Did Michael Bourn & Scott Boras Wait Too Long?

Josh Hamilton got $125 million. B.J. Upton got $75 million. Angel Pagan got $40 million. Shane Victorino got $39 million. Melky Cabrera got $16 million. And Michael Bourn, the best center fielder still on the board — at this point, he’s probably the best free agent position player left, period — is still waiting for the right offer.

In the meantime, many other teams that looked like a good fit for him have filled center field with another player: the Nationals traded for Denard Span, the Phillies traded for Ben Revere, the Athletics traded for Chris Young. In the meantime, bloggers like Martin Gandy of Talking Chop, the SBNation Braves blog, are starting to wonder whether Bourn will need to take a one-year offer and wait ’til next year for his payday. So did Bourn wait too long? Did Scott Boras, gasp!, make a mistake?

I doubt it. Scott Boras is famous for getting his clients to wait until the last minute. At the beginning of the offseason, Bourn was one of many intriguing free agent possibilities. Now, he’s one of the only impact players left, and that has value. As a matter of fact, of all of Boras’s impact free agents to get big multiyear deals, virtually all of them signed it in December or January. (I’m ignoring his big-dollar extensions, because the timing on an extension is very different from the timing on a free agent.)

Here’s a table of many of his biggest free-agent deals. I put this together by hand so I’ve undoubtedly missed several; please let me know in the comments.

Name Date Years Dollars Team
Greg Maddux 12/9/1992 5 yr $28M Braves
Kevin Brown 12/12/1998 7 yr $105M Dodgers
Alex Rodriguez 12/11/2000 10 yr $252M Rangers
Chan Ho Park 1/16/2002 5 yr $65M Rangers
Adrian Beltre 12/16/2004 5 yr $64M Mariners
Kevin Millwood 12/26/2005 5 yr $60M Rangers
Carlos Beltran 1/9/2005 7 yr $119M Mets
Daisuke Matsuzaka* 12/13/2006 6 yr $52M Red Sox
Barry Zito 12/28/2006 7 yr $126M Giants
Andruw Jones 12/5/2007 2 yr $36.2M Dodgers
J.D. Drew 1/26/2007 5 yr $70M Red Sox
Mark Teixeira 12/23/2008 8 yr $180M Yankees
Derek Lowe 1/15/2009 4 yr $60M Braves
Manny Ramirez 3/4/2009 2 yr $45M Dodgers
Jayson Werth 12/6/2010 7 yr $126M Nationals
Matt Holliday 1/5/2010 7 yr $120M Cardinals
Adrian Beltre 1/5/2011 5 yr $80M Rangers
Rafael Soriano 1/14/2011 3 yr $35M Yankees
Prince Fielder 1/25/2012 9 yr $214M Tigers

* The Red Sox paid a $51.1 million posting fee for Matsuzaka on November 16, 2007, and had 30 days to complete a deal. They completed it on the 29th day.

Now, those are his greatest successes, and lest I fall in the trap of sampling on the dependent variable, I had better note some of the times when he failed to get a rich multiyear deal for one of his clients.

In the 2009 offseason, Adrian Beltre was coming off a disappointing contract year in Seattle, and he didn’t receive any offers that Boras felt were worthy of his talents. So, on January 5, he signed with the Red Sox for one year and $10 million, hit the cover off the ball, and got an $80 million deal 12 months later. That was a rousing success. Other one-year deals didn’t work out as well.

Edwin Jackson was looking for a multiyear deal in the 2011 offseason. As Mike Axisa wrote back in August:

[Jackson] did in fact receive a multi-year offer, a three-year contract worth more than $30 million from the Pirates according to Ken Rosenthal. He instead opted for the one-year pillow contract, a Scott Boras specialty.

Jackson signed that one-year contract on February 2, 2012. Today, he signed for $52 million over four years.

Carlos Pena has been in this situation quite often in his career. Coming off a three-year, $24 million contract in the 2010 offseason, Boras tried to build his value with a one-year “pillow contract,” as Pena signed a one-year deal with the Cubs on December 8, 2010.

But it didn’t work; since then, Pena has signed two subsequent one-year deals, for less money each time. He signed a one year, $7.25 million contract with the Rays on January 23, 2012, and then he just signed a one year, $2.9 million contract with the Astros on December 17, 2012.

In the 2011 offseason, Ryan Madson appeared to have a 4 year, $44 million contract on the table from the Phillies, but it fell through. He signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with the Reds (it was $6 million in 2012, then a mutual option with a $2.5 buyout for 2013).

Of course, Madson blew out his elbow and missed the whole year, and had to content himself with a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Angels. Shockingly, he signed that on November 28, 2012, the earliest that I have seen a Scott Boras free agent sign.

So, considering that Boras has such a well-established pattern of holding his free agents late in the offseason, why does it continue to be effective for the majority of his high-profile free agents? How is it that, twelve years after the Alex Rodriguez contract, where he famously convinced Rangers owner Tom Hicks to bid against himself, Scott Boras is able to get such a high value for most of his elite free agents?

Boras’s pattern is so well-known that a year ago, Jerry Crasnick wrote a column about this exact tendency of his. Crasnick quoted one NL executive as saying, “You have to marvel at his smarts and all that. But eventually, if you don’t change the plays, the defense stops you. And he keeps running the same plays.” However, another executive said: “But who knows? The amazing thing is, somehow he always seems to get them the money.”

The key is that scarcity runs in two directions. On the one hand, there are only 30 teams in baseball, and there is a limited number at any one time who will have a pressing need for a free agent at a given position. On the other hand, there are a very limited number of impact free agents.

Boras is willing to run out the clock and let the number of possible destinations dwindle because he relies on the fact that good free agents become increasingly scarce as the offseason wears on. He plays on the insecurity and sense of panic that teams start to feel as they approach the season and don’t feel happy with their teams as currently constructed.

After the trading flurry at the winter meetings, after many of the biggest-profile names have signed their contracts, there’s almost always a Boras client still on the board in December or January, and he’s usually the best player available at that point — and often, that Boras client has been the best free agent available all offseason.

There are almost always a few teams willing to pay a premium for a player like that, in the hopes that they’ll be able to basically score unanswered points against their division rivals. Boras realizes that the offseason is dynamic, and preys on teams who have been disappointed in their plans to upgrade their teams. His players often represent a last-ditch effort to upgrade a team after lower-cost creative options (like Denard Span) have already come off the board.

He occasionally outsmarts himself, as he may have done with Madson, and most famously of all with Matt Harrington. The Boras waiting game doesn’t always work. But all the same, it’s been pretty damn effective over the years. I wouldn’t bet against Boras — or Bourn.

UPDATE: Apparently, Edwin Jackson just signed a four year, $52 million deal with the Cubs. So the Scott Boras strategy — signing a one-year contract and then waiting till late December — clearly paid off for him, even though he’s no longer a Boras client.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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RC
Member
Member
RC
3 years 9 months ago

“Jackson signed that one-year contract on February 2, 2012. He’s a free agent again this offseason, and though he switched agents, he’s still playing the waiting game. It remains to be seen how it will work out for him this time.”

Just unlucky timing on when this was posted. Reports just came out that Jackson has agreed to 4-years, $52 million with the Cubs.

Ruben Amaro
Guest
Ruben Amaro
3 years 9 months ago

Yes they did.

(offers 6 year contract anyway)

Sleight of Hand Pro
Guest
Sleight of Hand Pro
3 years 9 months ago

the constant amaro bashing gets old (not to mention the played out joke of posting as a player/agent/gm while commenting), and im not even a phillies fan. i dont even know what this post is mocking. cliff lee contract was see as a bargain. utley contract was seen as good. halladay extension was seen as a great deal. hamels was more or less market rate but still looked at positively overall. he was mocked for papelbon over madson but after 1 year that doesnt look terrible either. swung a pretty slick contract for rollins last year too.

the only really bad contract i can think of off the top of my head is howard (granted, its terrible). sorry, this just comes across as a lame attempt at humor, and not even with a fresh idea.

B N
Guest
B N
3 years 9 months ago

I’m not one to bash Amaro, but I’d say almost all of his flak comes from the Howard extension. People complained about Raul Ibanez, but that worked out to be nearly market-value just counting the first two years (the final year had negative value, but I am dubious that even Ibanez could put up -20 runs in the OF). I didn’t like the extra year on Polanco, but that worked out well. Papelbon was an overpay, but most teams overpay for closers for some reason.

I will state however that Cliff Lee was no bargain. The Phillies offered less money total, but they ALSO got less years. They offered the highest average value per year, which is very seldom considered a “bargain.” However, most people considered it fair, at least.

David G
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David G
3 years 9 months ago

someone’s on the rag

BX
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BX
3 years 9 months ago

Amaro didn’t extend Utley.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 9 months ago

Holy shit!! That list totals $1,835 billion dollars!! What is Boras cut anyway?

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 9 months ago

Scott doesn’t do this for the money–just to help people.

Matt
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Matt
3 years 9 months ago

What Alex failed to realize is that this is a whole new challenge for Boras. Most of the guys on this list are big time hitters capable of posting up gaudy numbers. Michael Bourn is defense-speed guy with little power, only posting a .117 ISO, a career high. He doesn’t get on base as much as he should and posted a tie for a career high in WRC+ of 104, barely above league average. He’s fueled by defense and good base running. I have faith in Boras that he will obtain a high money deal for him, but he doesn’t compare to anyone on this list. Guys of his skillet aren’t in demand and he is easily replaceable.

Spike
Guest
Spike
3 years 9 months ago

Who’s left to be in on Bourn? the Chicago teams? I would have said Yankees if they hadn’t just re-signed Ichiro.

Watch the see what the ChiSox do. They’ve been very quiet this winter even tho there’s a new GM theoretically running things. If they move De Aza it’s prob to take a run at Bourn. Also the Cubs have been fairly aggressive signing Ps thus far. Bourn could be a fit there as well.

Antonio bananas
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Antonio bananas
3 years 9 months ago

Maybe teams just realize that nearly all of bourn’s value comes from speed and he’s on the wrong side of 30? I wouldn’t want him for more than 3 years.

Spike
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Spike
3 years 9 months ago

I think 4/$50M is prob fair. We know Boras will hold out for more tho.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 9 months ago

Bourn is 29, at least for another week. Just spit balling, but I don’t think Bourn’s value will plummet, but will decline normally.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 9 months ago

Think it will. Slumped badly end of last season. At some point in the next 2-4 years he becomes a defensive replacement. Just has too much of his value wrapped up in too few tools.

Bruce
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Bruce
3 years 9 months ago

Don’t see a one-year deal for any team with a pick outside the top ten as no one would want to give up a pick for this one year of Bourn. Think logically it comes down to Seattle or Texas, with I guess Cubs as outside possibility.

Dayton Moore
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Dayton Moore
3 years 9 months ago

I see the Pirates, Tigers, Braves, Angels, and Dodgers as likely destinations. I don’t think the bidding gets any higher than 6/$160, though, personally.

Dennis
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Dennis
3 years 9 months ago

why would the braves pay that much money? they need to save up for a monstrous Heyward extension

gorillakilla34
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gorillakilla34
3 years 9 months ago

/Whoosh

Average_Casey
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Average_Casey
3 years 9 months ago

Also, I would like to point out that Boras has hurt a few draft picks as well. He cost James Paxton his college eligiability and money. I know he did so for others but I can’t remember them off the top of my head.

valuearb
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valuearb
3 years 9 months ago

I’m sure hose kids and their parents had no say in it. And that Boras was responsible for the kids failures to perform.

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 9 months ago

I think the point is more about the efficacy of his tactics as applied to pre-draft players than it is about moral responsibility.

D.t.
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D.t.
3 years 9 months ago

That kid from Stanford who fell in the draft this year and then still asked for top dollar, which he didn’t get and went back to school.

Jerry
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Jerry
3 years 9 months ago

We wondered the same thing last year with Prince Fielder, only to watch the Tigers swoop in late and sign him to a mega deal. Boras rarely makes mistakes with his established stars.

Chris R
Guest
Chris R
3 years 9 months ago

That happened only because Victor Martinez got hurt. Fielder was going to be left on the beach otherwise, playing on one of the above mentioned “pillow contracts.” (how apt!)

Jerry
Guest
Jerry
3 years 9 months ago

An injury-driven overpay could easily happen again later this offseason, with all the potential suitors out there. A lot of factors can change as the season approaches, which is why Boras is smart to bide his time and wait for that huge contract.

matt
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matt
3 years 9 months ago

plus we will see how the appel thing shakes out hopefully the kid stays healthy all year, matt purke’d

snydeq
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snydeq
3 years 9 months ago

Jeff Weaver is another possible entry. Dave Duncan reclamation project turned World Series hero in 2006. Held out for 4yrs/$40mil, scoffed at supposed multiyear deal with St. Louis, then signed on with Seattle for 1yr/$8mil late in the offseason.

MikeS
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MikeS
3 years 9 months ago

What amazed me is that just 20 years ago, Gregg Maddux was 26 years old and coming off a Cy Young in a season where he had allowed 7 HR in 268 innings in Wrigley field and got 5/$28.

If that guy hit the market today he would get $28M per year. And he would have earned that easily since he averaged nearly 8 WAR/year over the next 5.

will h
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will h
3 years 9 months ago

Yeah, that’s why I could afford to watch games back then on cable when I wasn’t choosing to watch them – also affordably – at the park. Now these salaries are limiting those opportunities.

Krog
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Krog
3 years 9 months ago

Player salaries are not linked to ticket prices. Demand drives prices. Your fellow baseball fans are to blame for you being priced out of watching baseball.

a
Guest
a
3 years 9 months ago

Krog nailed it. Payroll is a fixed cost. The team won’t sign someone if they aren’t 100% sure they can afford him. Teams don’t sign someone hoping they can pay for him with increased ticket sales.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
3 years 9 months ago

Wow, all it takes is paying our labor more and people will pay higher prices? Ill work for snickers and tell them to pay me 100/hour that way they can charge 12 dollars per bar….oh wait, it actually works the exact opposite of that.

a
Guest
a
3 years 9 months ago

It’s like the cost of almost everything has gone up in the past 20 years or something. Inflation, how does it work?

Jon
Guest
Jon
3 years 9 months ago

Just out of stupid back-of-the-envelope curiosity, this BLS CPI calculator says $5.6 million in 1992 dollars is worth about $9.18 million in 2012. ($28 million divided over five years for a rough estimate; entered in thousands rather than millions).

http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

david
Guest
david
3 years 9 months ago

strippers still take $1 bills.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 9 months ago

true david, but the rest of the costs are inflated. $10 for a lapdance, and, drinks are alot each as well (and, drink minimums too).

valuearb
Guest
valuearb
3 years 9 months ago

Boras convinced Tom Hicks to bid against himself so he could give A-Rod what turned out to be a bargain contract.

And Boras didn’t represent Matt Harrington when he was first drafted and turned down $4M+ from the Rockies. My guess is the problem wasn’t Matt’s subsequent representation, but his mis-set expectations.

chucknchino
Guest
chucknchino
3 years 9 months ago

I think Boras is overated. Sure he gets the mega contracts for the superstars, but we have seen him piss away a clients contract before (Look up Jason Varitek for example). Boras is waaaay overated.

TomCat
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TomCat
3 years 9 months ago

If he does end up settling I would say 1/10 with Toronto sounds about right

Damaso's Burnt Shirt
Guest
Damaso's Burnt Shirt
3 years 9 months ago

Why? Where would Bourn fit? Toronto’s OF is filled up.

At this point, the Jays are looking for a reliever and a RH DH/OF with a little bit of pop for the bench.

Givejonadollar
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

Bourn is a good player. I think he could be a modern day Kenny Loften. He could play up into his late 30’s. I think 4 years is fair, 3 minimum. 5 is not impossible, depending on the price, and could still return great value.

Jim Lahey
Guest
Jim Lahey
3 years 9 months ago

Here’s a thought…. the Blue Jays. No one is thinking about them but I doubt they love Rasmus. He seems like a perfect fit at this point… given the recent trades & Rogers $$$, I’m betting on the Blue Jays to sign Bourn.

Alternatively, the Red Sox could trade Ellsbury and sign Bourn too.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
3 years 9 months ago

interesting idea.. trade ellsbury for “more desirable” players (aka, cheaper, and/or prospects, and use Bourn as a bridge between the now and the next CF player.

Mr Punch
Guest
Mr Punch
3 years 9 months ago

Bourn is not the same player as Crawford, and he plays CF – but he’s even more dependent on “young player skills,” and he’s not as good. Also, Crawford was younger in his free-agent year, since which time he’s been outplayed by Daniel Nava. I could see a long-term contract at moderate AAV, or short-term at higher AAV, but anything like what he’s looking for would be a big risk.

Tyler T
Guest
Tyler T
3 years 9 months ago

Bourn may end up with the Braves for one more year between a 7-10 mil contract. I think teams are hesitant for his age and facing the draft pick penalty accompanied by signing him to long term.

tbr
Guest
tbr
3 years 9 months ago

It’s pretty meaningless to say that “of all of Boras’s impact free agents to get big multiyear deals, virtually all of them signed it in December or January.” That is true of all impact free agents whether they are Boras clients or not.

Brian
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

Besides, Boras as the agent can only advise. Granted his advice is probably treasured by his clients, but the person ultimately making the decision to turn down a long-term deal and instead accept a “pillow contract” is the client, not Boras.

Bert
Guest
Bert
3 years 9 months ago

Bourn and Lohse, Boras client’s w/o a deal.
So, they both end up w/ the Yankees on 1 year, $12 million deals?

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