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December 27, 2013

An Agent's Take

An Agent's Winter Meetings Journal

by Joshua Kusnick

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Joshua Kusnick is an MLBPA-certified agent who periodically writes about his experiences representing professional players. You can subscribe to his podcast on iTunes, and reach him via email at JoshuaKusnick@aol.com and on Twitter @JoshuaKusnick.

Agents are not supposed to be people. Agents do not have lives. Agents do not have columns and podcasts and blogs. Agents do not interact with fans. Agents are just machines designed to extract money from your favorite team in order to make players money. Agents are the ones to blame when your favorite player leaves town, and agents get no credit when your favorite player comes to town.

That’s all hyperbole, of course—I’m a real person with many interests outside of baseball, and while being an agent partially defines me, it’s not who I am. As much as I love the job—and for all of its perks and benefits—working as an agent often drives me to distraction. So many stressful things happen on a day-to-day basis that it’s surprising that any agent could live to an old age. And all of those professional pressures are condensed into the span of a few days at the Winter Meetings, which take place each December. Here is my Winter Meetings journal of everything that happened to me in Orlando earlier this month.

Monday, 5 PM: Upon my entrance to the Swan and Dolphin hotel the very first person I encounter is Roy Halladay, who has just announced his retirement. The second person I encounter is an MLB.com official with whom I am good friends. Asked him if he had any Rule 5 dope, to which he responded, “Other than Nieto to Chi Sox, I haven’t heard much.” I am surprised to hear this, not because Nieto is a client of mine, but because I heard the same thing from another independent source.

Monday, 6 PM: I enter the trade show, a sprawling landscape of every vendor in the baseball world. Everyone from bat companies to stadium builders attend, and companies like All-Star, Old Hickory, and Rawlings have set up massive displays. This is my eighth Winter Meetings, so I am not intimidated by the sight. I have a specific group of companies I schedule meetings with far in advance. When I landed at the Rawlings booth, I drop off the client list in preparation for the real meeting on Saturday. As I’m leaving, I notice the Gold Glove display, with my client Dalton Pompey’s name prominently displayed. I leave with 30 business cards and not much swag. Overall, a win.

Monday, 10 PM: Dinner with a large group of media members. After two hours, I notice Brady Anderson sitting to our right at a table by himself. I know Brady due to my history as a batboy for the Orioles in spring training when I was eight years old, and again when I was 12. I say hello, and Brady asks me to sit down. We talk for 20 minutes about Steve Clevenger. When Brady leaves, I bring him to our large group to meet my wife. Brady is gracious, then leaves. Cory Schwartz from MLB.com is on the far side of the table and is absolutely irate that he didn’t notice Brady at the table. The next night, Cory ends up in a footrace with Brady. Sans my failed introduction, this never happens.

Tuesday, 2 AM: I leave the lobby after mingling with media members and officials from about 10 teams. I have an impromptu meeting with an equipment company late at night, and I am dealing with a very drunk representative. These are the worst meetings. I arrive at my hotel at 2:30 AM.

Tuesday 7, AM: I return to the hotel lobby, then spend three hours in the lobby/suite meetings before heading back to the trade show. I avoid every agent in hopes of not having to talk to any of them. Nothing good can come from these interactions. They just kill time. Official meetings are conducted in person at the trade show, and I have a small enough roster to be able to go over each client individually. It seems to be more effective than most years. The trade show ends at 5. I proceed to call or text every client on my roster, MLB and MiLB alike, to relay status updates on negotiations with teams and companies.

Tuesday, 9 PM: I receive a message learning of the Brady Anderson footrace during a meeting with a shoe company. I hear more information about the upcoming Rule 5 draft, and I feel even better about Adrian Nieto’s chances of being selected. More independent confirmation was received. Lots of rumors flying about various players signing staggering contracts, which if true would be good for business. Really hoping they’re true, but ultimately nothing happens. I leave the lobby at 1 AM after meeting about 30 more people from 10 more teams.

Wednesday, 8 am: I have several phone calls to make before I have to drag myself into the lobby. When I arrive, I have a meeting with a former client about a possible expansion of my company. This takes several hours, with inconclusive results. Later that morning, I get multiple texts, tweets, and phone calls regarding an alleged agent fight that took place in the parking lot. I am immediately accused of being one of the participants. No chance. Even I’m not that reckless. I later see grainy video of said fight. It’s a bad look for agents, and I hope whoever was dumb enough to do that at the Winter Meetings gets outed. I also hear of a second fight, which would sound totally plausible if you were to hear all the details. Again I hope it’s true, if only for the story.

Wednesday, 10 AM-4PM: I wrap up my trade show visit, finalizing everything I had talked about with each vendor with whom I had met. Overall, a fantastic trip for marketing.

Wednesday, 5 PM-3 AM: I have a dizzying amount of phone calls with players and meetings with teams, followed by dinner with team officials and vendors. The scant time I’m able to spend with my yearly Winter Meetings crew arrives between 2-3 AM. This is the second-best moment by a mile of my trip to Orlando.

In the lobby, I give Chris Cotillo some advice on how to handle his meteoric rise. (I was the youngest MLBPA-certified agent, and I had a lot of chances to screw up a lot of things very early in my career.) After about 10 minutes, our mutual friend Jon Heyman walks up, and we briefly discuss Nietos’ chances in the next morning’s Rule 5 draft. Out of nowhere, Heyman begins to discuss the importance of school grades. “I’m not worried about the Rule 5 draft,” Heyman tells Cotillo. “What I’m worried about is you getting zeroes for all the classes you’re missing. Zeroes are bad.” After hearing those three words, “zeroes are bad,” I laughed almost too hard to breathe. If there was one takeaway for me from Orlando, it’s that “zeroes are bad.”

Thursday, 8 AM: I’m outside the entrance to the grand ballroom, where the Rule 5 draft is to be held. I connect with the remaining teams I have yet to speak with for in-person meetings. Over the course of the week, I’ve spoken to someone from all 30 clubs.

Thursday, 9 AM: The Rule 5 draft begins: no. 1, Patrick Schuster; nos. 2 and 3, pass; no. 4, Adrian Nieto to the Chicago White Sox. I raise my hands in the made field goal position after the pick is announced and walk out of the room. I call Adrian and beat the social networks to the punch, becoming the first to tell him he’s been selected. It’s an awesome feeling. I was there on draft day for him in 2008, and I am still here for this. The family is shedding tears of joy, and the player is more motivated than ever. An excellent ending to the meetings.

Thursday, 11 AM: I do my final lap in the lobby and run into Peter Gammons. After seeing him in passing for 10 years, I had to ask him something: Pearl Jam or Nirvana? He says Pearl Jam, and I am saddened by his answer. We part ways, and I take one final glance at the lobby. I leave the hotel one MLB client richer and am satisfied by the experience. It was a strange year, since the biggest news items out of Orlando were the supposed agent fights, the Brady Anderson footrace, and the Seattle Mariners front office story, which I was saddened to read about since I respect everyone involved. The biggest win of the meetings was obviously Nieto.

Thursday, 1pm: I leave the hotel and retreat to Disneyworld, where I walk down the left side of Mainstreet, U.S.A. Across the street, I notice a camera crew doing a location scout for a future move, and I recognize Simpsons star Hank Azaria and Matt Levin of Zoolander/Tropic Thunder. I ask for a photograph with Hank, and I tell him that I’m an agent. He asks what kind, and I respond “baseball.” He says he is a Mets fan, and that if he makes a comeback at age 50 he’ll give me a call. I say I’m excited about the Mets signing Bartolo Colon because I want to watch him hit and run the bases this year. He laughs. I tell him I am also the agent for John Buccigross at ESPN, whereupon Hank grabs his assistant and entire crew and introduces me to them as “John Buccigross’s agent.” I am dumbstruck.

He asks for my card and hands it to his assistant, saying “Let’s not lose this one.” He then tells me about a movie project about a retired announcer he is working on based on his funnyordie.com character Jim Brockmeyer, and he says that Buccigross would be perfect for the film. The following morning I get an email titled “Hank Azaria/Baseball project” from his assistant. The email states that they are interested in working with John, and that they will be in touch once casting starts. I am still in shock that this happened.

Lucky events like the Azaria story seem to happen to me more often than expected, but dumb luck is only dumb if you don’t follow up on it. Taking chances and being prepared are of paramount importance, and you won’t get anywhere unless you put yourself in positions to succeed. Zeroes are bad.

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

Related Content:  Rule 5 Draft,  Winter Meetings,  Trade Show,  Agent

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