Scott Boras, Draft and Free Agency Changes, and the Optical Problem of Self-Interest

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Scott Boras, Draft and Free Agency Changes, and the Optical Problem of Self-Interest

Chicago Cubs

MoneyYesterday, super agent Scott Boras wrote a kind of Op-Ed on Buster Olney’s blog on the many problems with baseball’s current CBA, which changed both the free agent structure (qualifying offers) and the Draft structure (pools). It’s worth reading, as Boras is generally right about the broad problems with those changes.

The primary two beefs: (1) impending free agents traded midseason are not subject to the burden of draft pick compensation and that’s unfair; and (2) draft-eligible players are having their bonuses artificially deflated by the pool/slotting system (and, I’d say, savvy teams that are willing to spend on the amateur side are prevented from doing so).

These are legitimate beefs, and I have no problem with Boras raising them. The problem is, whether the arguments have merit, Boras is the wrong guy to be making them. It’s too easy to dismiss everything he writes as pure self-interest.

Take a look at a couple sample selections from his article. First, on draft pick compensation:

The proof is clear based on how the market worked last year. Kyle Lohse (one of my clients) turned in a 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA in 211 innings last season at age 33 and was less valued in the market than Ryan Dempster after his 12-8 record and 3.38 ERA at age 35. Dempster was traded midseason and had no draft compensation attached to him.

First of all, there’s the obvious issue of Lohse being a Boras client – it just screams partiality. Because Boras represents so many top players, I can excuse that conflict. The appearance here, however, already starts on the self-serving foot.

Instead, I’ll just point out a few things: first, the stats Boras cites to demonstrate that Lohse was “clearly” better than Dempster in 2012 are frighteningly thin. Wins and losses and ERA? Seriously? Lohse pitched for the mighty Cardinals, while Dempster pitched (mostly) for the woeful Cubs. Lohse’s FIP was 3.51 to Dempster’s 3.69, and Lohse’s xFIP was 3.96 to Dempster’s 3.77. There were a number of teams that didn’t “buy” Lohse’s career year, and instead were more attracted to Dempster’s stable track record (and, arguably, better performance in 2012).

Further, it’s not like Lohse didn’t get the bigger contract. Lohse got three years and $33 million from the Brewers, while Dempster got two years and $26.5 million. Given that shorter term deals almost almost come with a higher AAV (since the team is taking less long-term risk), I can’t say that Lohse’s deal was worse than Dempster’s. Couple that with the value questions, and it’s anything but “clear” that Lohse was damned by the draft pick compensation, while Dempster was spared because of his midseason trade.

That’s the problem with Boras’s argument here: he’s making a good point (the draft pick compensation system is screwy) on the back of a terrible – and outwardly biased – example. It’s just too easy to take his argument apart because of the support he chose to offer, and because of his position as a super agent. Did the draft pick compensation drive Lohse’s contract price down? I have no doubt that it did. But I don’t think this particular iteration of the argument does much to advance the cause.

The same issue pops up in his Draft discussion. Noting that the pool/slotting system unfairly inhibits the earning power of top draft picks like Mark Appel and Kris Bryant, Boras offers a solution:

So what’s the resolution? I think each team’s first pick in a season should not be subject to any signing limits. Look at it from the team perspective: One player is not going to break any team’s budget, big market or small, and the flexibility to pursue one elite player of its choice will reward scouting and player development personnel who properly identify and value talent as it fluctuates from year to year. The remaining rounds could still be subject to the pool system, striking a balance between cost certainty and healthy competition.

This is a horrible solution that solves only the problem impacting Boras: reduced signing bonuses for the top talents. Once again, the optics here are all wrong, and appear purely self-serving. If first picks, and only first picks, are uncapped, who benefits? Those elite players … who are the types that agents like Boras are likely to represent. Heck, his two examples – Appel and Bryant – are both his own clients.

And if only the first pick for a team is uncapped, and the pool applies thereafter, there is absolutely no solution here for teams that are looking to add deeply in the Draft and are willing to spend to do so (*cough* Cubs *cough*). In fact, this proposed solution would have the opposite effect: since there would be no pool money to “save” on the top pick, teams could not try to apply “saved” funds later in the Draft.

In the end, the arguments here are done harm by the man making them (whether that’s fair or not). Boras makes good points, has legitimate issues with the current system – some of which are not self-interested – and does a good job of laying out the problems.

But, by making his arguments on the backs of the very players he represents, the whole thing winds up coming off like a press release. Hopefully others join Boras in what has become a very public quest to have these issues in the CBA sorted out. I don’t think he can be the one carrying the banner if things are actually going to change.

Boras, himself, might agree with me, because he concludes his piece with a call for others in baseball to take action and come up with a solution to these issues.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.