Malpractice makes defect?by John Brattain
September 17, 2008
I really hope folks go easy on the kid.
I speak of Pedro Alvarez. I feel badly for him—so soon into what should be his professional career he has lost control of his destiny. Alvarez’s immediate future will be decided by others and possibly not for months. I cannot see anything short of being granted free agency that will compensate him for the difficulties he is currently going through.
I simply can’t envision Shyam Das awarding Alvarez free agency when it is clear that the remedy for not agreeing to sign before the midnight deadline is to return to the draft the following year. Free agency for a player because MLB unilaterally extended the deadline is penalizing the Pirates for the actions of others. The Pirates are supposed to ask for an extension; they should have asked the MLBPA as well, but the point is moot since chances are, by the time the request is granted it will be too late.
The timing is the fault of the Alvarez camp and not the Pirates—Scott Boras’ tactic of waiting until zero hour before getting down to the brass tacks is well documented. Boras is the one who kept the Pirates and Alvarez apart as much as possible. They should not be rewarded for a situation that arose because of that strategy.
Further, it seems both sides were in violation of the rule. According to Jeff Passan’s article on the subject:
"Boras said he never negotiated past midnight because he did not want to bend the rules and claims the assertion that he did so with another client, Eric Hosmer, selected by Kansas City with the No. 3 pick, is false."
"The union allegedly has phone records that prove Boras spoke with the Pirates after midnight, and if so, the violation will be difficult to deny."
On the one hand, Boras contends he honored the deadline while on the other hand, the union has phone records that establish Boras and the team were talking after midnight. Somehow Boras has to convince Das that they were talking about the deal at 11:59:59 p.m. and something other than the deal at 12:00:01 a.m. while the Pirates will doubtlessly contend that they were discussing Alvarez’s contract.
Unless Boras has a tape of the conversation with an authenticated time stamp included I cannot see how Das can rule that Boras and Alvarez weren’t in violation as well. It would be a real stretch for Das to give Boras and Alvarez a major reward while penalizing the Pirates with extreme prejudice for the exact same violation.
The bottom line: it looks like Alvarez and quite possibly Hosmer might be headed back to the draft next season. I think the best the duo can hope for is for Das to rule that the contracts stand and simply fine both parties and further clarify what can and cannot happen at the deadline. Financially, it would be best for Alvarez to get his bonus from the Pirates since it’s money in hand. Plus it gets his career started as expeditiously as possible and gets him to arbitration and free agency rights that much sooner (and younger) when he can really cash in.
The simple fact of the matter is that the value of free agency rights is determined by talent and age—the more talented and young the player, the higher the value of the rights. Boras’ shenanigans are costing Alvarez some of the value of those rights by delaying his entry into organized baseball.
It’s easy to dump on Alvarez—greedy kid turns down millions saying it’s not enough. None of us would turn down that kind of jack to play baseball and since he hired the Sith Lord of Avarice in Scott Boras he too must be cut from the same cloth. It’s equally easy for us to say that Boras works for him and not the other way around and he should tell Boras what to do and if he really wants to play baseball he should give the agent the cleats-to-the-family-jewels experience and supplicate the Pittsburgh Pirates for a chance at redemption.
I think what often gets lost in all of this is the mismatch of experience. Folks like Alvarez have never been involved in a multi-million dollar negotiation with a major corporation—they do not know what something is worth, whether they’re being shafted or are getting the deal of a lifetime. They know (or have read) that Boras is the best in the business and their ignorance translates into trusting the person who has done this sort of thing many times before with a high rate of success.
On the other hand, Boras has dealt with hundreds of Pedro Alvarezes and their families and knows precisely what buttons to push to keep them placated and trusting in him. However, the Alvarezes have never encountered a Boras and have no point of comparison and zero experience in dealing with such an animal.
Think about it: would you settle for a $50,000 salary offer if somebody reputable (experience-wise) from the industry that you’re seeking employment in tells you your skill set is worth $400,000? It may not seem unreasonable to the Alvarez that his abilities are worth far more than $6 million in a business where some have inked deals well in excess of a quarter billion dollars—especially when the person advising you is the individual that brokered such deals in the past.
If we were to be honest with ourselves, we'd admit that we'd be thrilled with a job offer that paid $250,000; however, if we found out that somebody else who wasn't as talented was hired for the same position in the same company but was going to be paid $400,000 we'd be pretty ticked.
Why? Our circumstances have not changed one iota—we're making more money than we had ever dreamed possible are we not? We're not happy because even though our circumstances haven't changed, our information has, and that information tells us that the person who hired us shortchanged us, that our abilities are worth more than the $250,000.
Well, that's what is happening here—Boras has convinced Alvarez that he's being shortchanged by the Pirates and that other teams within the same company (MLB) are willing to pay a lot more for what Pedro has to offer.
In that context, surely $6 million-plus on top of a few years of minor league pay isn’t a lot when others are earning $22-30 million every year especially when you’ve been told by the experienced insider that you have the chance to one day be that type of player.
Who wouldn’t want to cling to that notion?
The choice becomes: do you trust your own judgment in waters in which you have never swum before or do you trust a smooth talking confident individual whom you’ve heard is incredibly successful in what he does?
It’s easy for us on the outside to pass judgment, but then again, we have no real stake in the outcome. Our lives will not change one iota regardless of how all this plays out.
Boras is a master at getting people to see things his way—Alvarez has little experience in resisting savvy individuals offering him a pot of gold for his trust with a glittering track record of delivering the goods.
I don’t blame Alvarez—I blame Boras. He has an agenda to overturn the draft to maximize his income, so he convinced somebody to be his pawn, disguising his intentions by saying he wanted to get the young man his market value/what he is worth. He overreached with a bluff that was called and suddenly he is in a situation where others will decide the outcome.
Boras and Alvarez cannot decide this, nor can the Pirates or MLB; it will be decided in arbitration. You can bet that Boras never intended to get the MLBPA involved since to do so would be to cede control of the situation to the union. He simply wanted to get the Pirates to capitulate to get the highest draft bonus, and when his bluff was called and the situation blew up, their short term future would be decided by a third party.
Sooner or later, those at the very top of their profession invariably fall victim to their own hubris. We saw it with Pete Rose, even more recently with Barry Bonds—they reach a point where they believe their own press clippings about their invulnerability due to their physical or mental gifts.
They get sloppy, they make assumptions based on their perceived bullet-proof status rather than the situation at hand and the lay of the land. They overreach, they wander too far into Russia in the winter, they get involved in land wars in Asia, they let their babies grow up to be cowboys and they let their bedbugs bite.
The thing is, after money started flowing to the players through free agency, the MLBPA found it had the same problems with unity as the owners—money splintered interests. Despite this, however, the union stayed strong after Don Fehr took over from Marvin Miller, not so much because they were still united but rather because the other side was more disunited; owners always caved first.
Once owners stopped caving in 1994-95, the splintering of the union became much more noticeable and the MLBPA started to lose ground. Similarly, Boras carved out a lot of success partly due to his own intelligence, but also due to his own patience. He knew, given enough time, that the other side would capitulate. He would bluff, the other side caved and cha-ching!
Now owners have started to call his bluff. They take him to salary arbitration, and they change the rules of the draft when negotiating with the players' union. When Boras announced Alex Rodriguez’s opt-out during the World Series, the Yankees said ciao and held firm until A-Rod built a bridge back to the Bronx.
They have started to say no and mean it, but Boras continues on like it’s 1999 when no meant not now but given enough time and pressure would become yes.
Yes, some owners still cave but not like they used to. He expected the Pirates to capitulate, and now he’s in a mess and it’s hurting his client.
However, he’s confused his patience with his intellect, seemingly not realizing that out-waiting the other side is not the same as outwitting them. To a degree Don Fehr made the same mistake with the MLBPA thinking that the disunity of the other side actually meant that the union was united rather than merely less disunited than the other side.
Now the other side is starting to clue in that as bonus money continues to rise that draftees may become more disinclined to gamble with it, especially if it means postponing their dreams of reaching the big leagues. It seems Alvarez ultimately didn’t want to gamble and agreed (precisely when is a point of dispute), and some time after the fact Boras managed to convince the young man to gamble it anyway, doubtless with a promise that greater (and deserved) riches awaited with a little more patience.
Or it could be, once Boras went public with the alleged violation Alvarez had little choice but to go along since the disputed contract was out in the open and the union became involved. Let’s not forget, had Boras and Alvarez gone and signed the contract shortly after it was agreed to, we wouldn’t be here at all, but their delay tactic to get the Pirates to up the contract before signing backfired.
What Alvarez failed to do (and can hardly be blamed for) is see the larger picture: Boras’ non-stop battle against the draft requires test cases, and he needs talented young men to test the system. To convince them to do so is to promise financial rewards, but Boras would never overtly state that to a prospective client. They’re interested in a nice bonus and getting started on a professional career and not being guinea pigs in the agent’s decades-long efforts at wrecking the draft.
I’m willing to bet that Alvarez and his family have serious misgivings about what they’ve gotten themselves in to—let’s face it, nobody willingly gives up control of his own future and circumstances. Had they been told by Boras from the get-go that Alvarez would have to put his career on hold, get the MLBPA involved and become involved in a lengthy arbitration proceeding that would delay his career for months or even a year or more with no guarantee of extra money or free agency there’s no way they would have signed on for that. They were hoping for a lucrative bonus to start what hopefully would turn out to be a successful major league career and the beginning of Alvarez's life in professional baseball.
Unfortunately for them, Boras had other ideas. Hopefully this will alert other young prospects that when they agree to be advised by Scott Boras, they might get more than they bargained for. They should be alerted to the fact that the agent will try to get them to agree to test the parameters of the draft by promising a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As of right now, another agenting group got the top bonus for a client in this year’s draft and the player has begun his professional career—don’t think for a moment the threat Boras sees in that. After all, why sign on with Boras when you can get as much with someone else with far less hassle and heartache?
Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of Scott Boras’ influence on the amateur draft. It’s about time the Napoleon of the agent business met his Waterloo.
For more on this, please check out Rosemary’s (other) baby, Boras hole burying Alvarez and A message to Pedro Alvarez.
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.