If you follow the MLB, there is a good chance that you know the name Scott Boras. Following a short minor league career, Boras began working as a baseball agent in 1980. These days, he’s known as one of the best agents in the game. Aside from his entertaining comments about the players he represents, Boras gained fame for representing the best in the game and landing record-breaking contracts.
Boras is viewed as the right agent to have on your side as a superstar free agent…but what about the rest of the league? While Boras’ success with the stars is obvious, the remaining 90% of the league needs free agency representation as well. How legit would Boras be if his clients weren’t the best? Should more of the league turn to Boras Corp. for representation? I decided to test out this little thought experiment.
To best run a test of legitimacy on Boras’ talent as an agent, I decided to look at a few clients he has represented who can be defined as an “average” player, as established by Fangraphs’ evaluations of wins above replacement (WAR).
Fangraphs defines a player who averages 2-3 WAR in a season as a solid starter, while a player in the 3-4 range is defined as a good player — above average but not quite an all-star. Compared to the usual high-profile free agency talent, these names would be overshadowed (or as Boras would probably call them, diamonds in the rough) and be less likely to have earned top dollar. Boras represented 18 players in that group during his career, but for the sake of this article, we’ll be looking at 12 free-agent contracts that Boras negotiated. The remaining six players were not represented by Boras as free agents, rather he dealt with arbitration negotiations or helped them in the draft. According to the man himself, Boras loves the “common player.” Thankfully, we can get a sense of the true talents of this so-called magic man by seeing how he performed for those guys.
Boras knows how to play off a peak year. For seven out of the 12 players featured, Boras was able to utilize the optimum performance of his client to net a long contract. Only four of the 12 clients had a season in which they garnered more WAR in a single season after signing their contract.
This statistic is jumbled a bit with injury risks such as Paxton, Kennedy, and Caudill; yet at the same time is another testament to Boras’ skill. He can sell his clients as dependable, even when they are out with injury for much of their career. Boras also knows how to ensure these clients are set for multiple years, with eight of the 12 clients collecting multi-year deals.
What is also impressive is the average salary of Boras clients when compared to the average salary of MLB players. For every client, Boras nets more than the average. It is important to note that this average most likely includes pre-arbitration and arbitration players, as I was unable to find data for only FA/extension signings. However, if we consider players who received one-year deals after tough performances such as Pedro Alvarez and Michael Lorenzen, Boras was still able to net them more than the average player. For players who had just average seasons, Boras blew that average salary number out of the water.
Charles Johnson, a glove-first catcher, commanded around $5 million more than the average player in 2000. Johnson never had over 65 RBI in a season prior to the contract.
Luke Hochevar was the first overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in 2006 but struggled mightily in the big leagues. From 2007-2013, he pitched five seasons with an ERA over 4.50. The two seasons below 4.50 were only made up of 12.2 and 70.1 innings. Even with this poor performance, Boras earned him a salary that was $1.16 million more than the average.
Similarly, in 2017 Jeremy Hellickson was provided a contract worth $13 million more than the average player after pitching to an average WAR of 1.3 in seven seasons of his career. In 2017, Charlie Morton was signed for $7 million dollars per year for two years. Hellickson would pitch to a .3 WAR in 2017 and be out of the league by the end of 2019. Morton had a 3.1 WAR at the end of the 2017 season and would be third place in Cy Young voting in 2019. Even after that 2019 season, Morton signed a contract that paid him $15 million for a season, still $2 million less than Boras was able to secure for Hellickson.
When performances are average or above average, Boras can milk it for all it’s worth. Kyle Lohse only had two seasons with performances of 3 WAR or higher over his 16-season career. And yet Boras negotiated a four-year, $41 million dollar contract for Lohse in 2009. That contract came off a 2.8-WAR season. For a little more context: Roy Halladay signed a $40 million dollar contract in 2010 and pitched to a 6.8 WAR the season prior.
Ian Kennedy earned $14 million per year for five years after a 0.4 WAR season in 2015. In 2015, Corey Kluber made $7 million during a 5.6 WAR season and Max Scherzer made $10 million during a 6.5 WAR season.
For another example: Dallas Keuchel signed for $18 million per year for three years after pitching to a 0.8 WAR. Lance Lynn made $10 million and Charlie Morton earned $15 million for 6.7 and 6.0 WAR seasons, respectively. Age and other factors certainly play into these comparisons. However, Boras should also receive credit for his ability to lock down multi-year, above-average salary contracts that paint his clients as more cost-effective when compared to some of the game’s top talents. In most cases, his clients are not.
One of the most shocking results was the case of Jurickson Profar. Profar has yet to live up to his vaunted pedigree, with his best season coming in 2018 as a Texas Ranger. He hit .254 with 20 homers and 77 RBI, resulting in a 2.8 WAR. Following 2018, Profar struggled to put his skills together again, with WAR totals of 1.3, 1.3, and -0.7 in the next three seasons. Profar suffered from inconsistency, selling out on average for more power, then losing power in attempts to increase his contact skills and BB%. Yet as a free agent after the shortened 2020 season, Boras netted Profar a three-year, $21 million dollar contract.
As a result, Profar’s annual salary in 2021 was higher than Ozzie Albies. Since 2019, Albies has accumulated 9.3 WAR. Profar’s career WAR since 2012 is 4.6. The Albies deal was an extremely team-friendly extension and spurred concern that teams may draw on this Albies extension in future negotiations when players may ask for more money in a deal – if the Braves paid this great player only $5 million a year, why should a less talented player receive more? However, Boras is able to poke holes in this argument with his ability to garner better contracts for players like Profar, who may not have received $7 million a year from a team-friendly extension.
No matter how talented a bat or arm may be, a player may struggle in free agency without the right voice and support behind them. After today, I think Boras might be that voice one should strive to have. Whether an elite star or a journeymen reliever, Boras seems to find the best for his clients, and I look forward to seeing how many zeroes Carlos Correa has on his paycheck when this season begins.
Photo by Cathy T/Flickr | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)