Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Sunday, February 08, 2004

Agents of Change

Following up on Dave’s last post regarding Scott Boras, I couldn’t help but agree. And in fact, neither could Curt Schilling. In an ongoing thread started by the recent Red Sox acquisition at the Sons of Sam Horn message board (inside the mind of an intelligent and revealing pitcher – a must read!), he explains why he dislikes agents: “Agents are the ONLY people in baseball that take from the game, and give nothing back.” Come on, Curt, that’s a little harsh. Agents give us so much to talk about! If it weren’t for agents like Boras, all of the future Hall of Famers would have already signed with teams. That’s just boring! Curt even offers to hammer out negotiations for his pitching hero, Greg Maddux (bring him to Beantown!). According to Schilling, Maddux’s agent is to blame for his extended stay in baseball purgatory.

Curt echoes Dave’s sentiments, arguing that established major leaguers are better off without agents, but that the young ones need assistance negotiating: “clubs will take advantage of players that don't have representation at this [early] stage of their careers, especially now with so many foreign players playing in the major leagues.” He’s right. I’d image young guys to be vulnerable, naive, and willing to sign anything for a chance to make it in the majors. You don’t want a player, say Adam Bernero, signing a contract on a napkin, unassisted by an agent, when another team is willing to compete for his contract (although the Braves must be pretty happy Detroit scout Gary York got to Bernero before they could). Established major leaguers, he writes, have less of a need for agents, unless they simply wish to avoid the considerable hassle of their own finances.

Let’s take a moment to think about the incredible sums of money that established players regularly contribute to their agents’ checking accounts. Schilling mentions that agents usually charge from five to ten percent of a players’ salary. Not considered by most fans, players can end up pocketing less money than their contracts would have us believe. Alex Rodriguez, a Boras client, signed a ten-year $252 million deal before the 2001 season. Hypothetically, if Boras charged A-Rod five percent for contract’s negotiation, he’s sitting on a significant wad of cash by the time the contract expires: $12.6 million. By now, he will have already collected $3.78 million, more money than Alfonso Soriano has made over his entire three year career, and more than double Albert Pujols’ career earnings to date. If Boras charged A-Rod ten percent of his contract’s value, he would make more than $25 million over the ten years. Forget about wondering why Pudge went for Detroit’s money instead of happiness in Florida. Boras’ projected income makes me wonder why Scotty doesn’t throw in the towel and begin working to ensure his clients’ happiness.

In addition to paying off their agents, players must file income tax in their home team’s state (unless the state has no income tax) and are abused by “jock taxes” levied against them whenever they participate in games in another state. In Puerto Rico, where the Expos will again play a sizable number of ‘home’ games, the commonwealth demands 20 percent of each player’s per-game salary (per-game salaries include all exhibition and spring training games). In California, players are taxed 9.3 percent of their income. Luckily A-Rod signed his contract in Texas, where no state income tax is collected.

It’s no wonder Los Angeles can’t find a bat to add to their lineup. Considering the amount of money they owe Scott, could any of Boras’ clients could ever afford to sign with Anaheim, San Diego, or LA? Well, yes they could…because they’re Scott Boras’ clients.

“Now Pitching – I mean Pinch Hitting…”

When 20 games out of first place is the closest a team comes to the playoffs in a span of six season, you don’t have to be Bill James to know that many problems are afoot. In Milwaukee, the Brewers have been out of contention for years, providing the few fans that come to the park the chance to watch a team with very little to play for. In the midst of selling the team (this can only be good news for the Brew Crew), Milwaukee has even offered their finances up to state examination, just to prove the necessity of cutting payroll by another 25 percent to the fans. But there are two things that the Brewers, and almost no other team in baseball, offer that I find incredibly exciting.

Firstly, the Brewers employ Brooks Kieschnick, one of the most intriguing players in baseball. This guy is a modern-day enigma, the only two-way player in the game. He pitches and he hits. Or should I say, he hits, foremost, and can pitch decently enough to make onto the mound for Milwaukee. After spending most of his career floundering in the minors, Kieschnick posted pretty decent numbers in 2003. Pitching-wise, he struck out 39 batters in 53 innings, walking thirteen. His pedestrian WHIP (1.49) and ERA+ (83) were nothing to brag about, but when at the plate, his batting average (.300) and AB/HR rate (ten at-bats per homer) were excellent for a pinch hitter. Even if nothing more than a novelty, Kieschnick is a baseball rarity and a fascinating player who will have a chance to both hit and pitch again in 2004.

But nothing excites me more than a team with loads of talent in the minors. And in the midst of their current rebuilding cycle, I have to admit that I’m more than a bit tickled with excitement for the Brewers of 2005 and beyond. Compared to the wasteland that is the Yankees and Red Sox farm systems, the Brewers have multiple legitimate prospects developing in an effort to set their dithering franchise straight. The Brewers have guys in the minors who should be ready to step into big league roles within the next couple of seasons. They could have a whole new infield by 2005, composed of Prince Fielder at first, Richie Weeks at second, J. J. Hardy at short, and Cory Hart at third. Amidst the turmoil of a regime change in Wisconsin, the Brewers should be looking for pitching help to compliment their high-quality prospects.

Without superstars in 2004, the Brewers will rely on entertaining players like Kieschnick and 27 year old rookie Scott Podsednik create team stability while massive changes occur. The impending exchange of ownership and a collection of studs in the minors should usher in a new era of competitiveness and interest in Brewers baseball.

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