How Scott Boras influences all of baseball
ORLANDO — The security guard in the wrinkled gray blazer watching over the lobby at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes was probably having an uneventful day until Scott Boras emerged from an elevator just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
Two dozen reporters covering Major League Baseball’s annual meetings for owners and other executives quickly formed a semicircle around Boras, trapping him against a marble railing next to a Thanksgiving-themed flower arrangement.
As Boras answered questions, the suddenly frazzled security guard tried to push his way through the crowd and implored two television camera operators to turn off their floodlights. An impromptu press conference a few yards from the front desk was apparently not conducive to a welcoming ambiance.
“Who is that?” the security guard said.
Must not be a baseball fan. Boras is perhaps the only player agent the average fan can name because of his success in generating record contracts for his clients. The 61-year-old former minor league infielder from the University of the Pacific has influence throughout the game and in particular this winter on the fortunes of the Red Sox.
Boras represents center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and shortstop Stephen Drew, two key players on the World Series champions who are now free agents. He also represents their potential replacements, 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. and 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts.
“There’s no questioning Xander Bogaerts is a guy who can play shortstop and is going to have a very big bat,” Boras said. “With outfielders it’s a little bit easier. Everybody knows that Jackie can play all three positions.”
Later, when the press scrum broke up, Boras acknowledged how intertwined his interests are with the Sox.
“I don’t make decisions for teams. But I’ll be very curious what the Red Sox will decide,” he said. “Because these players are free agents, they’re no longer on the Boston roster.
“We have no role in it. The teams determine who plays. But it’s helpful we have both ends.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington agreed that Boras is likely to be pleased with however the roster looks for 2014.
“It’s not an issue for us. Obviously Scott has an obligation to all his clients in the way he sees best,” he said. “There’s no barrier to any of his free agent clients coming back to Boston, I’ll put it that way.”
Cherington, who has known Boras since the late 1990s, finds their conversations far more interesting than antagonistic.
“Scott has built a business over a long period of time for a reason,” he said. “Smart guy, a lot of smart guys working for him, works extremely hard. Knows the game. He was a player and has been around the game a long time. You can have a baseball conversation with him, a meaningful baseball conversation with him. Those are things that we enjoy.”
For some fans, Boras is an easy target for their wrath. If a popular player leaves town, it’s easy to blame his agent.
That Boras readily makes himself available to the media expands the size of that target.
But Bradley said the anger is misplaced.
“It’s a misconception that he tells a player what to do,” Bradley said. “When I came out of college, Scott gave me the information and I decided what I wanted to do. I have a good time talking to him because he knows a lot of people and a lot of different things. If you want to know what’s going on, he’ll tell you.”
In Drew, Ellsbury, and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, Boras will negotiate contracts that could total more than to $300 million this winter. But this is not his favorite time of the year, lucrative as it may be.
“I enjoy evaluating players the most. I enjoy watching them play and helping them take on the game psychologically,” Boras said. “Helping them play well is the most fun. The negotiating part, not as much.”
Boras played from 1974-77 in the Cardinals and Cubs organizations. He hit .288 but never advanced beyond Double A because of injuries.
Boras returned to Pacific, earned a law degree, and worked for a Chicago firm. By 1980, he started representing a handful of players he knew personally and made that his career a few years later.
Now Boras heads a 75-person staff with a sprawling headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif. He has season tickets behind the plate at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium and regularly holds press conferences at major league events.
In 2008, when the winter meetings were held in Las Vegas, the crowd of reporters around Boras blocked a hallway headed to a casino. He was ushered into the media workroom set up by Major League Baseball and gleefully hopped on the stage to take questions.
Other agents resent his notoriety — “It’s all just a big show,” one said Wednesday — but baseball insiders, especially younger executives, respect Boras.
“He thinks about baseball in a lot of different ways,” said Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington, a New Hampshire native. “He has had a ton of success in the industry, knows what he wants to do with his clients and isn’t afraid.
“Other than the negotiation portion of it, the best agents understand there’s a partnership the rest of the year to help that player reach his potential. Scott gets that. Once you have the deal, he’s easy to work with.
“Players choose agents for different reasons. But his reputation is a big part of that.”
With Ellsbury, Drew, and Choo on his docket, Boras will largely determine how the free agent market plays out. He also had Robinson Cano until the Yankees second baseman left Boras for the new agency created by hip-hop mogul Jay Z.
Ellsbury, Boras said, has an unusually high number of teams interested. He did not, of course, list those teams.
“The number of premium players at that level who get to free agency now are rare and teams recognize that,” he said. “I think they view those players as difference makers. It’s a real opportunity for a franchise.”
Boras even had a ready explanation as to why Ellsbury hit 32 home runs in 2011 but has only 13 over 880 at-bats in the two years since.
“The fact is that Ells conditioned himself and did things to become what he needed to become to help [the Red Sox], this style of team.
“That was stealing bases, being a leadoff hitter, being on base and getting to second base as much as possible. That’s really what he geared himself to.”
Ellsbury’s skills require little burnishing. But Drew hit .253 in the regular season, then was 6 for 54 in the postseason.
Boras, who prepares extensive dossiers on every free agent, pointed out that Drew’s .777 OPS was fourth among shortstops and his defense was well above average.
He suggested that the key to Cherington’s successful plan for rebuilding the Red Sox centered around the signing of Drew.
“Wherever Stephen Drew goes, he ends up in the playoffs,” Boras said.
Words were scribbled and the now apoplectic security guard looked at his watch. Guests paused to snap photos with their smart phones.
One of Boras’s assistants reached in and handed him a bottle of water. He was just getting started.