Speaking with David Kaplan at NBC Sports Chicago, player agent Scott Boras recently discussed a number of issues facing MLB, including the resumption of play, player compensation, the previous agreement, and a Kris Bryant extension/look at free agency.
If you’d like to catch the full interview, you’ll find it embedded below. From where I sit, here’s what the “super agent” had to say …
• At the beginning of Boras’ soliloquy, it seems he set out to make four main points: (1) There was an agreement made back in March, which was effectively meant to be both thorough and final, (2) that agreement is still valid, particularly as it was made when the outlook of the virus seemed even more dire than it does today (in terms of mortality being higher among those with more concerning medical histories), (3) part of that agreement considered the financial impact and mitigation of the virus on the 2020 season, including major concessions by the players on salary, and (4) if the league wishes to readdress the financial piece of the puzzle, they can do so, but only within the confines of the agreement that was already made.
• And to that end, I understand his position. While I think he’s too cavalier about the world being such a better place now than it was back in March, as well as the general risks for healthy players – to say nothing of the fact that MLB has plenty of players with more troubling medical histories – I do think he’s right to lean on that agreement as leverage in negotiations with the league. If only because if the roles were reversed, there is absolutely no chance in baseball hell (St. Louis) that Rob Manfred would say anything other than “We made an agreement, and we intend to hold up our end of it. I hope the union does the same.” In fact, I have heard him say that with respect to an unbalanced CBA.
• Kaplan pushes back against just about everything Boras initially said, citing a clause in the contract allowing talks to re-open as well as the perception problem MLB has vis à vis the NBA, whose players appear more flexible in ironing out an agreement to return this season – Kaplan specifically references Blake Snell’s (correct, but admittedly tone-deaf) comments, which we addressed yesterday.
• Boras immediately responds that baseball does not have a perception problem, reiterating that they were the first sport to have an agreement – one that includes language on economic feasibility, no less. Moreover, he contends that the league would make $4-5 billion through various media contracts in a full season, a number that would drop in a partial season but perhaps only to $3 billion. In other words, there’s still plenty of money to make even without fans at the stadium.
• His broader point however, is that the agreement should stand: “We have a defined dynamic to work through. We have an agreement that both parties agreed to. You had signatories to this contract to say these are the parameters we discussed, this is how we discussed it, and we will determine the economic feasibility of how many games we’ll play or not. And that’s the discussion … they have parameters to work from.” (More on the previous agreement, and how players are being paid in various scenarios, here.)
• Again, I actually do understand Boras’ position, but without seeing the full agreement personally, I’m going to remain guarded against one side coloring it unfairly. Perhaps Boras’ interpretation of how economic feasibility would be re-addressed reads entirely different than what the league might say. Or maybe the league really did sign themselves up for a bad deal and now they’re just trying to renegotiate their mistake. It’s just tough for us to know the legalese (as opposed to simply making the points we’ve made about doing what’s right).
• Boras concedes that the owners he’s talked to do clearly want to play baseball, but he keeps going back to the same well at the end of every response: “[The players] agreed to make concessions. When you’re talking about giving away 40-50% of your salary, you’re making a major concession to make sure the game continues and that we operate.” He added that the players are extremely aligned on this issue. Clearly, he has his talking point.
• On a related point, Boras notes that the players never reached out to the owners when times were extremely good to ask for their 50/50 cut of all revenues, instead electing to maintain a relationship outside the revenue sharing model, which has seen plenty of shortcomings (without the advent of true parity) in both the NFL and NBA.
• When asked about how some of his clients – like Kris Bryant, for example – might be kicking themselves (or Boras) for turning down major extension offers in the past, Boras explains that “it’s a very good time” to be the owner of a baseball team, implying the dollars should return in earnest soon enough. Specifically, he contends owner revenues have increased by about 15% over the last four years, while player salaries have gone up only 1%. Brett got into some of this – with respect to Bryant and future earnings – earlier today:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) May 15, 2020
• Pushing back against Kaplan, Boras lists Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, etc. as players who all turned down similar extensions early in their career who wound up winning by betting on themselves. Nothing groundbreaking here, it’s a tale as old as time. We know how this goes. It works out for some, it doesn’t work out for others. It’s a risk.
• Pushing back against Boras (this is fun), Kaplan wonders if Kris Bryant could go back in time, armed with the knowledge that COVID-19 was around the corner, would he sign the extension the Cubs offered. To which Boras responded: “I don’t discuss individual players and their contracts.” LOL.