A believer in giving credit where and when credit is due, I have to defend an agent I’ve never been particularly fond of. And, to be candid, Scott Boras has never been fond of me.
When word emerged Tuesday that a Boras client, Prince Fielder, had agreed to a 9-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers, the development came as a surprise because the Tigers had not previously been mentioned as one of the teams interested in Fielder.
Reports of the signing immediately branded the Tigers a mystery team, as in this CBSSports.com report:
“Chalk up one more for the so-called mystery team. First it was Cliff Lee going to the Phillies, then Albert Pujols heading to the Angels. Now Prince Fielder has shocked the baseball world by signing with the Detroit Tigers, a team that hadn’t even been remotely connected to him in rumors the entire offseason.”
That report accurately portrays the absence of reporting on the Tigers and Fielder, but it takes liberty with the use of “mystery team,” a term that Boras created and copyrighted, if not legally, by his use of it.
In the case of the CBSSports.com usage of the term, the Phillies and the Angels is incorrect. Lee and Pujols might have signed unexpectedly with their teams, but during their free agency, their agents did not say there was a mystery team in pursuit of their clients.
In Boras’ frequent usage of the term, he advertises the existence of a mystery team for strategic purposes. Who knows if it is or isn’t so? He invokes the existence of a mystery team to make interested teams uneasy enough to increase their offers. If enough newspaper or Internet reports mention a mystery team, his clients’ pursuers might become uneasy enough to raise their offers.
Boras also uses the alleged existence of a mystery team to quiet questioning by reporters about interest in a client.
The irony in the case of Fielder is that Boras, as far as I know, never invoked his favorite phrase. Even though his quest for an acceptable deal extended to the last week of January, raising speculation that he was encountering some difficulty, Boras did not tell skeptical reporters that there was a mystery team lurking in the weeds.
Yet, as it turned out, the Tigers fit the definition of a mystery team. Other teams had been mentioned frequently – Nationals, Rangers, Cubs, Mariners, Orioles – but never the Tigers.
On the other hand, there was this CBSSports.com report quoting one of its reporters, Jon Heyman: “Heyman also notes that the finalists to land Fielder were the Nationals, Tigers and” – look out, here it comes – “one other ‘mystery team.’”
It is no surprise that Heyman would cite a mystery team that no one else knew about, even if he didn’t identify the team. Heyman, according to an Associated Press report on the Fielder signing, “first reported the agreement with Fielder.”
That Heyman is first with a major Boras signing has come to be expected in the baseball and reporting industries. There’s nothing wrong with a reporter having a good relationship with an agent, but the Heyman-Boras link has been so beneficial to Boras that years ago baseball executives told me they understood that Heyman was on Boras’ payroll.
Heyman denied that charge, but his reporting on Boras and Boras clients has continued to arouse suspicion. Heyman has recently moved from Sports Illustrated’s Web site to CBSSports.com, but his reputation has followed him. Researching Boras, I came across this item on a Web site called Tauntr.com:
Jon Heyman: Scott Boras’ Puppet
SI.com MLB reporter and MLB Network contributor Jon Heyman is one of the most recognized baseball journalists around. Heyman’s analysis generally falls flat, but his reporting is usually solid. When it comes to getting info from sources within the industry, in fact, he is among the best in the business. However, Heyman is also a complete puppet for famed agent Scott Boras, who constantly uses the SI scribe to leak information beneficial to his clients. Whether he is floating out a “mystery team” linked to a Boras client or trying to get one traded, he is usually the first to break the news that benefits players represented by the Boras Corporation. I will not go as far as to say that Heyman is on the Boras Corp. payroll, but each party benefits from the relationship. Boras of course helps his clients, in turn allowing him to generate more revenue for his business. Heyman, on the other hand, has first-hand access to one of the most powerful figures in baseball and, as a result, is the first to break many stories.
Rich Lederer of the Baseball Analysts broke down the interesting relationship in a great post a while back, but the trend has continued. And, though Heyman is more involved with Boras during the Hot Stove season, look for him to “break” some Boras-related stories as the trade deadline approaches.
In the interest of full disclosure, I can say that Boras has never leaked a signing or a trade or a story of any kind to me. I don’t even think he talks to me. He hasn’t returned a telephone call in a long time, and I didn’t bother calling him for this column.
Early on, we had a decent working relationship, but Boras came to dislike two things: he thought the questions I asked him were too tough, and he didn’t care for the questions I raised and the skepticism I expressed in what I wrote about him. I questioned, for example, his mystery teams.
What I do not question is his ability to get good contracts for his clients. While I do not always agree with his tactics, if a player seeks every last penny he can get, Boras will get it for him. He will also induce clubs to pay more than they want, and just when it seems as if Boras will fail to get his client a good deal, one materializes.
With Fielder, Boras got what he sought. Pujols did better with the Angels, signing a 10-year contract for $240 million, but no one expected Fielder to match that. He nevertheless did very well with 9 years and $214 million, an average of $23.8 million compared with $24 million for Pujols.
“Scott said from Day 1 it was going to be $200 million,” Doug Melvin, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, the only team Fielder has played for, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
After the Tigers signed Fielder, players and others praised owner Mike Ilitch for his willingness to spend lavishly on players to produce a championship team. That practice, however, was slow in coming.
Ilitch already owned the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League for 10 years when he bought the Tigers in 1992. For years he was financially more attentive to the Red Wings than he was to the Tigers.
In the first 14 full seasons of Ilitch’s ownership, the Tigers’ payroll was in the bottom half of the majors 10 times. Ilitch didn’t start spending significant money until 2008, when the payroll rose above $100 million for the first time.
Ilitch’s increased spending has come with his advancing age. Now 82, Ilitch wants to win the World Series while he still owns the Tigers. His decision to sign Fielder was a large part of that ambition, but so was the disabling knee injury suffered during a winter workout by Victor Martinez, who is expected to miss all or most of the season.
As of Wednesday night, the Tigers had not acknowledged reaching agreement with Fielder. When I called general manager Dave Dombrowski to ask about Fielder, Brian Britten, media relations director, took the call and said, “The organization does not have any comment.”
Teams are not permitted to announce signings until players pass physical exams.
Maybe in this instance, Boras got lucky with the Martinez injury. But then, it would not be the first time Boras has been lucky. Branch rickey once said, “Luck is the residue of design.” And Tonya Harding got lucky just before the 1994 U.S. figure staking championships when Nancy Kerrigan suffered a knee injury. Not that I’m suggesting anything …