And so it begins: Boras starts to over-sell Strasburg

Leave a comment

Stephen Strasburg and agent Scott Boras held a media conference call
this afternoon and Boras predictably explained to all the reporters on
the line that Strasburg is “a different breed of cat” and worthy of a
mold-breaking signing bonus. Here’s more from the agent who’s never met
a player he couldn’t over-sell:

I don’t think you need me to say it, but obviously Stephen falls
into that class of players really not associated with the inherent
[risk] elements of the draft. They are just players who happen to be
available, whether that be through free agent or posting means. They
just have extraordinary ability. The idea of an extraordinary player
receiving a substantial bonus high above other draft picks has happened
before with Ben McDonald, Mark Teixeira, J.D. Drew.

It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. The reality of it is,
if you look at the players who have gotten $5 million or more, since
1998, and evaluate all of them, you can see the scouting system of
major league baseball is extraordinary. They don’t give out that money
unless those players are very good. Every one of them has made the
major leagues. The risk factor are extremely low. Frankly, the risk
factors are zero.

Boras can spin it however he wants and he’ll no doubt try to do just
that between now and the mid-August signing deadline, but the reality
is that even the greatest talents in draft history have a relatively
spotty track record of success as long as you’re not defining “success”
by simply making the big leagues. And no one but Boras is doing that,
least of all the Nationals.

He brought up Ben McDonald as an example of “an extraordinary player
receiving a substantial bonus high above other draft picks” and that’s
certainly true. McDonald was considered one of the greatest college
pitchers of all time when he was the No. 1 pick in the 1989 draft …
and he won all of 78 games in the majors. Not exactly the greatest
example to show that “the risk factors are zero.”

Along with McDonald, the other pitchers who’ve gone No. 1 overall
during the past 25 years are Andy Benes, Brien Taylor, Paul Wilson,
Kris Benson, Matt Anderson, Bryan Bullington, Luke Hochevar, and David
Price. If anything that list highlights the incredible amount of risk
involved in selecting a pitcher with the top pick, as Benes is the only
one to even make an All-Star team and even he finished with a modest
155-139 career record.

Boras would no doubt argue that Strasburg is more than just another
pitcher picked No. 1 overall, which is fair. Of course, Mark Prior was
the last guy to get tagged as the greatest college pitcher of all time
before Strasburg came around, received a record-breaking $10.5 million
to sign after the Cubs made him the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft, and
has won 42 games as a big leaguer. Any conversation about “zero risk”
in handing a huge amount of money to a great college pitcher can pretty
much end right there.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Leave a comment

On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been sigbned. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.