agent) in baseball are at any time for the next decade.

The Yankees, however, obviously used the promise of non-negotiation as a threat to keep him from going, because obviously they stood to lose a lot if he did. They had a nice, $21 million si\ubsidy from Texas that was forfeit when Rodriguez became a free agent. But Boras, too, stands to lose a lot if the Yankees won't talk to them, because they're the ones who can offer the richest contract, and even if they don't, they're the ones Boras can allege to be offering the richest contract as he negotiates with other teams. He loses a big leveraging tool if everone knows that New York isn't in the discussions.

But the Yankees stand to lose even more if A-Rod and his prodigious talent go to help some other theam to a championship. They'll negotiate with him if they think it's in their best interest, in spite of the chiding they'll take from the news media for going back on their promise to shun him. In the long run, both the Yankees and the A-Rod Camp recognize this and won't let the media backlash get in the way of baseball and the (millions of) bucks.

Of course, $30 to $35 million per season is preposterous, but then so was $25.2 million per year back in Y2Krazy, when A-rod signed with Texas. No there's no real evidence to show that Alex Rodriguez will help prop up your regional sports network, as Boras has been saying, but there is evidence that ALex actually earned his salary last year. Baseball Prospectus has a metric they call MORP, Money Over Replacement PLayer, a measure of how much more a player's worth compared to a freely available talent, based on average salaries, inflation and some other stuff I don't really understand. According to their 2007 formula, Alex was worth about $44 million last year, and of course he "only" made about $23 million, a third of which was paid for by the Rangers, so the Yankees really got a deal, according to BP, anyway.

But for Alex to "earn" his $30 to $35 million per year, he has to have an MVP-type season every year for the next decade. He needs to be worth at least nine Wins Above Replacement for each of the next ten seasons, and thats just not going to happen. Nobody's ever been able to produce like that for more than four or five seasons in a row, and there's no way Alex Rodriguez has found some fountain of youth that has eluded everyone else on the planet for the last 150 years.

Between the ages of 20 and 31, a span of 12 seasons, Rodriguez probably deserved the AL MVP Award eight times. He actually won it in 2003 and 2005, and will win it this year, but probably also should have gotten the award in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002 and maybe 2000, though that one was a lot closer. He didn't win any of those other five, of course, because too many of the voters don't know what the hell they're doing, but in any case, most people would agree that he was one of the three to five best players in the AL in each of those years, without question. But does anyone with any sense think that he can do that again? Earning two out of every three MVP awards for the next ten years? Let's be realistic, people.

Will he be good? Sure. Great even, at least for a few years. But even if he maintains the kind of production to which we've become accustomed, a .300 batting average, 40+ homers, 120+ runs and RBIs, 20+ steals at high success rate, how long can he be expected to do it? Five years? Six? How long before age and injuries start to slow him down? At the end of the 2012 season, when he's only half way through the $350 million contract that Boras is demanding, Alex will be 38 years old. And more than half of that $350 million will still be owed to him, as these contracts are usually backloaded. Does anyone think that an infielder (probably a firstbaseman by then) in his late 30's and early 40's will actually be worth $35 million per year?

How much more does Boras expect the dollar to fall, anyway?

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