Monday, December 22, 2008

Frank Wren and John Schuerholz Need a Diaper Change

While we Nationals fans were reading a column a day about nothing happening re: Teixeira, quite the drama was within the division as the Atlanta Braves failed in their effort to sign Rafael Furcal to play second base for them.

Here's the deal in a nutshell: over the last few weeks a big bidding war emerged for Furcal. The Braves, Dodgers, Giants, and Athletics all were at one point reported to be "closing in" on a deal with him. Throughout this process, media reports were flying fast and furious (even more than usual in situations like this) about how close this or that team was to a deal. Indications are that Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer and the Wasserman Media Group, were the ones spreading those stories (which of course would make sense since it was in their interests to feed the bidding war frenzy).

In the final hours, it came down to the Braves and the Dodgers. At some point in the negotiation, Kinzer asked for an offer sheet to get the Braves' deal on paper. If the reporting is accurate, the Braves were offering something on the order of 3 years and $30 million with a team option for a fourth year for another $10 million. According to Braves execs Frank Wren and John Schuerholz, they thought this meant they had a deal. According to Kinzer, he says that Furcal wanted to sleep on it.

About a day later, Furcal signed with the Dodgers for a contract worth about $3 million more than the Braves offered.

That's when Schuerholz and Wren went ape. Wren said:
When they request a term sheet, it’s so we could finish the deal. We sent it so they could see exactly what we agreed to. Ninety-eight times out of 100 they sign it and send it back. Once in a while they might ask ‘can you clarify this or that?’ I’ve never seen this happen. Once they request the term sheet, the deal is done. You don’t request a term sheet when you’re still talking.
And Schuerholz really went off the deep end:
Having been in this business for 40-some years, I’ve never seen anybody treated like that. The Atlanta Braves will no longer do business with that company — ever. I told [agent] Arn Tellem that we can’t trust them to be honest and forthright. I told him that in all my years, I’ve never seen any [agency] act in such a despicable manner. It was disgusting and unprofessional. We’re a proud organization and we won’t allow ourselves to be treated that way. I advised Arn Tellem that whatever players he represents, just scratch us off the list. Take the name of the Atlanta Braves off their speed dial. They can deal with the other 29 clubs and we’ll deal with the other hundred agents.
Wow, now that's tough talk. Yunel Escobar and Peter Moylan are both Wasserman clients, so I guess they're available now, right? As a point of pride, they've gotta be banished from Turner Field, if not the entire city of Atlanta. Agents are a pretty slimy bunch in general, but these guys must be really bad right?

I don't see it. Let's assume that everything that Schuerholz and Wren say is correct. Their "grievance" is that Tellem and Kinzer first leaked too much to the press and then when given an offer sheet turned around and used it as a prop in their negotiations with the Dodgers.

And this is disgusting why? Isn't it the agent's job to get the best possible deal for his player? So he used the Braves. Too bad. It's business. The Braves could have offered more, but they didn't. These are gajillionaires running a multi-gajillion-dollar monopolistic titan of a business, and they're somehow confused about the fact that you don't have a deal until the papers are signed?

Puh-leeeeeeze. As far as I'm concerned, Kinzer and Tellem did what any reasonably savvy negotiator would do, while the Braves are acting like they woke up with a horse's head in their bed. All this stuff now from the Braves about how they will boycott the agency (they already have a similar lame threat aimed at Boras) is no different than when my 13-month-old screams her head off demanding cookies for dinner.

Keep in mind a few things. Baseball player salaries amount to barely half of all the revenue MLB takes in. Baseball players get a smaller share of their sport's revenue than football, hockey, or basketball players do. The rest goes into the pockets of the monopolist owners who didn't do a damn thing to create the value of their product. The last owner who can say he did that was Branch Rickey. These days, being an MLB owner means you were politically connected enough to be on the receiving end of the corporate equivalent of Richard J. Daley-style patronage and kick-backs.

I don't want to single out the Braves, because this could be any owner in baseball having the same temper tantrum. Major league owners and execs (Kasten foremost) are people who think it's perfectly fair that they get to force players to play for whatever team the owners decide and pay them literally whatever salary they feel like for their entire time in the minors and at least their first three full season in the majors. And, they have the nerve to claim that this deal is still not fair to them because players still have the gall to try to negotiate signing bonuses when they're drafted. So now these wannabe plantation bosses think they're entitled to a "hard slot" system so they can pay whatever they want in draft bonuses.

Heck, why stop there? Why not just ban the draft bonuses altogether? Better yet, the team can just eliminate all monetary compensation and have the teams live in little team-run compounds where the team would provide all their food and other necessities in kind. It worked just fine for Chicago meat packers and West Virginia coal miners 100 years ago, so why not baseball players today?

I say good for Furcal. Good for Tellem and Kinzer. This is undoubtedly Furcal's last big chance for a payday, and if by playing the Braves for stooges he got another $3 mil for himself and his family, I say more power to him. The next time the Braves need a player and want to negotiate with Wasserman, I hope Tellem and Kinzer tell them to go suck a Dodger Dog.


John O'Connor said...

I don't agree. It sounds to me that there is an accepted course of dealing that the term sheet is circulated to document the deal already agreed to. I haven't really seen a serious contention otherwise.

But that doesn't even really matter here. Whether that's the accepted convention or not, the Braves are using there rights in the market not to deal with someone who doesn't follow that convention. If the agents are free to push as hard as they want, both in public and through their negotiation tactics, then I guess the Braves can too.

James Bjork said...

Peons like us have no idea what the inner workings and style and procedures of these negotiations are like. Until refuted by other GMs, I'll assume that what Furcal's agents did with the *written offer document* was indeed unconventional and in poor taste relative to standard operating procedures, even though they were told Furcal would "sleep on it." Were W&S ever given a chance to come back with something better to match LA? I don't know that they were. It seems from press accounts that they sent the written offer, and woke up the next day to see Furcal to LA. I'd be pissed too.

That said, Wren and Schuerholz were dumb in coming out publicly like a couple of petulant whiners. If I were them, I would make a vague statement about being "disappointed in how the negotiations were conducted" and utter no further peep. Let people's imaginations do the rest.

I think to be consistent, you have to argue for the same cryptic communication strategy among GMs not wanting to deal with Bowden.

To glom onto actual call-out quotes from other GMs about Bowden based on his uncouth (but self-interested and legal) practices but chastise Wren and Schuerholz seems inconsistent to me, even though the target of the rhetoric is a GM in one case, an agent the other.

Steve Shoup said...

Steven I agree with James, your number 4 point for firing Bowden is how he leaks items and back stabs players, agents and other GM's. Why is it ok for an agent to do it and get more money for them as well as that one client, but its not ok for a team to do it to save money for an entire organization.

If Wren and Schuerholz are correct by the events than they do have a right to be upset and take action against the Wasserman Media Group. There must be a level of decourm when it comes to negotiations. We saw the debacle of the Crow talks first hand. Here its even worse b/c they broke protocal by asking for the offer sheet than signing with the dodgers.

Hendo said...

Hang on, now; if an offer sheet can be enforced as a unilateral demand, free agency just went out the window.

Schuerholz and Wren have the right to throw a fit, and the other 29 teams have a right to take advantage of their petulance. Who will want to go to Atlanta if their FO's attitude is "take it or leave it"?

I'm not feeling that this situation is equivalent to the Crow misfire at all.

Steven said...

The "convention" is that *receiving* a fax of an offer sheet is the same as a signed contract? C'mon. You guys can't really believe that. Let's fax Tex a contract right now! If it goes through, we know we're in business!!!

Hendo said...

Baseball Prospectus sums it up well in their headline in This Week in Quotes: "Maybe He Can Pen a Tearful Chapter about It in the Paperback Edition of His Brilliant Book." (If you haven't yet read Schuerholz' Built to Win, it's not too late to leave it off your holiday wish list.)

Schuerholz needs to get a grip, or get out, before he really does turn the Braves into a laughingstock. At the very least the Liberty people need to sit him down and give him a talking to.

James Bjork said...

Steven, you're making a straw man argument. I'm not defending W&S because I somehow believe that a mere offer constitutes an actual agreement, per se. If the convention is that agents ask for a signed terms sheet only when the player essentially agrees to the terms, and the convention is also that such documents are not actually shared with other clubs' GMs as a negotiating prop, then I can understand where W&S would be angry.

I have yet to see any agent or GM come out and refute the alleged unconventionality of what Furcal's agents did. Then again, current GMs don't want to piss off a potential trading partner. I'd give the most credence on this to what a former GM would say.

In a sense though, that's neither here nor there. W&S should not have whined about it so vociferously.

John O'Connor said...

What James Bjork said. Steven, you can't seriously believe anybody is arguing that transmittal of a term sheet = a binding contract.

Where I guess I differ with James Bjork is that I don't have a problem with GMs dumping on a particular agent publicly, if that's what they think best serves their client, just as Steven contends that an agent should act in a way that best serves the interests of their client.

The Atlanta boys (rightly or wrongly) feel cheated in the way Furcal's agents shopped the Atlanta terms. They reasonably might conclude that the best move for their client is to make a spectacle out of it and take a hard line that they won't deal with these guys any more. That might be the best service to their client, or it might not, but there's nothing wrong with doing it. In the same vein, agents now and then completely dump on an organization, and sometimes that's the best move for their clients and sometimes not.

Steven said...

Let me elaborate.

I think that the "convention" you reference probably is real, but it is a relic of an old boy's culture in baseball that went hand-in-hand with owners calling all the shots and players getting treated like field hands.

The convention in business--and the law--is that you have a deal when you sign on the dotted line. MLB isn't a country club and baseball players aren't caddies. And the Braves didn't have a deal because Raffy's name wasn't on the dotted line. All this crying about how agents are such tough negotiators and how despicable it is that the agents (gasp!) used one team's offer to get a few more million of another!! It's just the whining of people who still haven't gotten used to the fact that they don't have total unchecked power over everything.

Sorry, that's how I see it.

BTW--I think Bowden's track record of publicly dissing players (Cordero), firing the manager he hired 50 days into the season, showboating in the press and publicly dissing other GMs... these are classless, disrespectful moves that go in a totally different category.

Steven said...

Also--I agree that the Braves are perfectly within their right to refuse to do business with the Wasserman group in the future. I think that would be a self-defeating, petulant move that would only hurt the Braves, but they can do that if they want. I agree with you both there.

And James you're probably right that a former GM would be the best person to tell us what the convention is, but who's going to tell us that Rafael Furcal agreed to play by those rules? Why should he be bound by some convention established by some dudes decades ago?