It's a tradition quite unlike any other at Major League Baseball's offseason gatherings. The Boras Corporation will send a text message to reporters informing them that Scott Boras will be fielding questions at an anointed time and place. The journalists begin to gather, like chickens just before feeding time.
When Boras arrives, he stands in the middle of the crowd and performs, trying out scripted lines, ad-libbing others. This is what happened Wednesday at the general manager meetings in Carlsbad, California.
No other agent has the stature to pull this off annually; few agents would even want to do this, wary of making the story about themselves, rather than their clients. But Boras is probably better known than a lot of the players he represents, after many decades of pronouncements and record-setting contracts, with some high-profile gaffes sprinkled in.
Some general managers don't like taking his calls because they anticipate long harangues, and some find him interesting and amusing. But they all need to talk with him because he typically represents prominent clients -- like Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, one of the best starting pitchers available this winter, and Bryce Harper, the best slugger. They have studied his tactics, they know his negotiating habits, they have a sense of how he thinks.
Because of all of this, the dissemination of news of the Nationals' contract offer to Harper caught the attention of executives and agents, who are trying to decode what it all means.
There is a broad industry assumption that Boras was either the source of the information himself or signed off on the Nationals leaking word of the conversation.
One evaluator believes the motives are transparent: The Nationals want their fans to know they've at least tried to sign Harper with a sizable offer of about $300 million, so if he walks away, it's in the record that they didn't stand by idly. As the evaluator's theory goes, Boras -- who probably has done more business with the Nationals in recent years than any other club, including this week's signing of reliever Trevor Rosenthal -- understands Washington's political situation with its fan base and OK'd the leak.
"It doesn't hurt Scott to have that information out there now -- that big number," said one agent. "He can use $300 million as the floor for any other conversations, because now it's out there that he had 10 [years] times 30 [million] with the Nationals."
Not that anyone is saying this on the record, mind you; not that there's any documentation of a formal offer. And some agents are skeptical the Nationals would be willing to pay that much. "But it helps everyone involved for [the public] to think that happened," said one agent.
A few other parts of the Boras playbook, as dissected by club executives and agents:
The louder he is, the greater his concern that negotiations for a particular player aren't going as he anticipated. "How much did we hear from him about Jayson Werth before that deal went down?" one club official asked rhetorically, referring to the seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals that stunned the industry in the winter of 2010-11. "Nothing. We heard nothing. Because he had a team on the hook" -- the Nationals -- "on a good player who wasn't a big name, and he didn't want to interrupt it."
When he knows he has high-profile star with multiple bidders, he will slow-play the negotiations. In the eyes of execs, Boras will take his time -- sometimes even into January -- to ensure he has uncovered every possible nickel. This is what he did with Carlos Beltran in the winter of 2004-05, and because the Astros waited so long to do their winter business, they suddenly found themselves just five weeks from the start of spring training with much of their offseason work undone. This might be part of the reason why the Nationals didn't mind the news of their offer to Harper leaked: GM Mike Rizzo told reporters Wednesday he is moving full steam ahead to address other needs, Harper or no Harper.
With prominent players, Boras will appeal directly to the club owners. He makes no secret of this, and it's a strategy that has worked for him repeatedly, particularly with the late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, as well as the Lerner family, which owns the Nationals. And really, it makes sense Boras would approach it this way when players who might command nine-figure contracts are involved, because on deals that big, few -- if any -- general managers would have the autonomy to unilaterally take on a contract like that.
When those big deals are completed and news conferences are held to announce the deal, some agents choose to stand in the shadows, out of range of the cameras and the questions. When Bryce Harper signs, Boras will be on the dais, next to his client, center stage.