Baseball agent Scott Boras was a guest on Jonah Keri’s podcast this week for an hour-and-a-half conversation that managed to be as dense as it was sprawling. Boras talked about the issues with a hypothetical international draft, suggested the idea of giving more money to prospects who aren’t in college, and didn’t pass up a chance to gush about his client Matt Wieters, who’s currently a free agent. A few excerpts:
On signing international players based off limited showcases:
It’s kind of like mail-order brides. You’re going off one dimension—are they a pretty girl—and then you’re buying them without knowing the psychology of someone you’re going to live with the rest of your life.
A lot of the Cuban players that have come over, we’re probably seeing about $300 million sitting in the minor leagues because we’ve done the mail-order technique.
The data clearly shows that those that are familiar with our culture are more than likely going to be much more efficient.
On the viability of an international draft and why Japanese and Korean players are a better bet for teams:
The problem with the international draft? There will never be an international draft because Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, Japan will never will allow its jurisdictional sovereignty to be given control to Major League Baseball because we have existing treaties. So which countries don’t have treaties? Only the impoverished, only the Third World, only those that are not in a position as a sovereignty to negotiate for the talent that is there and preserve the rights structure of their own leagues and what they do. I believe the international process is far better served by what we do with Japan and Korea and Taiwan.
Why are we not recruiting all these great young players that are going to Korean baseball? And the answer is the cultural component is taken care of by their own design in their own country. If they’re worthy, talent-wise, at 23 or 24 or 25 to come here, the surety of the execution of our investment is so much greater and we don’t want to, in any way, eliminate the process by which that’s evolved for so many so successfully.
Now, granted, the Dominican has no formidable leagues, Venezuela has no formidable leagues, that’s the argument for some sort of resource that allows them an opportunity. But I really believe it’s up to their countries. Their countries have to evolve something so that they can figure out that this draft structure is prohibitive to the true value of our sovereignty. Let them be free agents because that’s what’s best for our young men that we grow up, and their families, and maybe our government cause they may make enough money to have an impact on a their community.
On why the collusion era was so bad for parity:
And when we were going through the collusion process, the thing that was the most revealing, that illustrated the unfairness, was the very rudiment of the game itself: the talent. All the players went to Minnesota. Rave reviews for the management of the Minnesota Twins, cause they had plenty of money to sign five or six stars. What did collusion do for the game? It just removed parity from the system cause players said, “I’m going to go win if I can’t get appropriately paid.” Ironically, the players’ desire to win proved the point that none of this is good for the game cause parity is completely removed when you have an artificial value structure attached to talent.
On hatred from fans:
Every fan of a team, my role in the game for them is never positive. Cause remember, if the free agent goes to the city, that’s his decision. If the free agent leaves the city, that was my decision. And the athlete shouldn’t wear the horns of one team to the next. And if I get a competent contract for an athlete, that is viewed as something that takes away from their owner’s ability to go out get other athletes and make their team better. Now without knowing the landscape of the financial landscape of each franchise, it’s certainly going to appear that my role is anti-their team.
A counterintuitive solution to the minor league living wage debate that I’m pretty sure I do not buy into:
The rule should be: sign seniors, unless they’re really really good, let them go to college. You get college players for $1,500 a month, but anytime you sign a player without a college degree, anytime you do that, you gotta pay them $3,000 a month. The reason is, I want the incentive, the onus, on “I’ll take a college player.” You go out, you get a degree, you can rough it up for four or five months, as long as you want to take your change in baseball, you’re not spending a lot of money on those guys, you can service the minor leagues, get some good ballplayers to play low A, Rookie Ball along with your prospects, and do it at half the cost. But wait until they finish school. Then go get them. If you don’t want to do that, you want to take the risk because you think there’s a proprietary value to it, then you have to pay them $3,000 a month on entry. High schoolers, you have to pay them double. Simple rule, you want to save money, get most college seniors, get mostly guys that have exhausted their academic eligibility, then you get to pay them half.
On how his client, free-agent catcher Matt Wieters, is “Carlton Fisk-like”:
I told someone, he’s got the same projection as Carlton Fisk. “What?!” I’m going like, excuse me, Matt Wieters has won two gold gloves at 30, Carlton Fisk had won one. He’s a better ball blocker and he throws the same. Carlton Fisk was on the All-Star team six times by the age of 30. Matt Wieters, four. He has the same number of games caught by the age of 30. Their home runs and RBIs are very similar. All of a sudden they’re going, “Are you saying he’s Carlton Fisk?” And I’m saying, “What I’m saying is he’s Carlton Fisk-like.” Carlton Fisk’s batting average is 30 points higher. But he plays in Boston. And the reality of it is, in this time and this age, the whole thing, no one ever associated Matt Wieters with Carlton Fisk. And you know what? Pretty associational behavior.
Most of the conversations are abstracts about the business of the game, as Boras isn’t giving away any juicy scoops on potential signings—for a fun game, drink every time he says “proprietary”—but he’s a brilliant guy deeply obsessed with baseball. The podcast pays special attention to the way the professional game is influenced by the amateur industry. Boras discusses how decisions in Little League, high school tournaments, and scholarship availability all affect the talent at the highest level. It’s easy enough to believe him when he says, “This game changed my life, it has given me everything I have.”