April 3, 2014
An Agent's Take
Spring Training from the Agent's Perspective
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.
A busy spring has come and gone, and my clients and I are ready for another season. I missed Arizona this year due to the fact I had so much going on here in Florida. With technology making communication from afar convenient, it just made better business sense to stay in state. However, I stayed in touch with all of my clients and attended games almost every day. And there were a lot of personal highlights, like Adrian Nieto becoming the first rule 5 catcher to stick on a roster since Jesus Flores, Jeremy Jeffress breaking camp with the Blue Jays, Michael Brantley earning an extension and leading the exhibition leagues in hitting, and Steve Clevenger hitting almost as well and winning a backup job in Baltimore, not to mention all of the progress my minor league clients made.
Perhaps most exciting of all was watching Nieto’s evolution from rule 5 pick to major league player. I’ve known Adrian since he was 14, so I’ve seen the entire ride: the missed junior year in high school, the Aflac All-American game as a senior, the state championship where he homered from both sides of the plate, which led to the draft, the draft negotiations, and me being cursed out by Jim Bowden for rejecting 180k, only to get 376K the next day from Mike Rizzo. Then the climb through the minor leagues, the 50-game suspension, the apologies, the comeback, this past season in the Carolina League, the Arizona Fall League, the rule 5 draft, the endorsement deals with New Balance, All-Star, and Cutters, and spring training, then finally being told that Adrian had made the major league roster. He came over from Cuba as a child and has always beaten the odds, and now he can proudly say that he’s made it to Major League Baseball. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to be a part of the trip. All told, I’m working with five players who made an MLB roster on Opening Day. Not my highest total, but not my lowest by far.
There are also disappointments every spring, like Bobby Cassevah getting released by the Rockies and David Herndon not breaking camp, plus the inevitable releases of minor league kids, which is always painful. Overall, though, it was a very productive spring both on and off the field. But what does an agent do once spring training is over, and what does spring mean for major and minor leaguers?
During the spring, minor leaguers usually play one level ahead of where they are expected to start the year: Double-A guys in Triple-A, A ball guys in Double-A, etc. Clubs do this to accelerate the development of their prospects, and in some instances the prospect actually jumps a level or two depending on team need and opportunity. Boston’s Carlos Asuaje hit around .600 this spring and locked in a full-season job after playing in Lowell last year. The Astros’ Tyler White jumped three levels and locked in a full-season job as well.
The flipside of all this is when a player gets released or held back. Philippe Valiquette and Jaye Chapman are now making comebacks from injuries in the Atlantic League. Cassevah was released because his shoulder hasn't progressed far enough from surgery. I believe that he’ll find a job when he’s healthy in May. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find Chapman a job, and he now has to go to Bridgeport unless something opens up.
Worse, though, I had a nine-year veteran with minimal MLB time coming off a season in which he set a minor league loss record turn down an offer from the club he was with in 2013, very much against my advice. I knew full well that the market for him would be limited, and now he's back in college because another agent was chirping in his ear, saying that I wasn’t doing my job. Sometimes, players just can’t face the truth. This player should have been happy to get a raise after a rough year, but because he had MLB time, he couldn’t face the reality that no other teams would be interested. Thanks to an inexperienced agent telling the player what he wanted to hear, his career could be done. Despite reaching the big leagues, he will serve as a cautionary tale to all of my current and future clients.
Now that the season is starting, a big part of my job is assisting my minor league clients as they move up the ladder. I stay in touch with all of them often to make sure that small problems don’t mushroom, and I speak to their clubs quarterly to get progress reports. I also investigate all leads on potential clients, since you never know when one could pan out. For instance, after one of my longtime clients got his payday this year, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, and Angel Berroa called me looking for representation. Sadly, I couldn’t offer much help to Manny or Miguel, but I took a shot on Berroa, the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year, hoping to land him a gig in Asia or even back in the bigs.
A major reason why I couldn’t work for Manny was that he was represented by one of my friends, Scott Shapiro. I believe in respecting the people who helped you get to where you are in life, so even though this is a cutthroat business, I don’t take clients from friends unless I call the agent first and discuss it with them. If the agent okays it, I can proceed. If it’s a no, I drop it, regardless of the player. There’s a perception that there is not a lot of honor in this industry, but I can’t see that part of me changing, and thankfully, I’m not the only one.
I also think I’m a bit of an anomaly in this business in that I don’t heavily recruit in the draft, which I’ll explain in a future story. I definitely do not ignore it, and I’m open to landing amateur prospects, but I appreciate the clients I have and stay with them until the end of the line. Having so few clients allows me to do this. At my peak, size-wise, I had 110 players and no time to tend to all of them. Downsizing was only way to survive, and it’s been the one strategic move that really saved my career. More personal service means a better client retention rate, which is the goal for any agent.
I am very pro-union and follow all union rules, but with over 2000 uncertified agencies out there, signing players is sometimes tricky, since some of the unregulated agencies are willing to do things that I, as a certified agent, cannot do without breaking rules (loans, plane tickets, gifts, etc.). I know the MLBPA is working hard to clean all of this up, but it’s not going to be easy, because whenever this much money is at stake, unethical people do unethical things. It’s scary to watch, and I wonder sometimes whether I would have made it had I started my career today and not 11 years ago.