Scott Boras, Stephen Strasburg’s high-profile agent, refuted the notion that he has assisted Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo’s building the Nationals or helped dictate Strasburg’s impending shutdown. Boras shared information with Rizzo and agrees with the Nationals’ decision to limit Strasburg’s innings, but he strongly insisted Rizzo made the ultimate call.
“I don’t make the decisions,” Boras said today in a telephone conversation. “I don’t even know when they’re shutting down Strasburg, and I don’t need to. They’re following expert medical opinion, and that’s all I care about.”
Boras shares a close relationship with both Rizzo and Nationals owner Ted Lerner. Since the Nationals drafted Strasburg with the first pick in 2009, players represented by Boras have dotted the Nationals’ roster. Six players Boras represents are on the 25-man roster, and three of the Nationals’ top prospects are also Boras clients. Boras also negotiated the February contract of Edwin Jackson, who recently defected to a different agency.
The frequent dealings have led to the idea that Boras and the Nationals work together. Boras rejected that in strong terms. Boras said they discuss the performance and mental approach of Nationals players he represents, but the conversations do not bleed into the construction of the Nationals.
“Mike Rizzo has made his own decisions. He always has,” Boras said. “Our relationship, we don’t have discussions that are designed for me to influence his decision-making. It’s about information exchange. He needs info. I need to know what his goals are and what he wants, so I can take that information to clients.”
“There’s always this contention made,” Boras added. “The fact of the matter is, the discussions Mike and I have are about individual clients. They’re not about the footprint of the decision making of the team.
“To be effective for our clients, we do not want to be involved in the decision-making process for teams, other than making the performance of a player become optimal.”
Boras said he may attempt to influence a team or general manager more when it comes to the draft, because a player’s’ specific wants – or “signability,” in industry parlance – will help determine if he signs with the team.
“Even then, none of it is edictatorial,” Boras said. “Granted, if we had a philosophical difference, we’d let them know. Every club wants to sign their players. Frankly, we’ve never had any philosophical difference with the Nationals, and I think that’s why things have gone so smoothly.”
Rizzo’s decision to shut down Strasburg, the Nationals’ best pitcher, in the middle of a pennant race provided an example of how Boras works with him. Using the database at his California office, Boras’s staff created a study on the durability of pitchers. He shared his information with Rizzo, who Boras said had already done a similar and “comprehensive” study.
Boras focused his study more on innings thrown by young pitchers as opposed to strictly pitchers coming off Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery, which Strasburg underwent in August 2010.
Boras and his staff looked at two subsets of pitchers. First, he listed all the pitchers who had thrown at least 1,500 innings past the age of 30 since 1990. He found that 20 of those 21 pitchers had thrown less than 500 major league innings before age 24. The only exception was Greg Maddux.
Boras then found a list of pitchers between 1983 and 2003 who had thrown at least 600 innings before their age 24 season. Of the 12 pitchers who fit that criteria, 11 did not exceed 1,000 innings following their 30th birthday. The only exception, again, was Maddux.
“I think every player would want to know, and every players’ parents would want to know, how do I have a durable career?” Boras said.
In his research, Boras disregarded veteran pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery. They had “no relevance to this situation,” he said, because they had already built up their arms through several seasons and had more developed core and leg muscles to help them through a season.
The fitness of Strasburg’s reconstructed right elbow, then, is only one factor. More pressing is Strasburg’s dearth of experience and, therefore, a lack of having built arm strength. Strasburg threw only 68 major league innings in 2010 and just 24 last year. Even if Strasburg’s elbow could handle a massive leap in innings, the rest of his arm – his shoulder, labrum, rotator cuff, etc. – would be at greater risk of injury due to his lack of previous innings.
Boras also said he never contended the Nationals would be at legal risk of a lawsuit if Strasburg suffered an injury pitching deep into this season. But there are possible legal ramifications to the situation, he said. All teams have insurance contracts for their most valuable players.
So if Strasburg were to suffer a serious injury, the Nationals would be protected financially by the insurance. But if Strasburg did pitch against medical advice, Boras said, he believes an insurance company would have a case in voiding their contract.
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