Scott Boras says MLB's recent eruption of long-term extensions is designed to 'snuff out' market
Boras has a point about the trend of signing young players to long-term deals
Scott Boras is perhaps the best-known agent in professional sports. For good reason, too: Boras is undeniably skilled at his job, and is charitable enough with his witticisms and biting commentary to bait us into creating content based on his quotes and insights. With an introduction like that, you know what's coming next...
Boras recently made known to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times that he has concerns about the recent avalanche of long-term extensions handed to young players:
"Great young players are getting what I call 'snuff contracts,'" Boras said. "And a snuff contract is that they're trying to snuff out the market. They know the player is a great player, and he's exhibited very little performance. So they're coming to him at 20 and 21, and I'm going to snuff out your ability to move, to go anywhere, to do anything, and your value. And I'm going to pay you maybe 40 cents on the dollar to do it. What's my risk?"
Let's state the obvious: Boras has a vested interest in players making as much as possible. It's his job and he gets paid more when they do. Let's state more of the obvious: It's hard for people to summon sympathy for players who receive oodles of guaranteed money without having established track records. (Heck, it's hard for people to summon sympathy for players who have established track records.) Still, Boras has a point: Teams are doing their best to curb player spending -- and they've seemingly already succeeded.
That sounds counterintuitive: Boras is literally responding to teams handing out long-term contracts to young players, and recently had a client, in Bryce Harper, sign what was at the time the largest deal in the sport's history. But dig deeper and you'll realize Harper's deal isn't so impressive when viewed through the lens of average annual value -- then it checks in at 19th. Ditto for Mike Trout's record-setter that ranks fourth when inflation is factored in. The theatrics and the bold print involved in both deals are hiding concerning developments.
The recent rash of veteran extensions point to players being scared of hitting the open market and being frozen out. (Trout and David Freese have admitted as much.) Add in how teams have turned service-time manipulation into a mathematical equation, one recited and endorsed by fan bases, and they've shaved off players' earning potential at both ends of the stick. Even when a player hits free agency after waiting their turn, which will have likely been stalled or delayed by questionable tactics, they're unlikely to find a lucrative or long-term deal.
So, why shouldn't a player sign a contract worth a life-altering amount of money as soon as possible -- and what, really, is the difference between $100 million and 150 million?
On a micro level, players are operating logically. On a macro level, this willingness to get theirs (and to avoid risk) is a corrosive problem that will contribute to more market chilling. After all, if there are fewer top-end players hitting free agency, there's less chance of them redefining the market in a substantive way. Contracts will grow through inflation … just not at the rates they should or otherwise would if the game's best were willing to brave it out.
This is what Boras means by snuffing out the market. By making educated bets on which players have the chance to alter the market the most (ahem, Ronald Acuna Jr.), and shouldering the risk now, teams have the chance to keep down costs and retain players at absurdly discounted rates. It's a hard-to-lose game for teams, since they don't have to be completely right in order to reap the benefits. Plus, hitting just once here and there can make a few failures along the way worth it.
How the union can push back against these trends is a good question worth pondering. You can probably count on Boras offering some ideas in due time.
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