Scott Boras believes baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes “a lot of positives” and sees ways in which it will help “the integrity of the game.” But the new provisions regarding the draft, the domain in which Boras has helped drive signing bonuses and become perhaps the most prominent agent in sports, is not one of those positives.
In a phone conversation, Boras argued that the new rules governing draft spending will affect baseball to the highest reaches of the league – he said that the limitations on spending could lessen the value of franchises.
His case: the penalties for spending over an allotted amount will restrict the creativity and effect of scouting acumen of front offices, making it more difficult to inherit a losing team and turn it into a winner through the draft.
Boras, who has negotiated major contracts for Nationals draft choices Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin, frequently cited the Nationals as an example for why he believes the new draft rules in the CBA will be damaging.
“The franchise values, I think, are going to be affected by this,” Boras said. “New franchise owners such as the Lerners can no longer rely on the draft to improve their franchise in a major way. The GMs now have less flexibility, less ability to do it. It’s going to take longer to improve your team in a meaningful way.
“It used to be, the owner could think, ‘I’ll hire the right people, I’ll have the scouting intellect.’ Now artificial behavior prevents that. I think the decrease in values of GMs and scouting is a loss.
“If I’m a new franchise purchaser, if I’m the Lerner family and I’m buying the Nationals, and if you put limitations on Mike Rizzo, his value is worth a lot less to me. That limits the value of the principal employees.”
Boras also questioned the amount of money the changes will relatively save. Under the new rules, teams will spend roughly $200 million on the draft. Under the old rules, they would spend about $235 million, but that vacillates based on the available talent – “it doesn’t run in an evenly distributed cycle,” he said.
That difference, a small sum in the scheme of a sport that generated more than $7 billion this year, will affect the way teams can operate, Boras said.
“You can no longer use the draft in a way that you want,” Boras said. “If you’re the new owner of the Dodgers, and your club might be only able to spend $6 million. I think it dramatically affects the value of a franchise. You’re now prohibited from using the intellect to run your scouting department in order to improve your team.”
Boras also dismissed the idea that the new draft rules will help competitive balance, and actually argued they will hurt it. Boras predicted the top-tier talents in the draft, such as Stephen Strasburg, will not back down from their demands.
“We’re not changing the value of where we place our players,” Boras said. “We’ve proven the value of what those players are.”
If that holds true, the small-market teams presumably picking at the top of the draft would have to pass on those players or risk incurring a tax that may include the loss of another first-round pick the next year – the kind of commodity that has become the lifeblood for teams like the Rays and Athletics.
Meanwhile, teams at the backend of the draft – the Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees of the world – could afford to pay and the tax AND would not be as hurt by perhaps giving up a pick in the next draft, figuring it would not come until late in the first round, anyway.
“If I’m a GM of a big-market club, I’m going to go after that guy,” Boras said. “I’ll pay the tax. The other teams up top can’t get them. I’m going to get them. There’s real incentive to sign one great player. It’s better than getting two mediocre players.”
The effect could trickle up for teams trying to crawl out from under a history of losing, like the Nationals. The signing of Strasburg and Harper, for example, helped convince free agent Jayson Werth to sign with the Nationals. Let’s not pretend, now, that the $126 million over seven years wasn’t the first factor. But “the reason Jayson Werth considered the Nationals was because of their success in the draft,” Boras said.
“Exactly what the Nats have done, other teams will not be able to do,” Boras said. “The draft has been an amazing vehicle for competent GMs to use to improve their teams quickly.
“The difference is you get better so much faster when you can allocate resources to an amazing draft like the Nationals did last year. They wouldn’t have been able to do that” under the new rules.