Lesser Lights Get Chance to Shine for Boras
By TYLER KEPNER
It is a winter meetings tradition, like the eager job-seekers, the Christmas tree in the lobby or Tommy Lasorda backslapping old pals. At some point each day, the agent Scott Boras will march from one elevator to another, carrying a well-worn leather briefcase stuffed with information on his free agents. Reporters will crowd around him, and executives will notice him.
Boras, 55, always has a prize to market at the meetings, like Kevin Brown, who signed a seven-year, $105 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the meetings in 1998; Alex Rodriguez in 2000 (10 years, $252 million); Andruw Jones this winter. But for every splashy name, Boras has a player at the lower end of baseball’s salary scale, an undercard to the main event when he meets with teams.
This week, he will try to convince teams that Jones, a 10-time Gold Glove winner coming off a down season, is worth $20 million a year. He will also try to find jobs for pitcher Ron Villone and outfielder David Newhan, just as he once did for journeymen like Chad Kreuter, Craig Shipley and Kurt Stillwell.
“I know he probably had his toughest negotiations because of what I did, compared to what some of his other clients did,” said Kreuter, a catcher who played for seven teams and retired in 2003. “I didn’t have great numbers, so my worth to a team was in the intangibles.”
A month ago, it seemed as if this year’s meetings in Nashville would be a stage for Boras to hold another Rodriguez auction. But Rodriguez has already agreed to a 10-year deal with the Yankees, reaching the basic parameters without Boras, who had irritated the Yankees by exercising an opt-out clause.
Boras was left to negotiate the bonus package, no-trade clause and contract language, but he said he achieved his desired result.
“I want the player to play where he wants to play and do what he wants to do,” he said. “That’s my job. If my client has ideas and methods and ways to get things done, my job is providing information and facilitating his interest in getting a deal done.”
Boras also never had a chance to shop Kenny Rogers, a veteran starter who dropped Boras after 17 years and struck his own deal with Detroit, thereby avoiding an agent’s commission.
But Boras’s business thrives, with the usual array of All-Stars and first-round picks, and a platoon of players whose contracts do not create headlines. Newhan, who was let go by the Mets last month, hired Boras a few years ago.
“I was a little tentative at first because they have such big-name guys that I figured I’d get lost in the shuffle, but that hasn’t been the case at all,” Newhan said. “I’m sure he talks with Alex more than he talks to me, but I’m all right with that. Just because he’s doing that, I don’t feel he’s representing me any less.”
Every half-hour during the season, Boras said, a staff member sends updates on every client to his BlackBerry. When Newhan homered in his first at-bat in 2004, after missing 2002 with a shoulder injury and playing in the minors in 2003, Boras excitedly called him after the game.
But with roughly 130 clients in the majors and minors, Boras needs to use staff members for much of his communication with players. Newhan usually deals with Mike Fiore, a member of the 1988 Olympic baseball team who, like Boras, played in the minors.
Boras was once Fiore’s agent, and Boras’s staff of roughly 40 reads like a checklist from a pack of baseball cards in the 1980s or early 1990s: Bob Brower, Don Carman, Bill Caudill, Scott Chiamparino, Mike Fischlin, Jim McNamara, Jeff Musselman and Stillwell all work for Boras. Some active clients aspire to join the list.
“Scott and I have had discussions about coming to work for the corporation,” said Alex Ochoa, a former Mets outfielder who now plays in Japan. “I’ll be helping him out in the Florida area.”
Ochoa last played in the majors for the Los Angeles Angels in 2002. After that season, when the Chunichi Dragons dissolved a deal with Kevin Millar, Boras contacted the Dragons and offered Ochoa as a replacement. Ochoa has made $10 million there since then.
Boras has represented him since 1992, when Ochoa was a rising star in the Baltimore organization. But his power never developed after a trade to the Mets, and as he bounced from team to team, he said Boras helped him accept that he could still carve out a career as a fourth outfielder.
“If you are very efficient at what you do in this industry,” Boras said, “by making a couple million a year for seven or eight years, you put yourself in a position four times that of someone who is very successful in the academic world or the business community. If you explain it in that light, you can let them see the opportunity they have.”
Stillwell hired Boras in 1983, when he was a high school shortstop in California and Boras was starting his business. Boras advised him to go to Stanford, but after the Reds drafted him second over all, Stillwell took a $135,000 bonus to sign.
Stillwell played for five teams in nine seasons and earned more than $6 million. He said he spent his first five years of retirement fishing, then asked Boras if he could scout amateur players for him.
Last year, Stillwell signed Mike Moustakas for Boras. Like Stillwell, Moustakas was a high school shortstop from California chosen second over all. But 24 years after Stillwell signed, the signing bonus was $4 million when Moustakas signed with the Royals.
The rise illustrates the changes Boras helped create in the draft. The involvement of Stillwell shows the value for Boras in long-term relationships with ordinary players.
“He’s hired so many of us that were not superstars and wanted to stay in the game,” Stillwell said. “That’s special to me, and I appreciate that.”
In the late 1980s, Boras persuaded the Texas Rangers to give Kreuter a chance, if only because he had roomed with Brown, a talented but enigmatic pitcher. After earning about $8 million over 16 seasons through 2003, Kreuter is now the head baseball coach at the University of Southern California. One of his freshmen next fall will be Boras’s oldest son, Shane.
Kreuter said that N.C.A.A. rules prohibited him from recommending agents. But if players ask about Boras, he gives a positive review. The former U.S.C. pitcher Ian Kennedy, now with the Yankees, would pepper Kreuter with questions about Boras.
“Agents were trying to hit him from all sides,” Kreuter said of Kennedy, “and I just said: ‘Hey, he’s the best. Don’t waver.’” Kreuter said Boras was more of a friend than an agent now, comparing him to a father.
Boras said he was proud of Kreuter’s success, the same way he is proud of former clients like Shipley, who is now the vice president for international scouting for the Red Sox, and Álex Cora, a versatile reserve infielder for Boston.
Even modest careers like Kreuter’s or Cora’s dwarf Boras’s accomplishments as a player. He was undrafted and signed for $8,000 with St. Louis in 1974, spending four years in the minors and hitting about .285.
Boras would look at his peers and see future major leaguers like Garry Templeton and Keith Hernandez. He tried to outwork the others, but his talent never took him past Class AA.
“My immediate sense of professional baseball was, There’s the difference,” Boras said. “You knew who you were and you knew who they were.”
It was a simple but powerful lesson, and it has never left him. Boras, the agent with the most extraordinary demands for the most famous names, has a soft spot for the common player, who may not be so common after all.
“In the finite view that people have of professional sports, the focus is always on the superstars,” Boras said. “But in my eyes, these men are all very rare people. When you’ve watched 40 people get released in one day of spring training, you have a greater respect for the major league player.”
Murray Chass and Ben Shpigel contributed reporting.