By Jerry Crasnick
The agent for a prominent Atlanta Braves prospect has lodged a complaint with the Major League Baseball Players Association accusing Scott Boras' group of trying to steal his client by "stalking" the player throughout the minor leagues. Boras vehemently denied the accusation.
Jim Munsey, a Florida-based agent and lawyer who represents Braves star catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, said that representatives from Boras' agency continued to pursue Saltalamacchia even when the player repeatedly made it clear that he had no desire to switch agents.
Boras, in turn, charged Munsey with "misrepresenting the facts" and misinterpreting union rules about solicitation. He said his firm stayed in touch with Saltalamacchia only after the player willingly provided his cell phone number and initiated phone contact on several occasions to schedule meetings.
"This is a young agent out there saying things when he's not aware of the rules," Boras said. "It's a mischaracterization. It's inaccurate and inappropriate. For him to air his inappropriate complaints and wrongful assertions of the law to the powers that be, he's doing things that I would register as unprofessional."
Munsey expressed his objections in an "open letter to Scott Boras" that he sent to Boras and distributed by e-mail to several top Players Association officials and about 80 fellow agents. A copy of the letter was obtained by ESPN.com.
Munsey said he became aware of the Boras group's latest attempts to lure away Saltalamacchia during a recent trip to see Atlanta's Double-A farm club in Pearl, Miss.
"I learned that once again, your representatives attempted to try and steal my client during his recent road trip to Tennessee with promises of obtaining a 'Jason Varitek contract' and other endorsements," Munsey wrote to Boras in a letter dated April 24. "This is no surprise as it's the 6th time your people have attempted to do so since last July, at last count.
"The answer from Jarrod was apparently the one he's given every time, "No thanks.' Some call this persistence on your part, others call it STALKING. And then, lawyers like me sometimes call it tortious interference with contract.
"I'm sure you or your crack legal staff has researched the subject as Lord knows, you've obviously had this issue come up many times. Indeed, it appears to be a pretty common practice of your company."
Munsey told Boras and his representatives to "please stop contacting my client."
Union officials Michael Weiner, Gene Orza, Steve Rogers and Doyle Prior also received copies of the e-mail. Although Orza declined to address the specifics of Munsey's allegations, he said that agents who complain about client-stealing aren't always fully informed about the facts.
"Agents tend, for the most part, to perceive any and all solicitations of a client by another agent as wholly unaccompanied by some player involvement or interest …" Orza said in an e-mail. "The facts almost as frequently, but not always, tend to be different from the perception."
Saltalamacchia, 20, has been ranked the 18th best prospect in the game and the top prospect in the Atlanta system by Baseball America. He stands 6-4, 195 pounds, and hit .314 with 19 homers and 81 RBI last season for the Braves' Class A Carolina League affiliate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
This year he's hitting .241 with three homers in 22 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
Saltalamacchia, reached by phone, said that a Boras representative named Terrence Smalls contacted him "close to 10 times" last year between Myrtle Beach and a subsequent stint in the Arizona Fall League. He said a second Boras employee -- who he could not identify by name -- recently approached him with an invitation to go to dinner.
"I'm happy with the agent I have," Saltalamacchia said. "I love Jim to death. I tell these guys, 'If there comes a time when I'm not happy, I'll contact you and we'll go from there.' But it's one of those things where every day you go to the ballpark and a different guy wants to meet you and talk to you and sit down and have lunch. You're there just to play ball."
Saltalamacchia, who used Munsey as his advisor upon being drafted out of high school in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2003, said he has never spoken to Boras personally.
Munsey's complaint focuses attention on a common lament among smaller agents -- that bigger groups routinely try to lure away talented players just as they're close to breaking through at the major-league level.
Boras, who employs a large contingent of former ballplayers who follow the minor leagues, is a frequent target of dissatisfaction among smaller competitors. Boras said that while his representatives routinely distribute information to minor-league players, his associates are told not to force the issue.
"We're only talking to players who want to be talked to," Boras said. "We advise them, 'If you're not interested in our company, please let us know and we won't have any further discussions.' It's that simple.
"I would say every client we have in the minors is contacted by 20 agents in three years before he gets to the big leagues. It happens to us every day, but we don't write letters to the union. We know it's part of the process, and frankly, we feel it's beneficial to our clients because they learn from it. We want players to have freedom of choice."
Baseball players commit to agents by filling out an "agent authorization form" once a year, but the competition for talent is nevertheless fierce. In October 2003, then-Florida Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo was being courted by three firms, and there was speculation that his unsettled agent situation contributed to his poor performance in the World Series.
The Players Association, which certifies the game's 400-plus agents to negotiate contracts and conduct business, addresses the issue of agent conduct in regulations that were written in 1988.
The rules state that agents can lose their certification for "providing & money or any other thing of value to any Player (including a minor league player or amateur athlete), the purpose of which is to induce or encourage such Player to utilize the Player Agent's services."
The line between agents dispensing information and harassing players is more difficult to define. Client-stealing has become more of a hot topic in recent years, as some agents rush to negotiate substandard contracts for fear they'll lose players to the competition and be left with no commission.
"It's OK for the union to say, 'It's not our business if you want to steal clients and cut each others' throats," said agent Barry Axelrod, whose clientele includes Houston Astros Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. "But when agents start making decisions on how to structure contracts based on the fear of losing a client, it's something the union has to take a look at."
Munsey said he previously had to fend off the Boras group in its efforts to take Sean Burnett, a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates system. He said he received more than two dozen supportive e-mails from peers since writing his letter to Boras.
"There are a lot of really good agents out there who do a tremendous job for their clients," Munsey said. "They shouldn't have to worry about their clients being outright stolen from them as they get ready to reap the rewards of their years of hard work. It would be great if the union helped support and protect such efforts, which ultimately will benefit the players it so ably serves."