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June 6, 2014

An Agent's Take

When Post-Draft Negotiations Get Strained

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 reach him via email at JoshuaKusnick@aol.com and on Twitter @JoshuaKusnick.

As I explained last time, I decided in 2010 to avoid representing players in the amateur draft. That decision has paid dividends for my one-man agency, and today it pays dividends for you, because I’m now free to share a pair of fun post-draft negotiation stories.

The first deal I’ll discuss involved Adrian Nieto. These events took place in 2008, when Adrian was an Aflac All-American and a preseason lock as an early round pick. Then the season came, and Adrian’s performance fell a bit below scouts’ expectations. Nieto’s team—he played for my old high school, American Heritage—was loaded, and included Eric Hosmer, Nick Castellanos, Deven Marrero, Adrian Nieto and ace J.C. Sulbaran. I was at every game on their march to their first state championship, and Nieto homered from both sides of the plate in the final game, capping off his difficult year in fine fashion. I was fortunate enough to be hired by both Nieto and Sulbaran before the draft, and with that came the biggest opportunities of my draft career up to that point.

On draft day, Adrian was at my office with his parents, listening to the draft on a laptop in a huge conference room. First round, no phone calls. Second round, no phone calls. Third round, still no phone calls. Nothing changed until the fifth, when the Washington Nationals selected him without even having called us beforehand. Despite his having fallen, the Nats selecting him without warning was the best outcome that could have occurred, since we hadn’t agreed upon any terms, which would have robbed our side of a lot of leverage.

Then we waited.

Months went by with no contact. Then, while on a road trip to California a week before the signing deadline (Darren Ford had just been traded for Ray Durham and sent to the Cal League), I got a call from Nationals general manager Jim Bowden at 6 AM Pacific. I’ll never forget that call, for a multitude of reasons.

First, Jim called me unexpectedly. Second, it was a conference call with the entire front office, and it caught me completely off guard. I had to ask him if I could call him back so I could get my composure privately before talking to the club. (Remember, the club called me directly, thus possibly violating NCAA rules against negotiating with an advisor, but this was in the Wild West days when things like this happened all the time.) I was 26 years old and just building a name for myself in the business, so this was not a deal I could afford to screw up. I called Nationals Scouting Director Dana Brown and asked him why Jim had called me, and he told me just to call Jim back. I did, and the strangest call of my career ensued.

Bowden had me on speaker and informed me that the entire front office was in the room—including Brown and assistant GMs Bob Boone and Mike Rizzo—and that he "wanted to know where we stood with regard to signing Adrian Nieto." I stated my case quite plainly, and in the middle of it was interrupted by Bowden, who was screaming at me, saying, "I bet you want $500k,” to which I responded, “Sure, why not?" Jim exploded on me in front of his front office, and at the tail end of the call, Jim said to tell Adrian to have fun in college and that they would just draft him again in three years when Scott Boras was his agent, which prompted me to say, “Jim, good luck with your legal problems.” (At the time, Bowden, along with Pedro Borbon, was being investigated for skimming signing bonuses from Latin prospects.)

Needless to say, that comment set him off even more, and I hung up. This was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever said to an executive, except for the time when I was accused by one club of telling players that I had its front office in my back pocket. That time, I told the portly executive who’d made the accusation, "With all due respect, I don't think you could fit in my back pocket." STUPID. I’m grateful that my 20s are over.

I flew back to Florida the next day and got another unexpected call, this time from Rizzo, who delivered one of the funniest lines I’ve heard in my career: "Hi, Josh, this is Mike Rizzo of the Nationals. Jim doesn’t want to talk to you anymore, so I am taking over negotiations for Nieto." Awesome.

The slot for Adrian’s pick was $180k. That year, Washington’s top five picks remained unsigned until five days before the deadline, and they ultimately failed to sign their top pick, Aaron Crow. I was worried that one of those other guys would get the overslot dollars before Nieto, since he was the last member of the group drafted. I asked for $500k, hoping to get $400k. The Nationals offered double the slot, $360k. I said that I’d have to ask Adrian. I got the okay from Adrian and then I did a very "Josh" thing: I told Mike I needed a favor and that while I could get Adrian signed ASAP, I wanted $376k.

Rizzo asked me how I came up with that number. I told him that a fourth-round catcher the previous year from the same area had gotten $375k, and I wanted to make a statement I was a better agent than the guy who had gone in the fourth round. Mike asked me if it was Nieto driving this request or me; I asked him if he wanted the honest answer or the BS answer, and he said he preferred the honest answer. I confessed that it was 100 percent me. Rizzo laughed pretty hard and said he would give Adrian $376k, $1000 more than the previous year’s fourth-round catcher (who was taken by the Twins), because I’d been honest. I drove Adrian to Melbourne for his physical, and the contract was signed that day. The $376k he got was the most money given to any player taken in his round that year.

Now that Nieto has been in the big leagues, this is mostly just a funny anecdote between the two of us. However, it was also by far the strangest negotiation I’ve ever had.

That year, I also had to handle the Sulbaran negotiation. J.C. was all but guaranteed to head to UF, and he fell accordingly in the draft, sinking all the way to the 30th round, where he was selected by Cincinnati.

After the draft, the Reds made a very big push to sign Sulbaran. The first offer was $150k and was quickly rejected. The second offer was $250k, and that one too was rejected. By the deadline, J.C. was playing in Holland against Pudge Rodriguez, striking him out in impressive fashion. I came up with an idea: Instead of leveraging the threat of attending college, why not leverage the possibility of J.C.’s playing as a pro in Holland for a year then becoming a free agent? This took the Reds by surprise and scared them enough to double their offer to $500k, then a record for the round, after Sulbaran’s amazing international performance for his age. I actually did get him a tax-free offer in Holland, and he was serious about heading there had the Reds not signed him.

J.C. eventually took the Reds’ offer, but we needed a slight time extension to get the contract turned in because he was in Holland. The Reds dealt with the commissioner's office and were allowed extra time to turn in the paperwork. I no longer work with J.C., but this too was one of the most bizarre negotiations I’d ever been a part of, given the fact that I was threatening the club with the idea that J.C. could actually turn pro in Holland then become a free agent. All that fuss for a 30th-round pick.

Sulbaran’s $500k bonus was a record that stood for a long time, and it helped me make a name for myself. Soon after that, I landed several high-profile draft picks and a first-rounder for 2010. But as I wrote previously, the draft is broken, and I want zero part of it unless it’s an extreme circumstance in which I absolutely need to step in to help someone or in which I could make a significant fee. If a guy going first overall wanted to hire me, I'd be insane to turn that down, but short of that scenario I want no part of the draft, the NCAA, or the recruitment process and would much prefer to focus on guys who are already playing.

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:  Draft,  Negotiations,  Agent

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

SaberTJ

This was amazingly entertaining and informative!

Jun 06, 2014 05:50 AM
rating: 5
 
Joshua Kusnick

I tried to tell one of the funnier "tales" of my job. I figured this was as good as any to start.

Jun 06, 2014 12:25 PM
rating: 1
 
Lindemann
(852)

As a Nats fan, I could not be happier that Rizzo took over for Bowden in the GM spot. This story sounds just like how I had thought they would both be as negotiators.

Jun 06, 2014 06:08 AM
rating: 2
 
Joshua Kusnick

+1 Rizzo is wonderful to work with.

Jun 06, 2014 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
bowdrie42

Fantastic read! Thanks for speaking so plainly. You really take good care of your guys.

Jun 06, 2014 06:36 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

thank you

Jun 06, 2014 12:26 PM
rating: 0
 
adrock

Insightful, and very enjoyable. Thanks!

Jun 06, 2014 07:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

thank you and awesome handle.

Jun 06, 2014 12:26 PM
rating: 0
 
tannerg

Loved this.

Why does the Bowden story not surprise me?

Jun 06, 2014 07:50 AM
rating: 1
 
Asinwreck

To be fair, Bowden needed the luck.

Jun 06, 2014 08:19 AM
rating: 2
 
Joshua Kusnick

I was being sincere in wishing him luck. No idea why he wanted to stop talking to me after I said that....

Jun 06, 2014 12:27 PM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

It shouldn't. It was fun writing this one.

Jun 06, 2014 12:26 PM
rating: 0
 
eliyahu

This is great stuff. Just curious: How come you never reached out to the Nats the entire time? Is it normal for players to wait until the teams call them to begin negotiating? I can't imagine approaching a deadline and not initiating a call, but maybe that's not how its done in baseball.

Jun 06, 2014 09:58 AM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

Back then you just waited and didn't want to give up any leverage or the perception of leverage. Calling made you look desperate even if you weren't so you just waited. He'll I know a top 5 pick that year signed with 30 seconds to go before the deadline.

Jun 06, 2014 12:28 PM
rating: 0
 
eliyahu

I understand, and please don't take this as a comment on you, because it's really meant as more of a cultural observation on the business of baseball, but doesn't that strike you as incredibly childish? Almost like a couple of high-schoolers waiting to see who calls who first. Team A drafts a player, so they must be somewhat interested, and then they don't call because of posturing? And player doesn't call team because of posturing? Just strikes me as odd.

In any event, great piece. Really liked it.

Jun 06, 2014 13:18 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Well I don't think childish is the right word. I mean what good is talking day after day with no progress? If there is a holdout, in the old system, waiting as long as possible threatening to go to school, applying leverage always raised the offer. Had he not had an advisor he may have only signed for 180k. I didn't make the system I just work within it.

Jun 06, 2014 13:59 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

also for what its worth anyone imagine facing that high school line up? My god.

Jun 06, 2014 13:02 PM
rating: 1
 
thegeneral13

Yikes. I faced some good ones once upon a time in the Orlando area, but nothing like that. Might have asked for an L-screen.

Jun 06, 2014 14:48 PM
rating: 0
 
Worthing

This has become one of my favorite series of articles on BP. Thanks Josh and keep it up.

Jun 06, 2014 14:31 PM
rating: 2
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thank you

Jun 06, 2014 14:37 PM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr

Exquisite.

Jun 07, 2014 17:03 PM
rating: 1
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thank you

Jun 07, 2014 20:12 PM
rating: 0
 
brucegilsen
(999)

Fun article, thanks!

Jun 08, 2014 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

thank you

Jun 08, 2014 16:41 PM
rating: 0
 
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