Ron Shapiro has completed his trifecta – Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken, Joe Mauer. They are two Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer who have made Shapiro an agent of distinction. You can have Scott Boras. I’ll take Ron Shapiro.
Mauer signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Twins the other day, eschewing the opportunity to become a free agent at the end of the season and leave Minnesota for far greener pastures, in New York or Boston, for example.
If Mauer were a Boras client, he would not have signed that contract. But then, he wouldn’t have chosen Boras as his agent.
Agents have track records, and players gravitate to the agent whose negotiating style suits their needs and desires. If they want to get every last dollar, don’t mind putting up with possible controversy and aggravation, don’t care how long it takes and don’t care where they play, hire Boras. If they care about where they and their family will be happiest and most comfortable and will settle for less than the absolute last dollar, go with Shapiro.
Mark Shapiro may be biased. Ron’s son, Mark is a Princeton graduate and general manager of the Cleveland Indians. He has dealt with all of the agents.
“His distinguishing factor,” Mark said, “is he considers himself an advocate of the player first. He seeks to do the best job for the player in the context of satisfying what he wants. In today’s game that’s not always the case. Some agents put client recruitment ahead of what the player really wants. They seek the best deal regardless of what the best fit is.
“Every single deal they do is a platform for the next client. How will this be viewed in the industry?”
There are other capable agents, but at the moment Shapiro and Boras stand out as the polar opposites of the business.
Boras will rarely sign a player to a contract extension in the months before he can be a free agent. Free agency, he believes, creates the ultimate value of a player’s worth.
His ultimate effort came with Alex Rodriguez when he arranged for his free-agent client to have dinner with Tom Hicks, and the Texas owner fell for Rodriguez harder than a schoolboy might fall for Miley Cyrus. A $252 million contract resulted. It was $100 million more than anyone else offered and made it easy for A-Rod to leave Seattle.
“I’m not here to judge the way other people do things,” Shapiro said when asked about Boras. But I do reflect on the life of Alex Rodriguez because I was No. 2; Scott was No. 1,” He meant that he was runnerup to Boras in A-Rod’s agent sweepstakes.
“I would have attempted to lead him in a different direction,” Shapiro said. “I’m not sure if he reflected on the totality of his life and what might have happened if he had remained in Seattle.”
Rodriguez has made a lot of money, but he played on a last-place team all three years he was in Texas and he has spent six controversial seasons in New York. The lowlight of his Yankees tenure was his opting out of his contract after the 2007 season, with Boras leaking the news during the last game of the World Series.
That scenario would not have occurred with a Shapiro client. Not only didn’t his most noted players opt out of their contracts, but they also didn’t leave their teams as free agents.
Puckett and Ripken could have gone elsewhere as free agents after the 1992 season, but the closest either of them came was when the Twins’ owner Carl Pohlad rejected a deal Shapiro had negotiated with Andy MacPhail, the Twins’ general manager.
“We came to an agreement in the middle of the summer for something a bit below market for Kirby to stay in Minnesota,” Shapiro related, recalling the 5-year, $27.5 million deal. “But Carl Pohlad vetoed it.”
Once the season ended and Puckett became a free agent, he and Shapiro visited Boston and Philadelphia. “They were willing to pay more than market,” Shapiro said of a Boston offer that was $1 million a year more than the Twins would offer. “Then Andy called and said would we go to dinner at Carl’s, and we worked out a market deal, five years for $30 million plus $1 million for other considerations.”
Ripken didn’t get even that close to leaving Baltimore. He agreed to a 5-year, $32.5 million contract without trying free agency. When Puckett signed, Shapiro represented two of the game’s three highest-paid players (Ryne Sandberg was No. 1).
“There was a cartoon in Business Week,” Shapiro recalled. “It said ‘I’ll trade you Ripken’s agent for Puckett’s financial adviser’ and I was both.”
Now there is Mauer, whose annual average is $23 million, second highest to Rodriguez but highest for a player who was not a free agent. Immediately after his signing, ESPN.com quoted agents as saying they thought he could have attained a $250 million contract had he waited and become a free agent later this year.
Shapiro thinks it’s possible that Mauer could have exceeded that figure, speculating that had the Yankees and the Red Sox become involved, $30 million a year for 10 years might have been possible. But all speculation is irrelevant because Mauer wanted to remain in Minnesota.
“Joe had information from me about potential contracts,” Shapiro said, “and it was pretty clear to me he might be tempted to test the water. But in his heart he had a desire to play it out in the way Cal did in Baltimore and Kirby in Minnesota.”
How then does an agent proceed to achieve that goal while making sure his client is not shortchanged? Doesn’t it make the agent’s job more difficult?
“It makes it more difficult only in one sense,” Shapiro said. “It takes much more of an effort to negotiate with the club in this circumstance. It’s not a regular marketplace. I support the theory there is always an irrational bidder. There’s always someone who will step in and create a new marketplace without any effort on our part.”
It’s that bidder whom Boras relies on to create or drive up the market for his client. Hicks played the role classically with Rodriguez in 2000.
Before initiating discussions with the team of the player who wants to stay, Shapiro said, “you determine if a player is willing to go elsewhere if the club isn’t willing to give him proper value.”
“The club,” Shapiro added, “knows or suspects he wants to be there, but he has already decided if it’s not a fair deal it won’t be a deal.”
Beyond establishing ground rules with the player, Shapiro said, “you prepare like you do for anything. You get the client ready to withdraw from the process so his emotions aren’t going up and down if things aren’t going well. You work with the client to understand a fair deal is a deal that satisfies him but is not a high end irrational market deal.”
Finally, the agent said, “the other key piece is pursuing a negotiation out of the glare of the public eye. That helps the player. The press respects that we’re not going to respond and the club is not going to respond. The player is free of the pressure of up and down.”
The Mauer negotiations began in mid-December. Shapiro declined to discuss offers and proposals, but he is believed initially to have sought an average salary in the high $20 millions while the Twins first proposed an average in the low $20 millions.
“You start with what you think the free agent market will provide him and then modify it because he’s not a free agent,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro and the Twins had something different to work with – the club’s expected higher revenues from the new park, Target Field.
“You build a case around new revenue streams,” Shapiro said. “It’s not an easy process. We kept communicating even though we had differences.”
Shapiro said the two sides “probably had two points of frustration.” But, he said, “I operate on the glass-half-full theory so no matter how negative it looks there’s a way out. We told Joe it might go into the season and wanted to find out if he would be willing to go into the marketplace.”
What were the two points of frustration? “There was a substantive point and a point at which our demands remained in excess of what the club projected, what it wanted to do, not way off but off,” Shapiro said without providing details. “They had to go to the owner.”
In the end, the negotiations took three months, which doesn’t seem at all exhaustive for that kind of deal.
“I was reflecting with my partner Michael Maas,” Shapiro said. “People are saying ‘wow, you did this, you did that.’ All we did was spend a lot of time with our client and understand what was happiness in their negotiation, not focus on dollars. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try to get the dollars up. But in the end we have the satisfaction of having our players play where they are happiest.”
And reflecting on his clients, Shapiro echoed what I had said at the start of our telephone conversation, “Cal, Kirby and Joe are sort of a trifecta in a sense.”