Boras to clients: Don’t bail out the owners

Scott Boras
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The Players’ Union’s official responses — and the responses publicly shared by high-ranking union members like Max Scherzer — are the most significant thing when it comes to the current negotiations over a potential 2020 season. But there is another person whose views carry a good bit of weight: agent Scott Boras.

Boras, who represents over 70 current major leaguers, including some of the most highly-paid ones, has been rumored to have taken on a much bigger role than he had in the past in MLBPA affairs. Whether that’s official, unofficial, welcome, or unwelcome is not entirely clear. What is clear is that while agents have always been in the loop and have always had a figurative seat at the table when it comes to labor matters, Boras has been pulling his chair in a bit more closely in recent years.

Against that backdrop, Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reports that Boras has been beating the drum for the players to reject the owners’ attempts to further reduce their salaries for 2020. Specifically, Blum obtained an email Boras sent to players in which he tells them they should not alter the terms of the March 26 agreement which provided for prorated salaries. Boras calls further concessions a “bail out” of owners who have gone into debt in order to finance their non-baseball activities. From Boras’ email:

“Owners are asking for more salary cuts to bail them out of the investment decisions they have made. If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization. The owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks. This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations.”

Boras added, “[r]emember, games cannot be played without you. Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”

As we’ve chronicled in detail over the past few years, team owners have gone greatly into debt in order to purchase franchises on what can only be considered a speculative basis. They have likewise leveraged their franchises to build real estate developments adjacent to ballparks with The Battery in Atlanta, Ballpark Village in S. Louis, and buildings around Wrigley Field in Chicago as the most notable examples. The Giants and the Angels are likewise deeply into the real estate business these days. Much if not all of the revenue from these ventures is considered “non-baseball revenue” and is not shared with players.

Players recently asked the owners for financial data on which the owners base their claims that they require further salary concessions from players in order to make a 2020 season without fans work. It’d be interesting to know how much of that data related to hits to the owners are taking to that “non-baseball revenue” and whether the players are being expected to subsidize it. It’d be further interesting to know whether salary concessions are aimed at helping, say, the highly-indebted owners of the Marlins, Royals, Dodgers, and other clubs purchased in the past several years make their installment payments.

While Boras’ personal interests are no doubt served by players making the most money possible, he’s not wrong about how the owners have a pretty heavy burden to show that what they consider to be the need for player concessions is not just a desire. And whether it’s a need or a desire, it’s directed at the playing of major league baseball games and not at simply helping out the owners’ larger portfolios.