Scott Boras is, in many ways, the archenemy of all Major League Baseball owners. His job is to persuade them to spend their money by signing his clients. He is very good at his job. Let’s be clear; when Boras says MLB is being destroyed by the “rebuilding” approach, he says that with the goal of getting fans riled up so they put more pressure on the owners to go out and spend.
The ultimate hammer has dropped. Just when pundits and smart asses alike might have been questioning Max Scherzer and douche canoe super agent Scott Boras for turning down a guaranteed $144MM extension last spring from the Detroit Tigers… BOOM! Seven years, $210MM. The antichrist does it again.
Three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Scott Boras clients going to free agency. The Boras gamble paid off this time, and frankly, it does more often than not (how do you think Ryan Madson feels though?). At face value it looks like a no-brainer, right? However, imagine being Scherzer during the 2014 season. I would have gone to bed every fourth night praying to the almighty not to turn my arm into papier-mâché the next day. Comparing sports or even transcending it to real life is by and large a superfluous exercise but ask yourself: would you reject a $144MM lottery ticket for the chance at $210MM in 10 months? If so then you’re probably in the minority. The best speculation at the time was a $175MM contract. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? It’s all a matter of risk tolerance. And Boras plays that game with his clients’ lives better (or worse) than anyone in sports. I severely dislike that man for systematically ruining baseball. But I digress.
Do not ignore two subtle aspects to this signing: (1) turning down a substantial extension was a very risky play, and (2) the creativity of this deal could create different opportunities for payroll flexibility particularly for small and mid-market clubs. Organizations might look to replicate Scherzer’s signing bonus and/or deferred money much like Dennis Martinez and Bobby Bonilla in the past. Fifteen million dollars for fourteen years and a fifty million dollar signing bonus dispersed over an undisclosed period of time? Now that’s creative.
One last comment on Scherzer’s deal. Take his comment about the Nationals “commitment to winning” with a grain of salt. If I were a sporting fella I’d wager that ol’ Maxwell wanted to get out from Justin Verlander’s shadow in Detroit. And don’t think that Scott Boras didn’t have a hand in it. When Boras brokered Alex Rodriguez’s then record-setting deal of 10 years and $252 million (2001), he later admitted that dollar amount was specifically targeted because it was double the richest contract ever in sports, Kevin Garnett’s $126MM (1999).
So, what’s the difference between a 26-year old lefty and a 30-year old righty? Apparently, about $10 million dollars and deflated National League numbers.
Will one of these guys be the next Johan Santana? Scherzer will benefit from not facing a DH anymore but I do not like this deal. Perhaps I am influenced by my small market-ness in Cleveland but long-term contracts for starting pitchers typically leads to an imbalanced payroll and leveraging too much on the short term. Look at the Detroit Tigers. They tried to spend their way to a World Series only to dump Prince Fielder’s contract. And Mike Ilitch has been spending money like he’s a coupon kid at a BOGO sale.
I will call my shot right now: we are starting to witness the demise of the Detroit Tigers. Trading Porcello, Scherzer bolts, David Price is a free agent in 2016, banking on Victor Martinez not to decline with age, MiLB pipeline underwhelming, this formula adds up to a catastrophic disaster of epic proportions. And I can’t wait!
What’s the next domino?
As smart business people do, they let the higher commodity set the market. We would have expected James Shields to be no different now that’s Scherzer’s deal is in place. Unfortunately for Shields he’s on the wrong side of thirty; 33 to be exact. To date he has only made $39MM in his career, 35% of which came in 2014. If he is lucky he will get two paydays before he hangs up his cleats. Otherwise it’s one and done. When 1b or type-2 players sign after a 1a we usually see one of two things: regression towards the mean or over-indulgence caused by missing out on the former. Due to Shields’ age I would bet on the former. If you are a fan of a team in the American League Central then Scherzer and Shields leaving the division is a good thing.
Movers and Shakers
Has there been a more active hot stove in recent years because I cannot think of one. Legitimate All Stars on the move. I mean, the Kansas City Royals go from darling MLB story and World Series losers to now… a destination place for free agents? Huh? We all knew it was only a matter of time before Boston started spending like gangbusters to atone for their awful brand of baseball post-Theo Epstein but the Royals, White Sox, Cubs, Padres, the ASTROS and the MARLINS? What in Barry Bonds’ flaxseed oil is going on? Two words: television money (but that’s a story for another day).
And, of course, bringing up the rear are my Cleveland Indians. A ballclub which fancies themselves as opportunistic players in the free agent market. Right or wrong, they attempt to leverage particular situations to their advantage (see NYM/Michael Bourn overtures). Problem is they have a recent history of being wrong. Yoenis Cespedes? No. Yasiel Puig? Uh-uh. Nick Swisher? ALL-IN, BABY! Or more appropriately, this:
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I have absolutely no love for J.D. Drew. In fact, he may be the first player who suited up for the Boston Red Sox that actually made me physically ill. Since his retirement, there have been a handful of other players donning the Sox uni that have caused the same reaction, and right at the top of that list is J.D.’s little brother, Stephen Drew.
I will forever hold Stephen Drew responsible for the Red Sox loss of Jose Iglesias, the man who would have solved the Sox SS problems for the next 15 years. Fortunately for Red Sox Nation, it appears that the Sox have a ready-made replacement for Iglesias with wunderkind Xander Bogaerts.
What do all these things have in common? Private islands. Lamborghini Venenos. No. 5, 1948. The Piaget Emperador Temple. Jacoby Ellsbury’s upcoming high dollar, long-term contract.
The Answer? It’s all fancy shit wealthy people buy simply because they can.
Hear me out on this one. I like Jacoby Ellsbury. I think he is an outstanding player. If I was an owner, would I give him a multi-year, high dollar contract? Hell no; not unless I could afford to weather the injury storms that are bound to hit. And they will be frequent over the next 5-7 years.
Ellsbury has been in the league since 2007. He’s a freshly minted 30 years old. We know who he is. We know what he can do. He’s a good hitter with world class speed, and his defense is OK when you factor in arm strength. His defense, on average, will save your team 15 runs a year. Overall, he’s an All-Star caliber player.
The knock on Ellsbury has always been his health. The Ellsbury we’ve seen in 2013 is the one that will be bought during free agency. He’ll produce 10-15 homeruns, a .300 average, 50+ stolen bases, slug a little over .400 and miss 30+ games. He’s not a daily driver. He’s a Lamborghini. He’s that expensive painting you have locked away and kept safe. He’s that watch you never wear. He’s a luxury item, not a necessity.
Ellsbury fits in well on a team built like the current Red Sox. They’ve got the money and talent to cover times the Ellsbury Toy can’t come out and play. The word on the street is that the Red Sox want to resign Ellsbury. Many top notch evaluators say Jacoby Ellsbury is worth $20+ million per year in today’s market. We all know Scott Boras thinks he’s worth $20 million+ per year over 7 years. They point to Josh Hamilton and other recent star signings as evidence he’ll get his cash.
As a fan of baseball, I love watching him play. That kind of speed is always fun to watch. Gliding effortlessly through the outfield, turning singles into doubles, scoring from first. All fun stuff. The kind of ability that purists love to watch and discuss. Throwback ability. Like in the way back times before ballooned biceps and ass cheeks with needles hanging out of them. The good ol’ days like your daddy told you about.
Alright Pat, so what’s your fuggin’ point? Sorry, as I was writing this article I was falling in love with Ellsbury all over again. I’m acting like a billionaire, wiping out the blemishes and thinking about my shiny, new toy that almost no one else can have. I almost called Scott Boras and made a ridiculous offer. If I’m the Mariners, Giants, Cubs, Phillies, or Royals then I pass. If I’m the Red Sox, Yankees or Reds then I give it a hard look. Those three teams for different reasons can weather the occasional Ellsbury DL stint.
Readers, what do you think? John Henry adds another trophy piece or does he stay prudent and let his beautiful toy drive away?