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.

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Under The Radar, Available And Cheap

Hot Stove
  • I think they might be useful:

For all the “name” free agents available, there are many players who are picked up off the scrapheap as an afterthought only to serve a great purpose to a club in one way or the other. It might be on the field; it might be in the clubhouse; or it could be as trade bait late in the season.

Let’s take a look at some free agents I see as useful.

Josh Banks, RHP

No his numbers aren’t impressive and he throws an absurd eight different pitches, but if he’s told—not asked, told—to cut down on that vast array of mediocrity and limited to the stuff that works, then he can be effective.

The more pitches a pitcher thinks he can throw, the less stuff he has. I know this because when I used to pitch (don’t ask), I had a similar arsenal; the only ones that were of any use were my curve and changeup, but you couldn’t tell me that then—I used to be difficult if you can believe that.

Certain pitchers have been able to throw that number of pitches. John Smoltz couldn’t wait to break out his knuckleball; but Smoltz was one of the most egotistical pitchers you could ever encounter; he had reason to be, Josh Banks doesn’t. And you can bet at crunch time, Smoltz wasn’t throwing a knuckleball.

As a cheap pickup for bullpen help, why not have a look at Banks?

Jorge Cantu, INF

Cantu’s one of those “oh him” players who has drastic peaks and valleys in his career, but always resurfaces someplace to rejuvenate his career. He was dumped by the Rays and Reds and ended up with the Marlins as a minor league free agent and pounded out a load of extra base hits.

Cantu was atrocious for the Rangers after a mid-season trade, but if he’s given a chance to play, he’ll pop 50 extra base hits. He’s not a great fielder, but he can play first, second or third adequately enough; he won’t cost a lot of money either, so if he’s not hitting, there won’t be a reluctance to bench him because of money.

Tim Byrdak, LHP

Byrdak is a veteran lefty who has been effective as a specialist for years. While many teams are looking at the annual floating lefty like Joe Beimel, Byrdak might be cheaper and would be at least as good.

Justin Miller, RHP

When he’s healthy, Miller gets people out with his slider. His strikeout numbers with the Dodgers in 2010 were very good (30 in 24 innings) and while his control is historically mediocre, he threw strikes last season.

Willie Harris, OF

Perhaps I’m having flashbacks (post-traumatic stress?) to the way Harris always seemed to torment the Mets with a big hit or sparkling defensive play in the outfield, but he has three attributes that should make Harris attractive to a contending team: he can run, he can catch the ball in the outfield and he walks.

I’d think the Phillies might have interest in Harris as a defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez. And to torture the Mets.

Micah Owings, RHP

I have a problem letting go of things that I see as salvageable.

Owings is one such thing.

Maybe it’s that he’s hypnotizing me with his ability to hit, but maybe it’s what he’s shown on the mound. To me, Owings is still a pitcher who might fulfill his potential as a pitcher and if he doesn’t, he can still be an extra bat.

Given the way certain players have been “foundlings”—R.A. Dickey, Colby Lewis—from whom teams have gotten surprising and cheap production, there’s nothing to lose from looking at a player based on availability and a roll of the dice to see what they come up with; they might even unpolish a gem.

  • Subterfuge?

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is implying that his text messages with Andy Pettitte give him the sense that the lefty is leaning toward retirement—ESPN Story.

Is this accurate? Or it is two players commiserating to make more money for the group and stick it to the team?

The Yankees need Pettitte. He knows it and they know it. Pettitte was unhappy with the way the team played hardball in the contract negotiations last year and he might be using this as a lever to extract more money in a new deal.

Amid all the accolades doled on the “Core Four” of Yankees championship players for being classy, it’s been something of a rocky road as they age. Derek Jeter‘s free agency sullied both him and the team; Mariano Rivera flirted with the Red Sox (the Red Sox!!!); Jorge Posada has been basically told, “you’re going to DH and like it”; and Pettitte is vacillating on pitching again.

I don’t see Pettitte retiring. Players know when they’re done and Mike Mussina exemplified this when he hung it up after a 20-win season knowing the team wanted him back. Pettitte’s not going to know what to do with himself if he doesn’t play; and he can still pitch.

It’s not unheard of for players to join together in such schemes to plant nuggets into the public consciousness to craft a “wag the dog” style scenario against their bosses.

Like Jeter, Pettitte is no angel; he’s not above using circumstances to his advantage. Whether or not he’s doing that now is unknown, but don’t think he’s above it, because he’s not.

  • Viewer Mail 12.29.2010:

Matt writes RE the Yankees:

It suddenly occurs to me that Carl Pavano is a perfect fit for the Yankees right now. They desperately need that reliable, veteran strike-thrower in their rotation and the 2 year strong money contract Pavano will require fits nicely into their window of contention with their current group. How ironic.

God that would be funny, but I think they’d sign Jose Canseco as a pitcher before they went to Pavano.

Mike Fierman writes RE Brandon Webb:

I understand the rangers felt like they had to do something and I get it that Webb is someone with such a well of talent that you go ahead and take a chance on him. What I don’t get, especially for a team with a 50 mill+ payroll is how you can allocate a guaranteed 3 million to this guy. if that deal was such a no-brainer then how come richer teams like the Yankees give him a MLB contract?

That’s what I was wondering. I had Webb pegged for the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies. From the reports that have been circulating, his injury is ominous for a return to form. And Webb wasn’t a good pitcher, he was a great pitcher.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jorge Posada:

You really think the Yankees have treated Posada shabbily? He got paid handsomely with his last contract. Now he’s an aging catcher with diminished skills. I love him but I don’t want to see him behind the plate for every game anymore.

I think they’ve disrespected him. Money is beside the point. Was it necessary to blame Posada for the struggles of A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain?

He was good enough to catch Roger Clemens, Pettitte, David Wells and Mike Mussina, but A.J. Burnett has the audacity to complain about Posada? And don’t get me started about Chamberlain—I’d have let Posada beat him until he fell into line.

The issues between pitchers and the catcher should never have gotten into the papers; in fact, they should’ve been handled by the manager who was a former catcher for those same pitchers on the championship teams, Joe Girardi.

His skills are diminishing and obviously at his age, he can’t catch 120 games anymore, but that has little to do with calling a game. Posada’s not innocent here—he’s hard-headed to a fault—but they’re not treating him right.

Matt Minor writes via Email RE Ichiro:

paul, i was reading through joe posnanski’s archives and came across this. I think you’ll love it.

http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2010/09/nolan-and-ichiro.html

Thanks for the link.

Ah, Ichiro.

Here’s what I don’t get: I was attacked for saying Ichiro wasn’t as great a hitter as some suggest; for saying that he has the bat control to hit for more power if he chooses to and that his relentless pursuit of singles is a selfish endeavor to accumulate numbers rather than help the team win.

Posnanski caveats his accurate assertion that Ichiro isn’t a top tier offensive player by saying: “What I do think is that Ichiro Suzuki is one of most dazzling and unforgettable hitters I’ve ever seen. I get a jolt every time I see him step to the plate.”

Does Posnanski really think this? He wrote it, so I would assume he does. I don’t find Ichiro’s hitting all that engaging. I have little interest in watching him slap singles between third and short and he plays for an atrocious team in large part because of Ichiro’s style of hitting singles while having no one behind him to drive him in. It’s a vicious circle.

I’ve said this for years: Ichiro is overrated because his talents are misused—not due to the interpretation of his value by others.

Browsing through the comments to Posnanski’s posting, I was struck by the absence of vitriol as if they’re afraid to disagree. No one had an issue coming at me when I unloaded—accurately—on Ichiro a few months ago, but they had legitimate reason to be frightened when I retorted because I have no compunction about blasting back with no thought to collateral damage.

Let’s see if anyone comes back at me now.

Let’s….see….