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August 10, 2000

The Imbalance Sheet

Scott Boras

by Keith Law

Everybody's favorite whipping-boy/wonder-agent, Scott Boras, found himself in the news a few times in the past week. Boras is a lightning rod for criticism for no reason other than that he's damn good at what he does. An agent is supposed to represent the interests of his client; that's all. The real or threatened consequences for the team, the game or the fate of the free world are totally irrelevant. Any agent who does not represent the interests of his client faces lawsuits and even jail time.

Yet Boras continues to receive criticism. Most recently came the news that he had slipped a client, high-school catching star Landon Powell, past all 30 major-league teams during the June draft. It seems that Powell, who turned 18 during his just-completed junior year, took and passed his General Equivalency Diploma test during the spring and notified the commissioner's office that he had done so. MLB's draft guidelines include a rule that players age 18 or older who have passed their GED exams may declare themselves eligible for the draft; MLB does not make the names of such players public. Powell was available, but no one thought to check. Boras surely expected this, given the test-case nature of his gambit, and he got what he ultimately wanted: after 90 days of hand-wringing, MLB declared Powell a free agent.

There is no question that Boras was right. The June entry draft is a dicey affair, as it restricts the choices and salaries of would-be players by robbing them of leverage. Boras found an escape clause that would allow his player to legitimately evade the draft. Bully for him and for Powell, who is about to become a rich man.

So what took baseball 90 days to figure all this out? My guess is that they put a whole tribe lawyers on the task of poring over the draft guidelines to find any possible loophole to the loophole to prevent players from avoiding the draft this way in the future. Expect a few more talented, 18-year-old juniors to pull this stunt next year.

Boras took a few blows on another issue, when Carlos Beltran was suspended by the forward-thinking Royals for refusing to rehab at the team's major-league complex. Here, Boras applied a bit of a double standard, although he has already won a partial victory by getting the Royals to let Beltran rehab with the team.

The short version is that Beltran wanted to rehab with the team or go on a rehab assignment, both of which are standard operating procedure for most major-league clubs. The Royals wanted him to go to their spring-training complex in Florida, which allegedly doesn't have the same quality of trainers in its employ that the team itself brings along with it from city to city.

The rub? Beltran's contract says that the Royals can send him wherever they want for a rehab assignment, but Boras and the Players Association argued that this was an assignment to the minor leagues, which can't happen without a player's consent. (Rehabbing players don't usually object.)

So here, Boras is ignoring the specific language in Beltran's contract that says that the Royals are right, if misguided, even though Boras pointed to the letter of the law in the Powell case. He's walking a fine line in terms of ethics, although he is once again defending his client's interests.

Boras is starting to make news in another case; not for what he's doing, but for what his reputation has done. The San Diego Padres have yet to make a serious contract offer to their second-round draft pick, Cal star Xavier Nady, and they say that they won't do so until Nady is about to start his senior year at Berkeley in September. Whether this bargaining tactic will have any effect on Nady's ultimate price or willingness to sign a deal is unclear, but the fact that Boras is Nady's agent has driven Padres GM Kevin Towers to try something unorthodox in the negotiations.

Keith Law can be reached at roto@baseballprospectus.com.

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