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June 2, 2010

Future Shock

With Boras, Good Often Outweighs Bad

by Kevin Goldstein

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In baseball, it's known simply as "The Boras Effect."

Nobody has done more to contribute to the rapidly increasing bonuses paid out than the sport's most famous -- or infamous, depending on your perspective -- agent. Boras rules the draft like no other: In 2006, he represented the first overall pick, Luke Hochevar. The following year he represented three of the top ten selections, and in 2008 he had the second and third picks. This past year was his best ever, in some respects. Not only did he negotiate over $25 million in contracts by representing the first three picks in the draft, but four more selections in the first 60 signed for another $10 million plus -- not to mention the two unsigned picks in that range who will be looking for seven-figure deals this coming summer.

The 2010 draft isn't as star-studded for Boras as last year's was, but once again his influence is strong. Not only does he represent historic talent Bryce Harper; he also will be conducting the negotiations for Florida prepster Manny Machado, generally considered the top high school position player in the draft and expected to go either second overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates or third to the Baltimore Orioles.

Beyond that pair, the University of North Carolina's Matt Harvey and LSU's Anthony Ranaudo, a pair of right-handers, are expected to go in the first round, as is Cal State Fullerton infielder Christian Colon. Colon's teammate Gary Brown, a speedy outfielder, University of Arizona State righty Seth Blair and fireballing lefty James Paxton should all be off the board within the first 50 picks.

Even with all this Boras-represented talent going early, selecting a Boras client is never the beginning of an easy signing process.

At the very least, though, teams know what they're getting into; Boras negotiations tend to follow a predictable pattern. They almost always go down to the wire, as Boras often doesn't even begin negotiations until 48-72 hours before the deadline; he also almost always demands -- and ultimately gets -- a bonus that is well above Major League Baseball's recommended slot for that selection.

As a result, there are a few teams unwilling to even look at Boras clients. At the same time, those teams that do take on the Boras risk tend to reap rewards in the standings.

Boras clients used to drop precipitously in the draft due to bonus concerns, but this trend has slowed dramatically of late, as teams look back at their mistakes and realize that in the larger scheme of the baseball economy, that extra $1-2 million isn't more than a drop in the bucket that could have helped turn a franchise around.

For some, the straw the broke the camel's back was in 2007, when the Pittsburgh Pirates, drafting fourth overall, selected Clemson lefty Dan Moskos because they didn't want to deal with Boras on Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters. Moskos signed for just under $2.5 million and has yet to pitch above Double-A, while Wieters received $6 million. Even considering the extra $3.5 million, who had the better first-round pick? It's not even close.

Wieters is hardly the only lesson from 2007, as Boras client Rick Porcello -- who made it no secret that he was looking for a precedent-setting deal -- nearly fell completely out of the first round before being selected by the Detroit Tigers with the 27th overall pick. Detroit met his demands by giving the high school talent a big league deal worth $7 million; Porcello is only 21 years old and has 18 major league wins, while the 14 pitchers drafted between that year's No. 1, David Price, and Porcello have combined for just two victories -- and neither of those was registered by a pitcher currently in the majors.

This is a lose-lose situation, except for the players. Teams in need of talent pass on elite prospects due to monetary concerns, and as a result, those players can fall to later picks, where better-financed teams can grab them.

Teams picking high should consider grabbing Boras clients; look at what happened in 2009. Sentiment is nearly universal that Stephen Strasburg will be an ace. With just one such season for the Washington Nationals, the team will already make a profit on its initial outlay of a record-shattering $15.1 million; on the open market, that kind of season is worth $16-20 million. Consider six years of a controlled Strasburg costing $30-40 million once arbitration is included, and the Nationals could still reap a relative profit of two or three times that amount.

"One way or another, Scott Boras always gets his money," one front-office official told me last year, while waiting to negotiate a recent Boras selection. But as many teams have begun to learn, more often than not, they're worth it.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

13 comments have been left for this article.

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