The Dual-Edged Sword of Hiring Gary Sheffield as an Agent

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A player agent with experience might’ve had it in mind that there was the possibility—injury or trade—that his client’s new contract might require a few “if-then” incentive clauses. That doesn’t appear to have been the case with Jason Grilli whose agent, Gary Sheffield, didn’t get such clauses inserted into the contract Grilli signed to return to the Pirates. Because of that, as Grilli is set to take over as the Pirates’ new closer once the Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox trade is finalized, he will collect his salary for 2013-2014 (2-years, $6.75 million), and not get one penny more whether he saves 40 games or 0.

Was Sheffield required to do more and what’s the trade-off when Grilli shuns an established agent who might see Grilli as a low priority and opts for Sheffield, who doesn’t have a long list of clients?

In the past, agents like Scott Boras have treated their lower-tier clients as moderate inconveniences, expecting them to be happy to take a back seat to the big names and wait their turn. Felipe Lopez was such a player who pushed back in February of 2010 when he fired Boras. Lopez wasn’t in Grilli’s situation when Grilli hired Sheffield in 2010. Grilli was out of baseball and looking for work; Lopez, in 2009, had had one of the best seasons of his career with a .310/.383/.427 split and 9 homers for the Diamondbacks and Brewers. Lopez was a flawed player, but should’ve gotten a suitable job offer before February considering his bat, pop and that he was defensively versatile playing a passable second and third base.

Boras’s reaction wasn’t an apology to his client or an explanation. Instead, he announced that he was going to “confront the player,” and made cryptic references of “reasons” why Lopez wasn’t offered a job that he declined to disclose. It’s as if he—the employee—was in charge and was exacting revenge for being fired. Boras is powerful and Lopez had little leverage, but in the end, Boras worked for Lopez, not the other way around.

While Sheffield might not have the most sparkly reputation around the executives and teams that he angered throughout his career and that is definitely going to hurt the players he represents because they simply will not want to deal with Sheffield, he’s going to speak up and fight for the people on his side. His clients—Grilli and Josh Banks—weren’t in a great position to bargain. They were looking for work. Would someone have signed Grilli and Banks without Sheffield? Probably. But what’s the difference? Maybe players like these need someone like Sheffield who has nothing to gain by representing them instead of Boras who probably has lower level associates handling the Lopezes of the world on a daily basis and forgets about them completely until they do what Lopez did and publicly fires him, embarrassing him. Boras certainly couldn’t let that go by without face-saving response.

Grilli’s main obstacle as a closer is handling it mentally. The Pirates have a shot at a playoff spot in 2013, so his closing opportunities will be important. Pitchers in the past that have proven themselves as set-up men and couldn’t close have been legion—one in particular last season was David Robertson of the Yankees, who looked as if he was about to hyperventilate on the mound when he took over for Mariano Rivera, then got hurt. It opened the door for the more proven Rafael Soriano and Robertson went back to being a set-up man. It’s not that Soriano’s stuff is better than Robertson’s—it’s not—but Soriano can close. Whether Robertson can or not remains to be seen. The first impression wasn’t good.

That mentality, more than stuff, is the key to closing. Grilli’s strikeout numbers have spiked and he’s found a velocity in the mid-90s that he didn’t have earlier in his career. He has a chance to be good at the job that Sheffield the agent clearly didn’t expect his client to have. Should Sheffield and his partner, lawyer Xavier James, have realized that there was a chance that Grilli could accumulate a few saves and prove himself as a closer, possibly putting himself in line to make a lot more money? Yes. But Grilli is also 36 and his annual salary for a 15 year professional career surpassed $1 million for the first time in 2012. Taking the guaranteed cash was the smart move. Another agent would’ve insisted on the clause and that might’ve wound up costing Grilli the opportunity and left him sitting out and waiting as Lopez was.

It’s a dual-edged sword. Sheffield, perhaps unwittingly, served his client and got him a guaranteed two year contract in the now. That’s not a bad thing.


Because He’s LaRussa…Again

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During that 20-inning loss to the Mets in April of 2010, Tony LaRussa used position players Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather to pitch and lost the game. I said at the time that if then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel had done that, there would be people calling for his job. (Well, more people calling for his job because he was already under siege.)

But because LaRussa is LaRussa, has the reputation he has; the record he has; the Hall of Fame career he has, he gets away with things that other managers wouldn’t.

It’s the same situation with the World Series bullpen mix-up and the freedom Albert Pujols has to call his own hit-and-run plays.

They were mistakes. They happen throughout the course of a season with every team no matter who’s managing, but these were magnified because that might have cost the Cardinals the game and they happened one after the other.

Regardless of your opinion as to whether LaRussa should accord such leeway for a player to call his own risky hit-and-runs, Pujols and LaRussa have both earned the trust to make those decisions.

As for the bullpen gaffe, those that think LaRussa is lying are fools.

He doesn’t have to lie about such a mistake and he took the responsibility on himself. Another manager without such security might’ve said something to inspire accusations of conspiracy because they would have incentive to lie. LaRussa doesn’t.

But still he has to endure the absurd critiques from those in the media who think they know, but don’t know; who have self-created expertise because they understand a series of stats but haven’t the faintest clue of how difficult it is to navigate a roomful of egos; the stifling media; and the competition.

We’ve seen the end result of the “middle-manager” who’s known to be such and hasn’t the experience nor the savvy to handle all aspects of managing in the big leagues.

A.J. Hinch was installed by the Diamondbacks to institute “organizational advocacy”; he’s extremely smart and played in the big leagues, but had zero managerial experience; it was a disaster that cost both Hinch and GM Josh Byrnes their jobs.

Grady Little was fired because, in part, he left Pedro Martinez in too long in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and the Yankees came back and won. But he was already on thin ice because he wasn’t the type of manager who’d adhere to statistics to the degree that the Red Sox wanted and only a World Series win was going to save him.

LaRussa has been managing in the big leagues since 1979. He certainly doesn’t need to formulate cover stories or lie to the likes of those who have all the guts in the world in a blog post or on Twitter, but would faint if they were in that position in the corner of the dugout making decisions that win or lose ballgames.

Because he’s LaRussa, he gets a pass. And he deserves it.


Scott Boras’s World Of Wonder

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Scott Boras is a cult leader with an army of blank-faced disciples willing to do whatever he says regardless of common sense.

One can only imagine the private discussions that go on when he’s recruiting (cajoling, convincing, hypnotizing) with his sales pitch laden with promises of riches beyond any and all player’s wildest dreams.

Even when he errs, it’s never his fault. Those who escape the coven are portrayed as traitors—that’s if they’re not “star” players; others like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, both of whom fired Boras, are wished well as they move on.

Ask Felipe Lopez what he thinks of the agent who neglected him in the interests of his higher-profile clients and made the gutsy decision to move on in search of a job. Boras’s reaction was to publicly state he was going to “confront” the player who was once a member of the stable.

The employee is going to confront the employer? A novel concept.

Now Francisco Rodriguez is the latest player to fall under Boras’s spell.

K-Rod, having been traded to the Brewers in large part because the Mets wanted to get rid of him before Boras had a chance to start doing his Boras-thing and interfering with anything the club wanted to do, has done his client a disservice by eliminating a lucrative appearance option that still had a chance to be achieved.

The agent change precipitated the trade and begat the bewildering decision by K-Rod to forego his 2012 contract option for $17.5 million if he reached 55 games finished; he did so in the interests of an extra $500,000 added to his $3.5 million buyout and free agency after the season.

Did K-Rod think this through before signing off? Or was he listening to the sweet-nothings from Boras that have convinced many a player to eschew logic and do something ridiculous?

The Brewers could conceivably have prevented K-Rod from reaching the incentive by simply not letting him close games. But was that feasible if certain very possible circumstances presented themselves?

The Brewers have said that both John Axford and K-Rod would close games based on matchups. Never mind the unwieldy nature of such an arrangement. What would happen if Axford had a few bad games in a row?

Would the Brewers have the audacity to shun the switch to K-Rod because of the contract while in the middle of a dogfight to win a division? As they’re all-in for 2011 having just made this questionable trade and simultaneously knowing that Prince Fielder is on the way out the door?

The reaction to such a clear decision based on contractual issues and not on-field needs would be overwhelming. They’d have no choice in the matter and K-Rod would have to be installed as the closer.

There was a chance that K-Rod would’ve reached that incentive. But Boras obviously convinced him that free agency was a more lucrative prospect.

And it might be. This is the same agent who got Jayson Werth $126 million from the Nationals—based on that, his reputation for squeezing every dollar out of one desperate lunatic is deserved.

But realistically, is any team going to pay K-Rod more than perhaps $30 million over 3-years? Wouldn’t he have been better off waiting a short while to see what would happen in Milwaukee before agreeing to such a snap decision and eliminating the chance for an extra $13.5 million (the option minus the buyout)?

Most importantly, when Boras signed K-Rod, shouldn’t he have known about this apparent lapse by the former agents and taken steps to prevent exactly what happened?

This maneuver appeared to be based more on Boras’s “evil genius” being sullied for his failure to submit to the Mets the list of teams to whom K-Rod could not be traded rather than a smart business decision. That the Brewers were on the no-trade list makes it worse!!

Boras dropped the ball with a lack of preparedness and K-Rod is letting him wriggle his way out of it.

There are the stupid teams who might surpass any and all expectations for a K-Rod contract this winter. The Rangers could use him and he’d free them to shift Neftali Feliz into the rotation with a proven closer replacing him; the Nationals are now Boras’s “go-to idiots” after the Werth deal.

Werth’s been rotten this year, but that won’t affect K-Rod as much as the demands and his reputation will.

If K-Rod was going to do this, he could’ve waited a few weeks.

It was an example of Boras “doing something”. That “something” being stupid and selfish and having little bearing on the player’s future because in the end, with Scott Boras, it’s all about him.

And that’s the key.


Planet Boras

Players, Spring Training

It’s a fiery atmosphere on Planet Boras with a polarizing series of views as to whether it’s hospitable.

Let’s have a look at the eruptions so far, so early into spring training.

Mark Teixeira fires Boras—MLB Trade Rumors posting:

I’m curious to see if Boras is going to use the incendiary rhetoric with a player of Teixeira’s stature and no-nonsense reputation as he did when Felipe Lopez fired him—ostensibly for neglect—over a year ago.

When news of the Lopez firing reached Boras, he uttered a statement that he was going to “confront the player”.

I’d advise against “confronting” Teixeira. In fact, he’ll issue a statement wishing Teixeira well and be done with it. Such is the golden rule.

I’m not entirely sure why Teixeira or any player needs the big name agent once he’s signed his mega-deal anyway. The deal’s done; there’s not much else to negotiate apart from endorsements and public relations stuff; Teixeira’s not Alex Rodriguez—he doesn’t need the PR staff to cover up any episodes; therefore, he no longer needed Boras.

Who was negotiating this?

I’d love to know whose bright idea it was to tell Johnny Damon during his negotiations with the Yankees that he was going to play three times a week. Isn’t that something that’s, y’know, up to the manager of the team?

Again, the following is snipped from MLB Trade Rumors:

Johnny Damon tells Ken Davidoff of Newsday that his free agent discussions with the Yankees this past winter involved a scenario that would have seen Damon make three starts per week for New York.  Damon turned the deal down since the lack of playing time would have hurt his quest for 3000 hits.

If GM Brian Cashman was in the middle of this deal, then okay. He’s the GM and, as castrating as it is, I suppose he can tell the manager how he wants the players utilized.

But if it was one of the Steinbrenner brothers or worse, Randy Levine, then this is a bigger problem in Yankeeland than even the Rafael Soriano split. What were they going to do? Call down to manager Joe Girardi‘s office if he didn’t adhere to the “three games a week” edict and insist on the lineup change? This would be hearkening back to the days of George Steinbrenner committing similar breaches of etiquette.

What’s the point of having a manager if this is the way they’re going to be treated?

The critiques of Adrian Beltre begin again.

There’s always been the belief that Adrian Beltre turns it on at contract time, gets paid then relaxes. Now, in his first spring training with the Rangers after signing a 5-year, $80 million contract, he’s out for two weeks with a calf strain.

Is it fair to rip him because he’s hurt?


He strained a muscle and the last thing the Rangers need is for him to play through it due to an effort to shield himself from outside criticism and the implication that he’s content to sit out rather than play. If Beltre has a poor year, then there will be a basis to make allegations of slothfulness and contentment, but to do it now is silly.

This is another reason the Yankees should have steered clear of Carl Pavano (as if more were needed); if Pavano signed with the Yankees, he’d be torn between his desire to redeem himself and earn the contract he’d signed and the vultures in the media waiting for his first slip up.

If he felt a twinge somewhere on his body, would he be able to go to the trainers and let them know about it? Or would he pitch through it trying to prevent the inevitable stories of his disinterest and embarrassing frailties repeating themselves?

The Yankees were lucky a deal with Pavano was never consummated and that holds true if he’s as good for the Twins this year as he was last year.

He won’t be, but that’s beside the point. The Yankees got lucky.


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