November 27, 2022

Scott Boras, Humbled and Reformed (Maybe)

February 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Every winter, the powers that be in major league front offices can be counted upon to make enough curious, mis-guided, even downright idiotic personnel decisions to keep the baseball chatterbox humming along through spring training. This winter, the economic downturn has added an extra wrinkle, as teams make a particular effort to avoid wasting money on players who won’t create extra wins.

There have been a few prominent narrative threads running through this general theme. First, the Yankees, with typical Bronx bombast, signing Mark Teixiera, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for enough money to fund a modest stimulus package. Second, the glut of corner outfielders on the market, who conspired to drive one another’s value down well below expectations. The smart ones–Raul Ibanez, Milton Bradley–got their names down early in the going, securing as much money as possible. The rest–Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Ken Griffey, Jr., Eric Hinske–ended up scrambling for cash in a severe buyer’s market. Unsurprisingly, it’s the Nationals (Dunn) and Rays (Burrell) who come out with the widest grins, while Philadelphia wonders if three years of Ibanez is really the best it could have done, especially at $10 million a pop.

Another interesting storyline is the tack agents have taken on their clients’ behalf: do they hold out for their pound of flesh, or accept a lower figure and hope to get another payday in a year or two? Both strategies have been attempted with varying degrees of success. Derek Lowe found a contract to his liking, while Rocco Baldelli and Brandon Lyon have decided to sign low and wait ’til next year. In fact, interesting case studies of different strategies can be seen in several clients of a single agent, the infernal pariah, Scott Boras. His recent negotiations with the Twins on behalf of Joe Crede are a departure from his previous stance, with Crede and other clients; that may shift a new course of action for Boras with his real ace, Manny Ramirez.

Once the White Sox made it clear last fall that they were embarking on the Josh Fields era (now also featuring the swarthy Dayan Viciedo), Crede began compiling a list of teams with hot corner vacancies. That list was a lot shorter than he would have liked: after some tire kicking by the Rangers and Dodgers, his list of suitors was narrowed down to San Francisco and Minnesota, both of whom placed third base high among their off-season priorities. With little to no leverage with which to start a bidding war–especially with two low-payroll clubs–Crede and Boras nonetheless aimed high, reportedly naming $7 million as a targeted base contract, with significant bonuses on top of that. The reaction was tepid, at best, and as spring approached, Crede was no closer to signing.

Finally, after several false starts, and after failing to sign Casey Blake earlier in the winter, the Twins inked Crede on Saturday. The numbers raised eyebrows when released: $2.5 million base salary, with playing time-related incentives good for up to $4.5 million more. The Twins appear to have bargained Boras down significantly, going from a highly questionable financial commitment to a great deal, with the potential to get even better.

Consider Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris, who would have formed a third base platoon for Minnesota had Crede not signed. The two combined for a .334 on-base percentage last year, with just 11 homers between them. Crede got on base less often (.314), but hit 17 home runs in just 97 games, and was named to the All-Star team on the strength of his first half performance. He’s also a superior defender to either of the incumbents; in fact, Harris has played just 49 games at third in his career.

Crede is not a tremendous upgrade, but he does improve the team, and could potentially add some much needed power to the lineup if he can play 140 games. That, of course, is the big question for him, and it’s the reason he’s not worth $7 million. If, though, he can stay healthy for the first time since 2006, he’ll likely be well worth the extra incentives he’ll earn. The signing also improves the Twins’ infield depth, with Harris and either Buscher or Matt Tolbert playing jack-of-all-trades. Last, and perhaps importantly, he’ll be the only Twin besides backup catcher Mike Redmond who’s played in a World Series.

For fans outside the Twin Cities, the most interesting aspect of this signing could be the shift by Boras. His stance with Ramirez has been well documented and well criticized. Until recently, he was playing the same game with Crede, just on a smaller stage. Now that he’s capitulated in one case, though, it’s worth asking whether this represents a fundamental realization on his part that he won’t be able to command the dollars he usually does, even for Manny. The situations are also analogous in that there are a limited number of bidders–unlike with fellow Boras clients Teixiera and Derek Lowe, for instance. Could Ramirez’s shoe be the next to drop? It remains to be seen. For the moment however, Boras has been dealt a setback, Joe Crede is slightly less wealthy than he’d hoped to be, and the Twins have fit a nice piece into their puzzle for 2009.

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