Baseball writers are the tools of baseball player agents, useful idiots who write on and on about the underpaid millionaire players and the unfair owners, who won’t pay them what they “deserve.” They scrupulously avoid educating readers about the unethical player agents who manipulate the system and the players for their own benefit, not their clients. I have written about the unregulated and largely ethics-free baseball agents before, but their conduct this off-season is unusually revolting.
At the top of the list, as usual, is mega-agent Scott Boras, who cleverly treads the line between being an agent and a lawyer—he is both—while having too many stars under his thumb for the sports organizations or bar associations to hold him to account. For example, as a lawyer, Boras would be absolutely bound to tell his clients about a settlement offer, and would be subject to disbarment if he rejected an offer without communicating it to his client (you know, like you regularly see lawyers doing on TV and in the movies). However, there are no player agent rules that require an agent to communicate a team’s salary offer to a player. Agents can, and presumably do, reject offers without their clients ever hearing about them. This, of course, avoids the problem of a baseball star saying, “Oh, hell, that’s more money than I could ever spend anyway. I know it’s less than we talked about, but go ahead and take it.”
Agents have conflicts of interest so grand, and apparently so little understood, that meaningful consent from the client, theoretically the remedy, is virtually impossible. Let’s look at Bryce Harper, Boras’s client who is seeking more than $300 million dollars over a ten year guaranteed contract. Harper is 26 years old and has already made 49 million dollars, not counting endorsements. The functional utility of each dollar he earns is less than the one earned before in his situation. Realistically, there is very little difference between a $250,000,000 contract and a $300,000,000 contract to Harper, except from an ego perspective. The extra 50,000,000 won’t make any difference to him. Boras, however, is a different matter. Let’s say his cut of Harper’s salary is 5%. He’ll get 15,000,000 if Harper signs for the high figure, but “only” 12,500,000 if Harper agrees to the lower figure. $2.5 million means nothing to Harper: he could throw it down the toilet, and wouldn’t feel a thing. The difference to Boras, however, is much greater in practical, and add to that the marketing advantage of being able to tell potential clients that he set the new all-time record for a free agent contract for his client. Continue reading