Tag Archives: Scott Boras

The Astounding, Clueless, Unethical And Doomed Hiring Of Brodie Van Wagenen

‘Conflicts of interest? I have no idea what you mean…’

Disclaimer: This is NOT a baseball ethics post. This is a business ethics post about a major ethics issue,  and the business happens to be a major league baseball team.

This week the New York Mets stunned the baseball world by hiring Brodie Van Wagenen—that’s him on the left—as its new general manager.

He is not only being hired to manage the business of a major league baseball team without having ever worked for a baseball organization in any capacity. That would be strange enough. He is also a player agent who has been the representative of several key players currently under contract to the Mets, meaning that he acted for them in negotiating against the team he now heads.Van Wagenen made $25 million in commissions last year on player contracts.

Anyone whose ethics alarms weren’t set ringing like the bells during the Great Chicago Fire by the Mets decision doesn’t understand what a conflict of interest is. Guess who this category includes. Yup: Van Wagenen and the New York Mets.

In a press conference at Citi Field, Mets executives were asked about the conflicts issue, which should have been predictable, mandating a careful, thorough answer.  As a player agent for Creative Artists Agency (Van Wagenen has divested himself of all shares in the company and future commissions…at least he figured out that much) Van Wageman’s responsibility was to negotiate the most lucrative contracts for his clients. As the a general manager for the New York Mets, his responsibility is to build a successful team within its resources, regardless of the best interests of his former clients, the players he worked with over the past 18 years. When the “C” word was raised bu reporters,  Mets President Fred Wilpon interrupted before Van Wagenen could answer  and said that he had spoken with the commissioner’s office and Major League Players Association chief Tony Clark, adding, “We have provisions in Brodie’s contract to deal with any conflicts of interest.”

Oh! Well never mind then! The contract deals with it, and the Mets have spoken to people! All taken care of!

Neither Wilpon nor Van Wagenen would say what those provisions were, but I guarantee this as an ethics specialist: the only provision that could effectively deal with Van Wagenen’s conflicts would be “Van Wagenen can’t be the Mets general manager.” Continue reading

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The Other Alleged Collusion Scandal: Baseball’s Unemployed Free Agents

Major management-labor troubles are brewing below the surface in Major League Baseball. With the 2018 Spring Training camps opening in a few days, over a hundred free agents remain unsigned, including many of the best players on the market. The Players Association is preparing to open a special training camp just for all the unsigned players, and shouting foul. They are alleging illegal collusion among the team owners to keep salaries down.

A lack of signings on this scale has never happened before, and agents and their player clients are increasingly hinting that dark forces are afoot. Fanning the flames are sportswriters and commentators, whose left-wing sympathies are only slightly less dominant than in the rest of the journalism field. The content on MLB’s own radio station on satellite radio has become an almost unbroken rant about how unfair it is that the players aren’t getting “what they have worked so hard for.” The theory appears to be that employees decide how much they are worth, and their self-serving assessments shouldn’t be challenged.

It is not that many of the free agents haven’t offers for their services on the table. It’s not that they don’t have multiple year contracts that will pay them millions of dollars on the table. They do, and thus  many of the unsigned players can substantially fix the bitter impasse by saying “yes.” Oddly, they are finding that public opinion is not substantially in their corner as they choose to bitch instead.

The poster boy for this controversy is, as luck would have it, a player who is sought by my very own Boston Red Sox. He is J.D. Martinez, a slugging outfielder just entering his thirties who had the best year of his life in 2017. Naturally, he wants a large, multi-year contract that will leave him set for life; this is his big and probably only shot. He also has the most aggressive, successful and, in my view, unethical of sports agents,  Scott Boras, who began the free agent auction season by announcing that J.D. would be seeking a contract worth 250 million dollars or more.

The problem is that not a lot of teams can afford such a contract, and those that can are, finally, wising up. Multiple year contracts have a way of blowing up in a team’s face. Analytics are now widely used to allow teams to make intelligent projections regarding just how much a player will add in value and wins. This year, most of the richest clubs are not hurting for home run hitters or outfielders, which leaves the Red Sox, who despite winning their division last year for the second year in a row didn’t hit as many homers in doing so as the spoiled Boston fans are used to, as the most obvious landing place for Martinez. Sure enough,  the team offered Martinez a five year deal reputed to be worth 125 million bucks. No other team has offered anything close, and it is unlikely that any team will. Boras and J.D. still say it’s not enough. They want a sixth year, and more cash. The Red Sox see no reason to bid against themselves, and have said, in essence., ‘There’s our offer. Take it or leave it.’  Somehow the baseball writers and the player see Boston as the villain in all this.

As George Will likes to say, “Well.” Continue reading

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The Phenom, The Agent And The Cubbies: 2015’s First Baseball Ethics Controversy

No, I don’t count Pete Rose.

Kris Bryant, whose day will come.

Kris Bryant, whose day will come.

The lesson of the Kris Bryant dispute is that sometimes the result that seems the least fair is also the right one. Bryant, in case you don’t follow baseball or do not live in Chicago, is the hot Chicago Cubs minor leaguer—what used to be called a “phenom” in the old days—who will not be playing third base for the Cubs when the season opens despite everyone’s agreement that he is not just ready for National League, but ready to star in it. Last week, the young man was assigned  to  the Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa farm team.  Cubs fans are upset. Sports pundits are outraged. Bryant’s agent is furious.

What’s going on here?

A lot.

The MLB  collective bargaining agreement, negotiated and signed by both baseball management and the players union, gives teams control over players for six years before a player can enter free agency and sell his talents to the highest bidder. Thus most young players earn a small percentage of their true market value initially, and, if they are good, hit the jackpot after that. (The average salary in Major League Baseball is $4 million a year). There is a catch, however—and an unavoidable loophole. A full season is defined as 172 days, though the season is 180 days. If a young player is left off the roster until there are fewer than 172 days remaining in the regular season, that season doesn’t count as one of the six years; a player can’t become a free agent mid-season six years later. Before the demise of the reserve system that bound a player to one team until the team released or traded him, there was no reason not to promote a promising minor league star to the big team the second it looked like he was ready. Now, there is a big reason: delaying those few games will give the team an extra year of control, since under the rule, 6 years and 171 games is still just six years. That means an extra year of the player at bargain compensation, and possibly an extra year of the player, since he can fly the coop once the clock has run.

This is not a new issue: players and agents have been complaining about teams doing this for years, but the rules allow it. Since the rules allow it, and since the monetary and competitive benefits of waiting those extra nine days can be huge, there is nothing unfair or unethical about a team taking advantage of the provision. Indeed, it would be irresponsible and a breach of management’s fiduciary duties not to save millions and ensure the extra year of a star’s services. What, then, has made Bryant’s case so contentious?

It’s the Cubs, that’s what. Continue reading

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The Unforgivable Conflict of Interest: Sports Agents, Robbing Their Ignorant Clients

The ethical course is to choose.

The ethical course is to choose.

Sports agents are rich, powerful, and ethically handicapped by inherent conflicts of interest. The first two qualities so far have insulated them from dealing fairly and openly with the second. This is wrong, and has got to stop. For it to stop, it would help if the players, their unions, the sports leagues and the sports media didn’t either intentionally pretend not to see the obvious, or weren’t too biased and ignorant to realize what’s going on.

Four years ago, I wrote about this problem in a long piece for Hardball Times, a baseball wonk blog of consistent high quality.  The specific agent I was writing about was Scott Boras, the king of baseball player agents, but the egregious conflict I flagged isn’t confined to that professional sport; it’s present in all of them. In the article, I argued that Boras, a lawyer, is engaged in the practice of law when serving as an agent and was therefore violating the legal ethics rules, which prohibits having clients whose interests are directly adverse to each other, specifically in the so-called “Zero-Sum Conflict” situation.

A lawyer can’t assist two clients bidding for the same contract, because the better job he does for one, the worse his other client fares. A lawyer can’t sue a defendant for every penny that defendant has on behalf of one client when he or she has another client or two that have grievances against that same defendant—if the lawyer is successful with the first client, he’s just ruined his other clients’ chances of recovery. There is some controversy over whether the legal ethics rules automatically apply to a lawyer-agent like Boras, but never mind—whether he is subject to the legal ethics rules or not when serving as an agent, the conflict of interest he is blithely ignoring still applies, still harms his clients, still puts money in his pockets, and still should not be permitted. Continue reading

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Comment of the Day: “The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg Dilemma”

John Glass, a superb and eclectic D.C. area blogger at DramaUrge, weighs in with his usual lucidity on the Stephen Strasburg controversy. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg Dilemma: Continue reading

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The Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg Dilemma

The real problem with Stephen Strasburg’s pitching arm is that it’s attached to his neck…

I must apologize to those who care about baseball-related ethics matters. I have been so immersed in the problems dogging my sad and dispirited Boston Red Sox that I have neglected the more glaring ethics issue looming over my current home town team, the Washington Nationals, currently on top of the National League East and almost certainly bound for their first post-season appearance. They face that prospect, however, with a problem: before the season began, management pledged that Stephen Strasburg, the team’s young fire-balling ace who seems destined for a Hall of Fame career, will be shut down for good once he hits 180 innings or less. Strasburg has already had serious arm surgery once, and conventional baseball wisdom now holds that throwing too many pitches before a pitcher has matured risks his arm, his effectiveness and his career. What this means now, however, that was hardly conceivable when the pledge was made, is that the Nationals could be battling the best teams in baseball in pursuit of a World Series title with their best pitcher completely healthy but in mothballs.

I had only given this matter perfunctory focus, concluding as a fan that it was a screwball plan that would never be executed, and not thinking much about the ethics of the controversy—and as you might imagine, it’s a big controversy in the Washington area sports pages. It took respected baseball writer John Feinstein to shock me out of my apathy with his sensible and well-reasoned column on the issue today, that ended thusly:

“Pitching a healthy Strasburg in October is not a betrayal, it’s simply recognizing that circumstances have changed. Not pitching him is a betrayal: to the pitcher, to the team, to the fans and to the city.” Continue reading

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Baseball’s Free Agent Follies: Dumb Clients, Conflicted Agent

Baseball’s super-agent Scott Boras has his annual off-season conflict of interest problem, and as usual, neither Major League Baseball, nor the Players’ Union, nor the legal profession, not his trusting but foolish clients seem to care. Nevertheless, he is operating under circumstances that make it impossible for him to be fair to his clients.

This year, Boras has three aging outfielders in his stable, all with some Hall of Fame credentials, all with fading skills, and all without jobs. Their names are Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Andruw Jones. Thanks to a glut of unsigned hitters still on the market, the price for each of these three—once, when they were young, in the 8-figures a year range—is falling fast. According to an analysis by ESPN, only six, and possibly as few as three, possible teams are still looking to fill slots on their rosters suitable for Ramirez, Damon, and Jones, and none of them will sign more than one, if any. Continue reading

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