Jon Heyman really, really wants Johnny Damon and Scott Boras to get paid

Leave a comment

SI.com’s Jon Heyman is sometimes accused of being a mouthpiece for agent Scott Boras. Heyman understandably doesn’t like that and tries to squash the notion, but sometimes it’s awfully tough not to get that impression.
Boras’ highest profile client among remaining free agents is Johnny Damon and Heyman has been giving daily (and sometimes hourly) updates about all the teams supposedly interested in the 36-year-old outfielder. His latest column takes that to a whole different level, beginning with this intro:

Damon, with the matinee-idol looks and obvious love of the big stage, is starring in his very own soap opera this winter. At first, it was thought that he was going to cash in big-time following his home run of a regular season and his World Series heroics. Then it appeared to many he was going to be shut out, the winter’s biggest loser. Now it looks like he’s going to do just fine, maybe even better than fine.

That reads like a cross between romance novel and sales pitch. Not only does Damon have “matinee-idol looks and obvious love of the big stage” he’s “going to do just fine, maybe even better than fine” despite turning down offers that will surely top whatever he ends up with. Heyman goes on to criticize the Yankees for choosing to replace Damon with Nick Johnson at a fraction of the price and then writes:

Damon was supposedly hankering for a multiyear deal. Yet, now that he is said to have offers for one and two years from the Tigers, he is thought to be considering taking a one-year offer from either them, the White Sox or Braves over the two-year offer.

There is no “supposedly” about Damon’s desire for a multi-year deal. If he was willing to take one year this whole time he’d have signed already and would likely still be with the Yankees. And the notion that he’s now being offered multi-year deals from several teams but may decide, at age 36, to accept a one-year contract is … well, people have sold bridges in Brooklyn with less outlandish sales pitches.

It can’t possibly be because he doesn’t love Detroit. He’s been publicly cited as a lover of the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman and even octopi.

Well, obviously if he claims to like the local hockey team, one of that team’s greatest players, and creatures fans throw onto the ice, the Tigers would be making a huge mistake by not signing him. Or something.

In a sometimes dead winter, Damon has been our saving grace. We can only hope that he can keep the mystery going for one more week, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

This actually strikes me as a rare bit of pure, unbiased honesty, because Heyman has written approximately 50 million words about Damon during the past three months.

Everyone in baseball is watching to see whether baseball’s most famous agent, Scott Boras, will finally be stuck with a bad deal on a very good player. And a few undoubtedly are hoping.

I’m amused by the spin that Damon signing for less than he was offered by the Yankees would represent Boras “finally” making a bad deal, as if he’s never mis-stepped previously.

All the early talk of multiyear megadeals and public suggestions that Damon shouldn’t receive a pay cut from the $13 million he made each of the last four seasons unrealistically raised the bar at a time his demographic was falling in free agency.

Saving the best for last, Heyman is now suggesting that the “public” rather than his hyperbole-spewing, hype-machine agent was behind reports of Damon not wanting to accept a pay cut. Apparently it’s all our fault. Sorry, Johnny.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

Getty Images
23 Comments

Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.