Sunday, March 22, 2009

Boras Has Stan by the You-Know-Whats

And he's only begun to squeeze.

On the substance of the Peter Gammons report that Scott Boras is seeking a 6-year, $50 million contract for his client Stephen Strasburg, my take is more or less the same as NFA's assessment here.

The key points as far as I'm concerned are a) Boras is just doing his job, and his job is to be a badass mo-fo in the negotiations and squeeze every owner he can for every dime he can, and b) ballplayers are entitled to a badass mo-fo negotiating on their behalf, and you would want one too if you were in their place.

But here's one other important point I would add. The main reason why Boras has leverage to make such demands is because Strasburg just so happens to be the most highly regarded prospect in years, and his market value (if he were allowed to put his talent on the free market) would far, far exceed 6 years and $50 million.

But there's another reason why he has Kasten by the balls. Stan, in a fit of pique last summer, decided that he was willing to harm his team on the field and cost his franchise money in order to get the short-term gratification of telling an agent to fuck off. Boras, like a good negotiator, is doing it by the book: starting with a high asking price, trying to limit the number of extraneous issues are on the table, etc. Stan on the other hand broke the first rule on the first page of the Negotiations 101 manual: don't get emotional.

Stan's made it clear that he hates agents, doesn't think they exist, and if you read between the lines it's clear that he still considers it illegitimate that the reserve clause was ever done away with. He refused to go one dime over $3.3 million, despite the fact that Crow's bonus demands were the only reason he fell to us at 9 in the first place, despite the fact that the player was clearly willing to play independent league ball and take his chances next year, that Justin Smoak got $3.5 million at 11, that another $700k would have gotten him in the fold, that the Nationals have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball and desperately need to be building, not squandering what little fan interest remains... It must have been quite a high to tell the Hendricks brothers where to go at midnight, but the hangover was a doozy, and it's still there.

After the Crow debacle, the team's reputation has sunk to new lows. The bad PR comes on top of SmileyGate, the 102 losses, all the Jim stuff, Chad Cordero... As Stan said when Jim was shoved out the door, fans and the media aren't paying any attention to the 'good' things happening with the team. It's killing the value of his product. Ratings are laughable. Attendance was as bad as it could be for a new stadium, and the team has to be really holding its breath on this year. And any analyst will tell you that we're at least 2-3 years away from a winner. What would it mean to the team's bottom line if they blew the Strasburg signing? Given how badly the team's reputation has been damaged already, they'd get zero benefit of the doubt from anyone. They'd officially become the L.A. Clippers / Detroit Lions of MLB (if they aren't already).

Whoever we draft with the 10th pick will also have an unusually high degree of leverage over the team, because if we don't sign him there's no third bite at the apple--we just lose that Aaron Crow pick and the reward for sitting through the 2007 Washington Nationals is bupkis.

Today of course, Stan came out calling the Boras demands silly. But what's silly is Kasten's continued insistence on players accepting the "slot" bonus system that the owners unilaterally created out of thin air and that no player or player representative has ever regarded as legitimate whatsoever. Today, Kasten again tossed out "slot" as his expectation for signing Strasburg, which is funny, if you're not one of the poor saps saddled with a masochistic impulse to follow this team. This from the Post:
Kasten also stood firm in discussing the Nationals' negotiating position toward their top overall draft pick ("whomever it may be," he said), implying the team was not interested in blowing up the established signing-bonus framework for anyone.

"A hundred years of baseball and four decades of collective bargaining have shown how you develop players and how they proceed through the system," Kasten said.
Come again? In what way is the slot system 'established'? When in any CBA have the players ever agreed to a system that limited draftees from negotiating bonuses? At this point last year I would have dismissed this kind of talk as empty bluffing. Now though you have to assume that Stan's serious and that he just might be willing to cost his team still more millions to make is quixotic point that when he says "jump, boy" that players are supposed to say, "how high?"

In Strasburg's case though, Stan's barking is toothless. Boras has just begun to squeeze. Just wait till he starts to twist and pull.


Kenny G said...

this isnt the right post to comment on, but i was thinking about rizzo's acquisition of extreme ground ball pitchers... could it be because we have some below average fielders in the outfield?

or has this already been stated? it's late at night and i'm feeling philosophical

Nate said...

Wait, I'm confused. I thought the Crow debacle was Bowden's fault? ;)

Steven said...

In seriousness, I do think Jim's inability to get along with people and communicate effectively played a role. I think that negotiation became the high-stakes game of chicken that it did in part of that.

In the end though, I think it's clear that Stan made the final decision and that his judgment was badly affected by an emotional, visceral resentment of player representatives.

That's what I concluded after my conversations with Stan, Jim and Rizz on the topic last summer.

CoverageisLacking said...

"Attendance was as bad as it could be for a new stadium, and the team has to be really holding its breath on this year."

On this point, I haven't seen anyone comment on the other Nats-related factoid from Gammons in his same post. He wrote that "the Nationals are down 50 percent in season tickets." Has this "fact" been reported elsewhere? I haven't seen it. I'm not sure where Gammons may have gotten it from, but it is worth noting.

An Briosca Mor said...

I'm not sure where Gammons may have gotten it from, but it is worth noting.

He's clearly pulled it straight out of his ass. The only ones who know how many season tickets have been sold are Stan Kasten and his front office mates - and they're not telling. They never do. It would take exhaustive attempts at pulling up available tickets on on a game-by-game basis to gauge exactly how many seats are available in what sections that were sold to season ticket holders last year. I guarantee you that neither Gammons nor anyone else has done that kind of analysis. There's no need to, when they can just pull a "down 50%" number out of their ass.

The only thing worth noting is that we won't know how many season tickets they've sold until a few weeks into the season when we start seeing the day-by-day announced attendance figures. Given enough of that, an educated guess on full-season equivalents can be made.

CoverageisLacking said...

ABM, someone may have pulled it out of their ass, but given the context, I don't think it was Gammons. Here's why: he was not stating this in the context of a Nats-specific discussion; it was in the context of discussing MLB concerns about the state of the economy generally, in which Gammons listed some info about a variety of particular teams. It looks to me like someone is saying to Gammons that the Nats are down 50%. Who knows who might be feeding this stuff to him? Is it inconceivable that MLB might be tracking these #s given the economic climate, and as a result has been given info by the Nats that Stan won't otherwise give out, and then leaked it? No, I don't think it is inconceivable, but who knows? As you said, time will tell once we are a few weeks into April.

Here's the full paragraph from Gammons:

"Holliday and all the upcoming free agents will be going into uncertain economic waters if several teams experience recession downturns. Even the Red Sox have had a 45 percent drop in merchandise sales this spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. The Padres are down to 6,900 season tickets, a decline of more than 50 percent. The Indians are struggling to sell tickets. Pittsburgh is selling season tickets near the foul poles -- good seats in what may be the sport's best venue -- for $700; that'll get you two dogs and a beer at Yankee Stadium. The Nationals are down 50 percent in season tickets, and baseball is worried for the Rockies, Braves, Tigers and Astros."

Will said...

When Prior signed for $10.5mil in 2001, Dewon Brazelton and Gavin Floyd the next two players taken in the draft, both pitchers, signed for $4.6mil and $4.2mil, respectively. Prior signed for about 2.5 times more money than the next best pitcher.

So if you figure the next best pitcher to Strasburg is David Price, it wouldn't be so far fetched to think Strasburg should be worth 2.5 times what Price signed for, or $22mil. Though, if you're dealing with Boras, it might make more sense to use Prior's contract to come up with a deal around $26mil, which is where the Nats should look to make a deal.

Section 222 said...

Excellent post. I started reading you seriously during the Aaron Crow debacle. Once again, on these labor/management issues you are right on. The thing is, I think both Boras and Stan are in negotiating mode here. Boras is starting high ($50 million), Stan is starting low (the slot). The problem for Stan is that Boras has all the leverage. Stan absolutely must sign this pick, for all the reasons you discuss. So his moaning about the evil agents destroying the decreed from Mt. Olympus slot system is just that -- moaning. It's a bargaining position, and it almost certainly won't work. Even Boz's attempt to make Nats fans feel ok if Stan doesn't reel in Strasburg won't help. The Lerners will pay, Stan will sign him, or the fans will stop coming to the Park. It's as simple as that and Boras knows it. SS is going to be a very rich man.