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Scott Boras on ice-cold hot stove, long view for his clients

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - On the day the 2024 Major League Baseball season opened in South Korea, San Francisco Giants staffers hastily arranged a press conference on a quiet, vacant party deck at their spring training home.

Chairs were set up for Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi, manager Bob Melvin, agent Scott Boras, and the third Boras client signed by the Giants this offseason: left-handed pitcher Blake Snell.

Zaidi opened with a joke about the deals for Snell, Matt Chapman, and Jung Hoo Lee he had negotiated with the sport's most prolific agent:

"I actually just got off the phone with the White House. I called to ask if negotiating three deals with Scott Boras in one offseason qualifies you for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. They said they'd get back to me."

No one laughed.

Seated two chairs down, Snell later said it was difficult to wait so long and that he had annoyed Boras by checking in with him so often early in the process. It was an unusually long wait and an unusually underwhelming deal - two years, $62 million guaranteed - for a player who had just won the National League Cy Young Award, the second of his career.

Boras, who usually exceeds public forecasts with the contracts he negotiates, fell short for the third time this offseason, with Snell, Chapman, and Cody Bellinger, who re-signed with the Chicago Cubs.

FanGraphs' crowdsourcing efforts before the offseason forecasted Snell, Chapman, and Bellinger to sign deals combining for 15 guaranteed years and $349 million ($23.3 million per year). The trio ended up signing for a guarantee of eight years and $196 million combined ($24.5 million per year). The deals all include short-term opt-outs.

Scott Boras (right) with Jung Hoo Lee at his introductory press conference in December Andy Kuno / San Francisco Giants / Getty Images

Other high-profile Boras clients like Jordan Montgomery and J.D. Martinez remain unsigned.

Boras isn't alone in seeing his clients take in fewer dollars this year.

Overall, $2.77 billion has been spent on free agents this offseason, according to theScore's analysis of Baseball Cube data, $1 billion less than last offseason ($3.86 billion). And this year's total includes the Los Angeles Dodgers' massive expenditures on Shohei Ohtani ($700 million) and Yoshinobu Yamamoto ($325 million).

After the press conference, theScore spoke with Boras about this unusual offseason not only at the top of the market but at all levels of free agency. We also discussed turmoil in the union and Bellinger's underlying data.

theScore: Typically, you beat public expectations for your clients with free-agent deals, but that's not been the case this offseason. What explains the shortfall?

Boras: This year, 10 teams decided to lower their budgets from '23. There was a billion dollars taken out of the free-agent market. What I've done with players like Carlos Correa, when the markets are not there, we got him a three-year guarantee for about $100 million (in 2022). He took a contract with optionality (a first-year opt-out). The very next market, they were spending, and there was more demand for his services. He ended up getting a contract for $200 million with a chance to make an additional $70 million. He converted a situation with optionality into something that more than doubled the value (of the 2022 deal).

Whenever you do that, you're going to have the media and everyone say, 'Well, Correa was projected to get a lot more.' And my point to them is when you take optionality, there is always less guarantee. But you cannot look at the contract decision in totality until the next comes through, and you see what the player gets.

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theScore: For a number of reasons, the pre-arbitration player class is more and more valued by clubs and now accounts for the majority of playing time. Has it thrown off the balance of player representation, with not enough middle-class, veteran players getting jobs?

Boras: I think having veterans in the clubhouse is very important for young players. They create better winning environments because they are more familiar with the league. I think there are players in that age group, 32 or so, they should have a luxury-tax exclusion. An amount of $15 million on down, if you sign a veteran player in that age bracket, they are excluded from your luxury tax. That would put those players in their own category. The prohibition is (because) those players are usually added late, and the owners are saying, 'Because of my tax situation, I am not going to sign this player.'

theScore: There were reports this week about a movement among players to change MLBPA leadership with the belief that it isn't focused on the majority of its constituents and that it's too influenced by star players and agents. Is this a fair critique?

Boras: I've spent a career making every effort to reward young players at the inception of their careers with the draft bonuses. I've certainly promoted the idea of player-pool money for the non-arbitration-eligible players and understanding that most players are only going to have a three-year career. That group that is lucky enough to have a four- or five-year career, they have arbitration rights. ... All of those rights cover the vast majority of players that aren't star players.

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theScore: How much was underlying data working against a player like Cody Bellinger?

Boras: A number of these statistics are largely designed to degenerate the value of the players. Only a limited group of players score highly in these categories. This example with hard-hit rates, it's swing-and-miss that is rewarded. The only (batted balls) recorded are the ones you made contact with - those that are hard hit and go far.

Players like Kyle Schwarber are going to have tremendous hard-hit rates. Cody's hard-hit rate, everyone said declined, and it did (38% in 2022 to 31% last year), but the reason why is it was part of a plan. The plan was he took his two-strike approach and made it measurably better, more of a contact approach. He raised his two-strike average to the second-highest in the major leagues. He got on base more, scored more runs. And his hard-hit rate early in the count, when he was ahead, was nearly the same.

theScore: With the game trending so young, is there a concern about the seniority needed to reach free agency?

Boras: With the small numbers of players actually reaching free agency, it's really something we have to consider looking at in the next collective bargaining negotiations. This has been looked at before by the union; it's certainly on their docket. They are fully aware of the issue.

Travis Sawchik is theScore's senior baseball writer.

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