Scott Boras has ideas for fixing the draft and free agency

Offense stays hot: Yankees blow out Red Sox in series opener at Fenway
Game 122: Stay Hot
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The latest Collective Bargaining Agreement overhauled the draft (and international free agency) and free agency in an attempt to fix long-standing problems, but instead all it did was create a new set of problems. It’s a vicious cycle. Teams are now given soft spending caps with harsh penalties for amateur players, and the qualifying offer system severely limits the market for some free agents. There’s no perfect solution to these problems — no realistic perfect solution, I should say — but Scott Boras has some ideas.

In a guest piece at ESPN earlier this week (subs. req’d), Boras laid out some creative ways to improve the draft and free agency. By improve I mean “make fair,” more than anything. None of his ideas are wacky and all of it passes the sniff test. The entire article is worth a read, but I wanted to touch on the key points separately. Let’s break ’em down:

Problem: Qualifying offer system limits market for older players
Solution: Players age 31 and older do not require draft pick compensation

Unsurprisingly, Boras uses Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche (both his clients) as examples of older players who were hurt by receiving a qualifying offer this past winter. Both guys had strong-to-excellent seasons in 2012 but had trouble finding work on the open market because no one wanted to surrender a first round pick for a guy in his mid-30s. Under Boras’ scenario, a player age 31 or older who received a qualifying offer would net his former team the same compensation pick as any other qualified free agent, however their new team would not forfeit a pick.

I like the idea, but I do think the age threshold may be too low. Thirty-one is still in a guy’s theoretical prime, and a team should have to forfeit a first rounder to sign a prime-aged player. Robinson Cano is a perfect example — he’ll turn 31 in October and is still an elite player, so why shouldn’t a team have to surrender a first pick to sign him? The same would have been true for Nick Swisher last winter. Players like Cano and Swisher, obvious above-average players in their prime, should cost a pick. Maybe 32 or 33 would work better for the age limit.

Problem: Inflexible draft pools with slot values for each pick in the top ten rounds
Solution: No spending limits for the first round

I love this idea. Boras notes the draft talent pool varies from year-to-year, so clubs should be given the flexibility to spend however they see fit with their top selections. If it’s a deep class, they should be able to spend more without being penalized rather than squeezing each draft under the same spending umbrella. Smart teams should be rewarded for identifying the best talent and paying top dollar for it, and the teams with extra picks should be able to take full advantage. I really dislike the draft pool system and feel there should be no slot values at all, but this is a nice compromise. If a good player falls — Boras used Mark Appel (his client, duh) in 2012 as an example — a team should be able to sign him without punting several other picks. Free enterprise, baby.

* * *

Boras also argues young American-born players are at a financial disadvantage compared to Cuban-born players — Stephen Strasburg’s contract ($15.1M) vs. Aroldis Chapman‘s contract ($30.25M) at the same age, for example — but I’m not really sure what can be done about that aside from abolishing the draft and going back to true free agency (a.k.a the pre-1965 model). That won’t happen for obvious reasons.

I do think Boras has some good ideas for improving the current system though, particularly with regards to his uncapped first round of the draft plan. Ultimately, the best way to address the qualifying offer problem is to complete sever the ties between free agency and the draft, making them two completely separate events. The current CBA doesn’t expire until after the 2016 season, however, and it’s unlikely MLB and the players’ union will open it back up to address any non-performance-enhancing drug related issue. The owners have no reason to cave on that stuff right now.

Offense stays hot: Yankees blow out Red Sox in series opener at Fenway
Game 122: Stay Hot
  • gargoyle

    The owners have no interest in reforms that make sense – they are just looking to spend less money and are succeeding. A hard cap is inevitable and will be implemented in the next CBA. That’s mostly what this steroid crap is all about – weakening the players so the owners will get the big enchilada next time around.

    Also amazed at how most fans will reflexively take the side of ownership against the “greedy ballplayers.”

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      Also amazed at how most fans will reflexively take the side of ownership against the “greedy ballplayers.”

      Please, the players are hardly indentured servants. The CBA has been skewed way in favor of the players for decades now.

      I think the system in the NFL is far superior than MLB. You lose a FA, you get a draft pick next season. The signing team doesn’t have to give up a pick though if they subsequently have a free agent leave, they likely won’t get a pick themselves so only teams with net losses from free agency are compensated.

      Also, the non guaranteed contracts are greatly preferable IMO. A player underperfoms, he can renegotiate his contract and take less money or be cut and sign somewhere else. Players still get some money guaranteed from a signing bonus but teams aren’t crucified like they are now by seemingly every long term contract.

    • YankeeGrunt

      They don’t want a hard cap. If basketball is star-driven, baseball is market-driven. Yes people tune in to see Trout and Puig and Strasburg, but the surest way to get decent postseason ratings is to have at least one major market involved. The last time two Cinderellas met it saw the lowest rated game in WS history (a 6.1 game 3 for the Phillies/Rays). The Yankees, for their flaws, guarantee you double digits. The Dodgers will give you a similar range. And it’s not a coincidence that the Yankees end up on ESPN and MLBN more than anyone else. That drawing power goes away with a Yankees team, or a Sox team, or a Braves or Cards team (regional markets, by and large), that averages 70 wins at length.

      • Robinson Tilapia


      • toad


        Also, having a couple of teams that are consistently in the news, hated or loved, helps the popularity of the game.

        It’s about attracting the marginal fan, and to do that you have to have story lines – villains, heroes, etc. Too much parity is as boring as not enough.

    • Mike HC

      It is the millionaires vs the billionaires.

    • radnom

      That’s mostly what this steroid crap is all about – weakening the players so the owners will get the big enchilada next time around.

      Um, no.

  • trr

    LOL, there plenty of greed and blame for everyone.
    One constant: the fan will always get screwed.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m surprised the plan didn’t involve a tube that would directly siphon money from our pockets up his ass.

    31? 33? I say 35 on the age limit. Let the grizzled vets off a bit easier. Make teams think about guys anywhere near their prime.

    Fine with the first round spending.

    • Preston

      I was also surprised that his suggestions were reasonable. I expected him to suggest no compensation picks at all, no draft spending cap and a team payroll floor.

  • Caballo Sin Nombre

    Fix for “advantage to Cuban players”: if you sign an Aroldis Chapman-type for first round money, you give up a first round draft pick. If you sign him for more than first round money, you give up multiple picks.

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    Has any player who has been offered a QO accepted? Off the top of my head, I can’t recall anyone.

    • YankeeGrunt

      No. All nine declined. That may change this year though, depending on who is qualified.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        It will increase as we simply have a larger sample to go by. Agreed.

        • Manny’s BanWagon

          Sure, eventually someone will accept the QO but IMO, if a player is worthy of being offered $14 million for 1 season, not always but generally speaking said player far more often then not will be able to land a superior multi year deal.

  • YankeeGrunt

    Boras’s suggestions are about enriching Boras. The pool system has taken away his leverage. As a Yankee fan I don’t much like the pool system, but in terms of ensuring a “progressive” draft that gives the best amateur talent to the worst teams slotting makes plenty of sense.

    As for draft pick compensation, they’re geared toward giving teams the advantage in resigning their players (though the end of the large-scale granting of comp picks cuts against that slightly). There are aspects of it I don’t like and I don’t think work all that well, like taking away the right of teams who acquire players mid-season to qualify them (discouraging firesales for prospects). Again, it doesn’t necessarily work to the benefit of the Yankees but what it does do is give mid-level players who all too often take a back seat to the stars in sports unions a boost both by effectively subsidizing the market for their services.

    • Cuso

      You could’ve stopped after your first sentence, because quite frankly your first sentence is the answer.

  • antd12185

    the best thing they can do for the draft is to allow trading of picks and players. take the yankees for example..j you dont think they wouldnt have packaged acouple of those 3 1st rd picks they had and include a prospect or 2 to get up to get a bat like kris bryant or arm like gray???? it would help keep free agency spending down by allowing big market teams who win too much to ever be in a situation to draft and have the high end talent under team control for 6 years, thus improving parity in the game by giving teams like colorado and chicago mlb ready talentinstead of hoping the guy draft doesnt become a tim beckham…..

  • Mike HC

    They should just have one draft for all players like the NBA and NFL. That system works great. I don’t see why this is that hard.

    • Andrew Brotherton

      The NBA has 2 rounds and maybe 5 international players, the NFL has none, MLB has hundreds every year.

      • Mike HC

        So what? If you want to play for MLB, you have to declare for the draft. I don’t see why it matters if the players are international or not.

    • YankeeGrunt

      Comparing a 16 year old from a hovel in Panama to a 21 year old from Stanford is virtually impossible. Baseball is thriving in Latin America in large part because teams are willing to pour a lot of money into the Dominican and Venezuela, to fund baseball academies and cultivate relationships with local coaches, trainers and teams. Why would the Yankees or the Sox maintain multi-million dollar facilities to foster talent that any other team can pick off? Likewise, IFAs typically spend a couple years in the VSL or the DSL. Are teams likely to draft players who may not get to the bigs for seven plus years?

      • Mike HC

        Weren’t the new international free agent rules (not including the Cuba and Japan players) put in place to help even the playing field with international free agents anyway. Having a certain amount of money to spend, with worse teams getting more money, is trying to get to the same place as a universal draft, but just making it more complicated.

        And teams draft high school players from the US all the time knowing they might be several years away from contributing so I don’t see why it would be any different for international players.

  • Andrew Brotherton

    I believe they should keep draft pick compensation but move it back to top 15 teams have picks protected. Uncap the first 3 rounds, I’d love to see MLB go into non-guaranteed contracts like the NFL has but the players would never go for that.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    I think players should be arb eligible after 2 years and FAs after 5 (maybe even 4) years. That way teams would offer long term contracts to their young players OR the players hit the FA market sooner. Both ways should give players more money than they earn now in their early years. And hey: maybe you finally pay players big money in their prime years instead of their decline years ;)

    I guess most teams/owners would do anything to prevent that though.

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      Not a bad idea but you have to get rid of guaranteed contracts too. Teams need some recourse to deal with players who sign huge multi year deals and then severely underperform.

      • Mike HC

        I don’t like the idea of getting rid of guaranteed contracts, but putting a max on contract length is a good idea.

        Honestly, the NMA is so far ahead of baseball it is not even funny. Well, except for PED and HGH testing and policing. In that case, the NBA is still in 1998.

    • Mike HC

      Agreed. They definitely should shorten the team control rules.

  • adjusts batting gloves

    This may have been said already, but anyone who admires the NFL CBA has probably never thought about labor issues or other human beings in a serious way: it’s now known that anyone who plays professional football or serious football at any level jeopardizes their future physical and mental health–and no one is more at risk of brain injuries than the trench guys, the special teamers, the replaceables who get maybe, at most, a few million bucks for a four year career that leaves them handicapped in various ways for the rest of their lives. They’re taxed as millionaires, they have families–often large and extended to support–often from backgrounds unused to long-term financial planning, and they end up damaged, broke, and, as we’ve seen recently, prone to violence against themselves and others. The NFL owners and the networks turn exponentially greater profits on the bodies and brains of these men, without whom the sport would not exist. You could say that football players have it better than soldiers, or migrant laborers, whose work is at least equally dangerous and damaging, but that shouldn’t be an argument for cutting player salaries, rather raising those of other workers in high-risk industries. Baseball players are luckier, by far, to be playing baseball, and lucky that they forged a strong union to represent them in an inherently antagonistic collective bargaining process. One can lament that the American collective bargaining as zero-sum ‘I win, you lose’ model has led both owners and players to screw the fans, in any sport, not to mention in society at large. The more ‘ownership’ wins, whether it’s football or Walmart, the less money the rest of us have to spend in order to line the pockets of owners and players alike. But it makes no sense to want baseball to be more like the NFL in any way.

    • YankeeGrunt

      Okay Cesar Chavez, the plight of the third round offensive lineman is EXACTLY the same as the Tom Joads and dishwashers of the world. Players have no more bargaining power, because they’re so obviously replaceable (just look at the success of the replacement seasons in baseball and football). It’s a silly manichean way of looking at the world barely fit for a Cuban grade school curriculum.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Agreed, but I don’t think you both are that far off from one another.

        We’re too often blinded by how much money players make and forget they are still labor.

        The concept of a non-guaranteed contract makes zero sense to me. Lets face it, playing in the NFL is the same sort of “at-will employment” environment most of us work in. Let’s stop calling what is signed there a mutual contract. You play until you get fired.

        I don’t want that for baseball either. I want people to honor their damn contracts. That’s flown in the face of what I’ve said about Alex in recent days, but know what? I’m wrong in what I’ve said lately. Maybe Alex should be punished along the lines of what existing policy is and, if that means Hal Steinbrenner needs to pay the damn luxury tax next year to keep his team competitive, then so be it.

        Folks, you’ve just witnessed a man change his mind on something mid-comment.

        • adjusts batting gloves

          Two cheers for my Cuban grade school curriculum, eh Señor Fish. I didn’t say that NFL part-timers are the same as migrant labor, however. I was suggesting that the argument that b/c people get paid less to do shitty and dangerous work, then no one who does shitty or dangerous work and gets paid more (i.e. football players) should really complain misunderstands the whole notion of labor rights.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Cuba has a great educational system.

            I wasn’t agreeing with his insulting you, FWIW. If you read my first sentence, you’ll see that I was trying to say that the two of you weren’t so far apart.

            You’re drawing an interesting line. I agree that there’s a fundamental difference between making a minimum NFL salary and what a guy unloading trucks at 1:00 AM, like my dad used to do, makes. There’s no doubting that. There’s still a power structure in place, though, that is damaging to labor in both, and I certainly agree that exists in the NFL. Absolutely.

  • Stratocaster

    It would be refreshing to hear from somebody with the best interest of the game (long-term) foremost on their mind. Boras’ ideas make some sense, mostly because the current CBA is so cockeyed, not because they are the right way to go in and of themselves.

    The owners are totally greedy… Selig is a boob who needs to go… and the current structure is different, but still effed in my opinion. Parity is a nice idea in theory, but looking at the long game, MLB isn’t the NFL and I don’t think anybody watches a steady diet of KC vs. Pittsburg in the World Series.

  • Rizi Walnutz

    His fixes don’t pass the sniff test at all. His essential premise is simply unleash the markets so he can make the biggest deal. What else would you expect Scott Boras to say? Less deal making by agents and more retention of players by teams, those are the ‘new’ problems he sees. Less money for agents, that’s the problem Boras wants to fix.

  • fabricio

    so guys Miguel Tejeda was suspended for 105 games for taking adderall

    • Robinson Tilapia

      On the bright side, he’s able to sit in class for the entire period and stopped shoving Eric Hosmer in the school hallway.

      I guess the “How many games will YOU be suspended for” wheel landed on 105.

      • tommydee

        And why wasn’t it leaked? Why only A-Rod?

  • Dro413

    I don’t give a shit about Scott Boras, Mark Reynolds should be playing today.

  • CS Yankee

    How about if you sign an IFA you lose a pick, whereas;

    1) Sign a Puig/Yu/Cepedas type player (over 25M$) lose a first rounder
    2) Sign a high ranked player (5-25M$) lose a 2nd rounder
    3) Each player signed above 1M$, lose a 3rd, etc round draft
    4) Each IFA player signed (below 1M$), lose a 10th rounder, etc.

    The Yankees have really missed the boat and, to me at least, shown that its not just about 189, it is about improving the NOI (net income) short term versus trying to remain elite without feeding the other teams.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Also, Levine looks like he’s about to pick Boras’s pocket in that picture. Cheapskates, indeed.

  • JmpnyyJpetuch

    Randy Levine once again hanging around like a roach near a trash can.