Thoughts on the A-Rod/Boras blame game

Minor League free agents
It's rainin' in paradise

On a very slow news day in Yankee-land, Peter Abraham chimed in with his take on the A-Rod/Boras blame game. In his view, we should be blaming Alex Rodriguez and only Alex Rodriguez for this opt-out extravaganza. Scott Boras, Abraham contends, simply works for Alex Rodriguez. Scott Boras, he writes, “wasn’t above him manipulating any strings”

To back up his contention that A-Rod is the one who deserves all of our ire, Abraham cites the case of Ron Villone, a fair-to-mediocre middle reliever who also happens to be a Scott Boras. Villone, who has made a meager (by baseball standards) $12 million over a 13-year career, has asserted his own desires about those of Boras’. Abraham writes:

Ron Villone is a Boras client. We were talking about it a few months ago and he told me that on several occasions during his career, Boras wanted him to sign with a certain team and he didn’t. “At some point you have to do what is best for you and your family,” Villone said. “You’re a man, you make your own decision.”

Using this as the basis for his argument, Abraham wraps up the piece by pinpointing A-Rod and his desire for more money as the root cause of the opt-out.

Now, while I’m sure A-Rod is no saint in the whole controversy, I have to disagree with Abraham’s assumption that Alex opted out all by himself and that Boras is working only for what A-Rod wants. I have a unique perspective on this agent-client relationship. My father is an agent himself, and throughout my life, I’ve met a lot of agents and heard a lot about the agenting business. While its true that Boras is working for A-Rod, to think that Boras had nothing to do with this opting out is simply naïve.

Of course, agents are working for their clients, but when their client is the number one star and money-marker, agents will try to push a little bit harder for that bigger deal. That bigger deal, you see, has ramifications that echo all the way down to the Ron Villone’s of the world. When Scott Boras says to A-Rod that by opting out, A-Rod could make $300-$350 million over the next ten years, A-Rod is going to listen. When Scott Boras sees an opportunity to imprint baseball with his fiscal legacy, as this article in The New Yorker claims Boras wants to do, he’ll leap at that opportunity. If it means pushing A-Rod a little bit harder, then so be it.

By taking advantage of the opt-out clause, Boras is making it known to Major League Baseball that owners should not take these clauses lightly. For two years’ running, a major Scott Boras client has opted out when presented with the option to do so. By triggering these clauses, Boras can extort more money from owners. “Give us more money or give us an opt-out clause,” he’ll say in negotiations. With this bargaining chip as well as the opportunity to really cash in with A-Rod, you can bet that Boras, while not pulling all of the strings, is certainly giving his client constant advice.

Meanwhile, the Ron Villone analogy is just plain wrong. To Boras, Ron Villone is nearly a non-entity. He makes less than the league average salary and doesn’t help Boras achieve any of the long-term goals he has set out for himself. If a Ron Villone says to Boras, “Keep me in New York,” Boras is going to listen because he (that is, Boras) has nothing to lose. But A-Rod is a whole different beast.

Abraham may choose to blame A-Rod based upon his first-hand knowledge of Rodriguez. I can’t vouch for that because I, unlike Abraham, do not have access to the Yankee clubhouse. But I do have access to an agent, and I know how the business works. You can bet that Boras had a major role in A-Rod’s opting out. Definitely blame A-Rod, but don’t give Boras a free pass just because he works for his clients. It’s a two-way street.

Minor League free agents
It's rainin' in paradise
  • yankz

    I’m sure Boras told him he could make a lot more money if he opted out, but I don’t think there’s any denying that if Alex wanted to stay in NY (as he repeatedly said throughout the season) he could have.

  • Bxgrl1

    I think Boras is guilty for feeding the beast and who knows how sharp/unsharp Arod is?

    I think Boras has said a lot of CRAP in the last two weeks, crap that makes no sense and he needs to be called on it separate and apart from Arod. He has definitely come up with some very ridiculous stuff. I don’t know if the world of baseball is going to cave to his nonsense, but they should not.

    I blame Boras because I think he’s more concerned with hijacking baseball and some of his stunts are ridiculous….but Arod is a baseball player and his “legacy” and reputation is on the line. Maybe he couldn’t see how negatively this was all going to affect him, but he should have known better than to do a lot of things he did. If he cared about history, Monument Park, the affection of NY fans, the support of his teammates etc…he would have done things differently. Even if he just cared about history and the sport, he would have done things differently.

    I think Boras/Arod is a two-headed monster out of control but the one who ultimately suffers will be Arod. Is he to blame? Maybe. Is he to blame alone? No.

    The New Yorker article said that Boras was responsible for goading Arod into talking smack about Jeter way back when. That chilled their relationship and made it more difficult in NY than it had to be and that spilled over into Arod’s relationship with the fans (who have Jeter on a pedestal). How is that having your client’s best interest in mind? I think Boras is out of control and has been for a very long time, but no one is reigning him in.

    Does Arod not see what Boras is about and how he is ultimately harming him? No, he’s not seeing it.

    I think Boras is the problem but I think Arod has signed up for that.

  • A non mouse

    Has anyone spoken about the possibility that Boras is truly acting at the beck and call of A-Rod, and that A-Rod wanted to desperately leave NY, even if it amounted to a financial loss? I suspect, at the very least, that spin will be coming out of the Boras camp if he ultimately can’t get more money than what the Yankees were offering.

  • A non mouse

    Sorry, one more. I only make these comments b/c I really enjoy the writing and would like it in its most pristine form before I e-mail friends over to read it.

    “If a Ron Villone says to Boras, “Keep me in New York,” Boras is going to listen because **he (or “Boras”)** has nothing to lose.”

    • Ben K.

      We appreciate ’em. Thanks.

  • Bxgrl1

    Did Arod tell Boras to blame his post season play on Mariano? Did Arod tell Boras to whine like a baby to the media, “Why doesn’t Alex get to act like a free agent like Rivera and Posada?” (uh…the Texas money, the option and that fact that he never even talked to them?) wha wha wha.

    Sometimes when Boras talks lately I think, “Is anyone home, McFly?”

  • Barry

    A-Rod probably didn’t make the decision on his own because he doesn’t seem intelligent enough to do so. It doesn’t matter though, if A-Rod had any lead in his pencil he wouldn’t let another man make his decisions.

  • dan

    When Arod’s little daughter asks him in 10 years why he kept changing teams and cities, he’s not going to say to her “My agent told me to do it.” Maybe 10 years ago arod would have been loyal, but over time his views have probably changed. Whether Boras is the cause or not, Arod ultimately is about the money. Alex isn;t just too fragile-minded to succeed under pressure, he is obviously swayed extremely easily and comes to believe what he is told.

    I hate to make broad judgements about someone’s psyche (I’m not some kind of psychologist and don’t plan on being one), but Arod has not shown the ability to make his own judgements.

    • steve (different one)

      i think a lot of us are making the mistake of placing a disproportional amount of value upon “being a Yankee” because we are all passionate yankee fans. but i don’t think this is really how it works anymore if you are a player. one team is not that much different from the other. A-Rod did not grow up a yankee fan. he grew up a mets fan. he doesn’t share the passion and place as much value as we do upon getting his number retired and all that stuff. he came to NY b/c he wanted to win. that simple. he now wants to be paid his market value.

      he went about it poorly, but i think a lot of yankee fans just expected him to take whatever the yankees were offering without testing the market b/c we don’t see how he would ever want to leave the Yankees, since that is all of our dream job. i’ve also read a lot of comments like “how much money does he need?”. well, as much as the market will bring him, since that is what he is worth. who knows, maybe his lifelong dream is to own the Mets when he retires and he needs every single penny he can get?

      there has been so much talk about his “legacy” and “what cap will he wear in the hall?” but those views are kindof antiquated at this point. look at the current hall of famers from this generation (and even some of these guys are from an earlier generation than a-rod):

      Randy Johnson – 5 teams
      Greg Maddux – 5 teams
      Roger Clemens – 4 teams
      Pedro Martinez – 4 teams

      this is just the way it is in modern sports. a-rod is just drawing a lot of heat b/c yankee fans have been extremely fortunate to not have to lose many stars, but this is basically par for the course for about 25 of 30 teams.

  • Batty

    Good post.

    It’s very easy to influence and brainwash someone – in as little as 17 hours usually someone’s psyche can break. There was a fairly detailed article not too long ago about how Boras’ main office has a guest house with all amenities where his prized clients will stay as they figure a plan of action. A-Rod stayed with him by accounts for about two weeks. In effect some low level brainwashing could have easily taken place by isolating him from Cashman and the Steinbrenners and taking the more profitable side.

    I think Boras had more to lose by letting A-Rod go back to the Yankees under their terms than money. It would have finally showed some weakness. I actually thought he gave in during the whole Dice-K negotiations, the final numbers per year (which is where he’d get his cut from) was not all that high. Obviously his biggest client needed to set a new bar to assert himself.

    That all said, in the end it’s still A-Rod’s decision. True, the Villone comparison is weak since he’s not the same caliber and it seemed that Boras even threw Bernie under the truck a bit while he was more concerned with talking about A-Rod in the offseason.

    A-Rod is more in love with creating a name for himself and creating a legacy. To his credit he’s well on his way. He may be loved with the final team he plays for but I don’t think he’ll ever get that ring. At least I hope not. And Slappy can bemoan that he’s always persecuted because of his contract as he walks all over the fans and people he says he loves.

  • davi

    I’ve been thinking about this whole arod thing. I think Boras is a slimeball and should be blamed for a lot of it.

    here are my thoughts. Arod’s daughter is 2 I believe so preschool, kindergarten, etc etc is just around the corner. Arod spends his offseasons in his Coral Gables mansion. Arod’s wife and daughter have so far lived in the city where he is playing during the season. When his daughter starts school, it is smack dab in Arods offseason, which would mean that either Cynthia and kids would live in Miami during the school year and then spend the summers in Arods team city. Or they would school the kids where Arod is playing, and jet down to Miami on weekends, school holidays etc.
    I’m thinking that the latter will occur. First he wants a 10+ year contract. That to me says he’ll keep his family with him and doesn’t want to switch schools for his kids a lot. Second, I don’t think Cynthia trusts Arod enough to leave him alone and unchaperoned for that long. Third, Arod was renting a house in Westchester for the last year. Seems to me that they were checking out the burbs for when their daughter starts school. Also the fact that Arod was raised by a single parent I would think he would want to spend every free second with the kids.

    My overall feeling is that Arod wants to stay in NY based on the above. Maybe he would move to chicago, or boston, but LA is too far from Miami. Arod isnt going to say goodbye to Miami. He is very connected with it still. I have to believe that Arod has thought about his kids and has factored that in to his decision.

  • Back Bay Yankee


    I just wanted to say that I thought this article is a good counterpoint to Peter’s, and both raise very good points. I think it’s been fairly well established that Boras does not lack for audacity, and that A-Rod is possessed of a certain psychological fragility, whether it manifests as advanced choke-itis in stressful situations or letting the press get under his skin. As you correctly point out, deduction is impossible. It’s impossible both for reasons of access and because neither party has any interest in giving the media or the blogosphere any actual information. So, with that very big caveat in mind, let me continue.

    The image of Boras as evil puppet master and A-Rod as his $250m mannequin is incorrect, as is Abraham’s retelling with Boras as Jeeves to A-Rod’s imperious, money-conscious Master of the House. Let me put forward my version of the classic baseball opera, Boras and Rodriguez (doesn’t it just sound like it needs a libretto?):

    Boras is a very ambitious agent who has a potential icon on his hands. Despite his ridiculous acronyms (IPN, was it?) Boras’s instincts here are correct. A-Rod is truly an amazing player. He knows that he can exploit the information asymmetry inherent in the free agency process to get A-Rod a historic contract after this amazing season. Boras also knows that in so doing he can grab a little more of the limelight (and the business) for himself. At some point the fact that Boras can get these headline contracts for his players means that young talented players make a self-interested calculation: “Boras can get me the most money at a time in my life when that money has the most value for me (in other words, I don’t already have a ludicrous amount in the bank)” The more young talent he acquires, the more the whole thing snowballs. All of this is compounded by the fact that MLB franchises can’t talk to each other about the offers on the table. Thus, if Boras lets it slip that someone’s bidding some ridiculous amount for one of his players, it can’t really be verified. And, until his credibility is completely shot (which it’ll never be as long as he has talent under his [leathery batlike] wing) there’s always a real risk involved in calling his bluff.

    So what’s Boras’s incentive structure, looking at A-Rod’s situation? Obviously, get him to opt out. If he doesn’t opt out, Boras doesn’t get the opportunity to secure him a ridiculous sum of money or display his skills as the premier baseball agent. If he doesn’t do that, then his draw as an agent is either static or decreases, which, as outlined above, means less talent in his pool and less ability to play chicken with various front offices. What I’m getting at here is that Boras the Great is predicated on A-Rod the Great. If A-Rod doesn’t opt out after the unbelievable season he just had, there’s a serious opportunity cost for Boras.

    And what of fair Alex, the center of this drama? There’s not a whole lot I can say with any real certainty, only impressions and extrapolations. His incentive structure is much less clear, and much more dependent on personal foibles or decisions. What I would say is that A-Rod strikes me as a player who’s not quite sure what he wants from his baseball experience. Does he want to break all the records, win a WS, or just make a metric fuckton of money playing for a variety of teams? If he doesn’t have a clear weighting of those desires, he probably won’t be able to put his foot down and say “I want to be on team X for no less than Y dollars, for Z reasons” and get Boras to go out and make that deal. Do I think Alex told Boras he wanted to opt out? Absolutely. Do I think he may have been persuaded by arguments from a man who doesn’t necessarily have his best interests at heart? Probably.

    Ironically, this decision may have the effect of undermining Alex’s iconic potential. In many ways, I think the Yankees were probably the perfect fit for A-Rod. Over the next few years the Yankees are going to win a WS, especially as the rotation improves. Yankees fans are happy to overlook (even celebrate!) his bush league tactics so long as they’re backed up by solid numbers (note to Boras: impressive though it may be, 0 for 27 is not a “solid” number). Finally, there’s the issue that time spent with the Yankees (historically viewed by non-Yankees as the evilest of them all) in addition to A-Rod’s historic and ongoing postseason choke and his much-maligned antics do a lot to reduce his perceived value to the fanbases of other franchises. To indulge in a little hyperbole, even if Satan hits a homerun every time up, you still have the Prince of Darkness on your lineup card. And, you know, he’ll get a lot of pitchouts.

    Finally, I think that Cashman et al made a very sound decision by deciding not to negotiate with A-Rod if he opted out. In so doing they deprived Boras of one of main arrows in his quiver of disinformation: the spectre of a big market team interested in A-Rod. If the Red Sox publically take a pass, he’ll be in real trouble. If everything comes up Cashman, the Yankees may be able to slide in a last minute bid that Boras will take because, while displaying weakness, it won’t display as much weakness as getting less money from a lesser team would. He might even be able to spin it in an “I got the Yankees to come back to the table” way.

    Wow. That was epic. Sorry.

  • Ed

    I thought that Peter had a good point, but I agree with you he used a horrible example. Ron Villone and Alex Rodriguez do not belong in the same sentence when talking about contract negotiations. But what about Bernie Williams?

    Bernie finished his career 20th on the all time list for greatest total salary and we all know his resume and watched his career. I think Bernie would have been a much better example to have used in an argument like Peter’s.

    He couldn’t have been a superstar, but I am sure Bernie Williams could have done better than a 1.5 million bench player contract for his last year in the big leagues. Considering the numbers he put up that year he was surely a bargain.

    I prefer the theory that both Arod and Boras are assholes. And alot of Boras’ clients are assholes, which of course might tell you something about the asshole percentage in the major leagues. But somehow I would guess that Boras has the ability to draw the largest smelliest dirtiest ones to himself.

    • Relaunch

      Bernie was going to leave and go to Boston in 98 if the Yanks didn’t offer more money. Bernie sucked at the end, thats why he ended up staying.

  • Prete Funk Era
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  • Stephen Rose

    With Girardi in I would not be surprised to see A-rod back, chastened but able to say, See I did want to be a Yankee. It may not be entirely a money thing. If it were there are better ways to structure compensation than straight annual salary.
    A-Rod gets the choice finally, I assume.