Jacoby Ellsbury, thanks to work of Scott Boras and his mega-sports agency, pocketed a seven-year deal from the New York Yankees that will pay him the princely sum of $21 million per season. If you don’t mind a fun little comparison, it means in 2014 Ellsbury will make more money than Tiger Woods and Roger Federer earned playing golf and tennis between June 2012-June 2013 when Forbes calculated its yearly World’s Highest Paid Athletes list.
Make no mistake, Ellsbury is a fine baseball player when he’s healthy enough to stay on the field. He’s made an All-Star team and finished second in the 2011 American League MVP vote. Let’s be honest, there isn’t a single baseball fan around who’d conclude Ellsbury is worth what could become the ninth-richest contract in baseball history if the Yankees exercise the option for an eighth year which would push the total deal close to $169 million.
Correction, there is one person who thinks Ellsbury is worth that: Scott Boras.
Boras remains one of those rare, unifying forces in sports, in that nearly all fans regardless of rooting interest openly hate and or despise him. It’s quite an accomplishment since he doesn’t play the game, is rarely seen on television and remains to most fans little more than a name they read about this time of year. Fans can find common ground in their dislike for the super agent and all he stands for, namely selling his clients to the highest bidder, oh, and that shit-eating grin permanently frozen on his tanned face.
If you pull back from the visceral emotions the name Boras evokes, the rancor towards him is strange. America is built on the tenets of capitalism, yet we prefer when our professional sports are played with a level economic playing field. We also find it unnerving when Boras client after client leaves the only organization he’s ever played for to go to the highest bidder.
From afar it’s easy to universally loath Boras, but let’s be fair: if you were a professional baseball player you’d sure as hell want him as your agent, wouldn’t you? Who wouldn’t want an agent working to squeeze every last dollar out of your value?
It takes a special talent to turn a .297 lifetime hitter with only 13 home runs over the last two seasons along with a checkered injury history into enough money to fund a summer comic book movie. Again, if we value free market economics — glamorizing popping bottles, living like a Rockstar and such — why does a guy like Ellsbury getting paid, with the help of Boras, trigger something inside our brains that upsets us so deeply?
In this particular move Boras pulled over another masterstroke. By getting the Yankees to open up Fort Steinbrenner to pay for Ellsbury, he directly helped set the market for another of his client’s Shin-Shoo Choo, who will probably now want something in the range of $100 million for five years. (If not more.) We’ll all balk that nobody is going to be foolish enough to pay out that kind of money to Choo, again another fine player but probably not among the Top 20 players in the game.
Remember, we laughed a few years ago when Prince Fielder, another Boras client, held out for a $200 million deal keeping his client on the market until late January. Lo and behold Victor Martinez tore up his knee, the Tigers and owner Mike Illitch panicked and Boras got what he and his infamous binders demanded. So yes, on top of everything else, Boras also manages to get lady luck to shine upon him. Then again, someone like Boras makes most of his own luck.
Maybe in a few years someone will write a book about Boras that will be equal parts “Moneyball” as it is “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
An agent’s job is to do what’s best for his or her client. If you want to loathe Boras for doing that, go ahead. The one major off-putting aspect of Boras’ dealing is his desire to always try to set new benchmarks for salaries. There isn’t a compelling reason why Boras et al. are so driven to get X amount of players $200 million — or in the upcoming case of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper — $300 million deals. It’s a big reason why, along with the strong Player’s Union, why baseball players dominate any wealthiest professional athletes list.
In this particular case, Boras fleeced the Yankees into forking over a lot of money to a good, but not elite player with a checkered injury history. On top of that, this deal blows up any potential restraint the Yankees had in trying to duck under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, which would have saved them millions down the road. When you weigh those two forces together — Boras vs. the Bombers — isn’t the super agent the lesser of two evils?
Aside from his very wealthy clients few are going to love, or even tolerate Boras for who he is and all that it stands for. By the same token, maybe as fans we should stop hating someone for being exceedingly talented at his job. Call it wishful thinking. It’s doubtful that sentiment would go down too smoothly in Red Sox Nation this morning.