The recently concluded GM Meetings were more notable for what didn’t happen than for what did, though much of that is a matter of perception. Normally little more than a time to assemble kindling, we’ve gotten to the point where we somehow expect to warm our hands by a roaring hot stove within minutes of the final out being recorded in the World Series.
But one interesting topic-within-a-topic concerns super-agent Scott Boras and how he’s navigating the waters of what should be the most lucrative free-agent negotiation of all time. Never more comfortable than in the undulating fracas of a media scrum, Boras held forth on the current state of baseball and the respective futures of elite clients like Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant.
During the course of his soliloquy, Boras loudly decried the “cancer that allows losing and an intent to lose and a non-competitiveness to be rewarded in the development environment.” He specifically zinged the Marlins, who he said put the M-I-A in Miami, and lamented the number of teams with 95 or more losses this past season.
But one team that failed to draw the ire of the notoriously feisty Boras was the Cubs, which is interesting in light of their oft-reported desire to avoid running their payroll into the upper echelons of the tax penalty. Remember, this is the same Scott Boras who accused the Cubs of promoting “ersatz baseball” when they committed the “apogee of wrongs” by manipulating Bryant’s service time.
If the Cubs are playing possum for Harper etc then they're doing a heck of a job because even other agents (not Boras) at the meetings don't believe they will be spending big. Time will tell.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 9, 2018
So one would think that if the general sentiment across the industry, including his fellow agents, is that the Cubs really are operating somewhat on the cheap, Boras would call them out publicly. Why, then, did he not lob a heaping helping of flaming bombast in their direction?
I’m glad you asked, because I’ve cooked up some theories on the matter, some of which may still be a little raw in the center. The first, and least likely, is that Boras was simply too caught up enjoying the sound of his own voice as he eviscerated the Marlins and other bottom-dwellers to bother going after the Cubs. Actually, that may not be very far-fetched.
Another thought is that Boras’s silence on the matter is an indication that he doesn’t buy what the Cubs are selling. Or even more, that he’s well aware of their true intentions to woo his client and he wanted to avoid throwing them under the bus. But if that were true, wouldn’t it make sense to play along with the ruse, even if only for the pure theatricality of it?
Except that all falls apart when you realize that publicly acknowledging the Cubs’ lack of participation in the pursuit of Harper automatically costs him mad leverage. Which means it’s entirely possible that Boras very much agrees with the rest of his colleagues, but that he’s unwilling to say so for fear of further whittling down what already appears to be a thin field for Harper’s services.
Now, I’ve been operating under the assumption here that the part about Boras from Jesse Rogers’ tweet was an indication that the agent disagrees with his colleagues. It could simply mean that Rogers didn’t talk to Boras, though given the infamous agent’s high profile and willingness to talk up his clients, that seems unlikely. But what we can’t really know is whether Boras simply didn’t comment on the Cubs’ intentions or outright said he still thought they’d spend big.
So much of the nuance is left blank for us to color in on our own, which for me means using a blunt burnt umber Crayola. Given all we have heard, including from Epstein himself, it really does seem that it’d take a near miracle for the Cubs to daisy-chain enough moves together to make Harper work. As such, this all seems to come down to the idea that Boras is protecting his client’s best interest by not publicly eliminating the Cubs from the conversation.
Unless the whole “joke” about Harper having already decided on where he wants to go was at least partly true and the Cubs are the preferred destination. Which could mean both sides are playing a game of chicken and trying to get Harper’s final salary figure to their preferred amount. I’m disinclined to believe that’s the case since I do believe what I’ve been told directly and what I’ve heard and read elsewhere, which is that the Cubs really are watching the bottom line closely.
That could all change, though, and there are lots of pieces moving around on the board right now. As is always the case with these early offseason days of posturing and rhetoric, we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.