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Scouting the agents of the free agents

9/2/2011
White Sox left-hander Mark Buerhle will lean heavily on his agents at CAA for what could be the biggest payday of his career. Rick Osentoski/US Presswire

We've discussed scouting out the top free agents this week, but what about the people representing those free agents? Here's a scouting report on the agents who will play an integral part in negotiations for four big free agents this offseason.

Mark Buehrle, LHP, Chicago White Sox

Agent: CAA

CAA has a collaborative culture that draws on the information gathered from the five leaders of its baseball division. Jeff Berry most likely will be the lead agent in the Buehrle negotiations with the White Sox, but there will be influence from other co-leaders, including Nez Balelo and Joe Urbon from its Los Angeles office and Brodie Van Wagenen and Greg Landry from its New York office. Like all agencies, information is power in free agency, and behind the scenes the contract research and analysis will be led by Ryan Galla, nicknamed “El Diablo” by the industry because of his reputation as the statistical devil. Galla is an MIT graduate with a degree in computer science.

CAA has been responsible for more than $1.45 billion in major league contracts over the last five years. The agency always treats all 30 teams the same with its philosophy: “Inclusion versus Exclusion”. It doesn't just target the big-market teams for its deals. Rather, it gives everyone a chance. For example, it signed right-hander Gil Meche to a 5-year, $55 million deal with the small-market Kansas City Royals, as well as signing Ryan Zimmerman to a 5-year, $45 million deal with the Nationals and Ryan Braun’s 5-year, $105 million deal with the Brewers at a time in which neither team was a contender. The company negotiated the $125 million extension for Ryan Howard, and every contract Derek Jeter has signed with the Yankees has been worth in excess $205 million. CAA’s trademark in recent years has been its individualized presentations that include statistical analysis, valuations and benefits to the targeted club. I am told it has already prepared Buehrle’s valuation book, pending his final 2011 statistics, with more 50 exhibits.

Its negotiating style is private and not through the press. It’ll never embarrass a GM or front office executive publicly or privately even if it is warranted. Its press strategy always focuses on the clients and never itself. CAA’s timing of deals has varied over the years, dependent upon how it reads the market place. Sometimes it signs first, sometimes last but more often in the middle. The focus always is on when it feels it can maximize deals so the tendency is to let the market evolve.

One of the aspects of its negotiation style I always appreciated was that it gave teams a clear understanding of what it will take to sign the player based on the market place and the player, with no hidden agendas. Their agents leverage information as good any in the business, but it’s their building of personal relationships with club executives that really set them apart. These five (it was six until Casey Close left the firm) are special people who are honest, straightforward, intelligent and strong negotiators. They leave their egos at the door and really work as a team with respect to each other, as well as the clubs' executives they’re negotiating with.

Here is my quick breakdown of the co-heads of CAA’s baseball division:

Jeff Berry: Buehrle’s longtime lead agent. Berry is an attorney who has a direct and no-nonsense negotiating style and vehemently fights for his clients. He is hard-nosed, at times stubborn and prefers to stay in the box in terms of negotiations.

Brodie Van Wagenen: A Stanford grad who is known for his analytics, creativity and presentation skills, which are considered the best in the business. His people skills are off the charts, and he can be as convincing as he is genuine.

Nez Balelo: Former player and special assignment scout with the Braves, Nez is a baseball insider who has unique understanding of the club’s motivation and the player’s needs. He can evaluate talent and people with the best of them. He’s professional and intelligent and his work ethic is second to none.

Greg Landry: Industry veteran who gained credibility working with some of the top pitchers in the game, including Roy Halladay and Dan Haren. His style is thorough but time-consuming. He’s not the type of agent that will do a quick deal. Sometimes my negotiations with him were exhausting, frustrating and exasperating.

Joe Urbon: A former Philadelphia Phillies minor league player who saw his career cut short because of a knee injury, he became an agent in 1992 with Octagon (then Advantage International) and joined CAA in 2008. Urbon is universally well-liked and known as a deal-maker, not a deal-breaker.

Buehrle has spent 12 years with the White Sox, winning 159 games with a lifetime WHIP of 1.27 and an ERA of 3.79. He has made approximately $70 million in his career and is set up for the biggest payday of his life. If the White Sox are loyal to him, as they were with Paul Konerko, and pay him market value, a deal could get done as early as Thanksgiving because of the great relationship CAA has with White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, Rick Hahn and Dennis Gilbert -- the team’s top executive under owner Jerry Reinsdorf.


Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets

Agent: Peter E. Greenberg and Associates

Peter and his brother, Edward, work out of New York and represent several major league players, including headliners such as the Angels' Bobby Abreu, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees, the Braves' Martin Prado and Mets pitcher Johan Santana. Both brothers are fluent in Spanish and have done extremely well recruiting players from Latin America, with their biggest inventory of players from Venezuela.

Their background in law, banking and marketing give them a well-rounded approach during negotiations. Peter will be the “lead” agent in the Reyes negotiations and is extremely professional in his approach. He is always well-versed and prepared in terms of player comparables and present market value. His approach is low key and conversational, rather than confrontational.

With the firm being located in New York, it will be an advantage to the Mets since every agent would prefer his star players to be playing in his backyard, not only for business with them but also for recruiting purposes. This negotiation will not be easy because of Reyes' latest left hamstring injury and the player's desire for a seven-year contract. The market will obviously dictate the length of contract that Reyes ends up getting, but because of the injury risk factor it is unlikely to reach the length that Mark Teixeira, Jayson Werth, Matt Holliday and Carl Crawford received as free agents. Reyes likely will take less money and years to stay in New York, but it only takes one contending team, such as the Cardinals (if Albert Pujols doesn’t re-sign) or Red Sox (with significant money coming off the books), to blow the Mets out of the water. Mets GM Sandy Alderson has a history of holding the line, and these negotiations won’t be any different. With Peter Greenburg doing the negotiating with Alderson, one can expect a peaceful and professional process. As long as the Mets are in the financial ballpark and Reyes is healthy, they have the best chance of signing him.

The negotiations involving Reyes won’t have the glitz and glamour that teams get from negotiating with CAA or the Boras Corporation, but Peter Greenberg's bottom-line results over the years have been outstanding.


Prince Fielder, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers

Agent: Scott Boras – The Boras Corporation

The most controversial and successful agent in baseball history is Scott Boras. Someday he will become the first agent ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. He is charismatic, intelligent, prepared and ruthless. He is hard-nosed, polite, professional, threatening, bluffing, caring and not-caring and has done as much research in terms of information, statistics, contracts and player comparisons as any agent in the industry. His book presentations for each of his clients will be lengthy and detailed, and he won’t miss any particular factual angle that could possibly help him in a negotiation. When you’re done reading his documents, you’ll be convinced he’s representing the greatest baseball player of all time.

His real life story and character plays like it belongs on the big screen, and Boras likes the theatre of negotiations as much as he likes to break contract records. In the free-agent market, he has been a master of playing the Red Sox against the Yankees to a dramatic final hour twist (see Johnny Damon and Teixeira), while using the Angels, Orioles and Nationals to increase their bidding. He often takes advantage of new owners to break these records. Take, for example, Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Rangers (see Chan Ho Park and Alex Rodriguez), Mike Ilitch of the Tigers (see Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez) and most recently Ted Lerner of the Nationals (see Werth).

Boras is as predictable as he is unpredictable. His reputation says he takes all his clients to free agency. However, when the Rockies stepped up with a seven-year, $80 million deal for Carlos Gonzalez, he closed the deal. Recently, when Angels ace Jared Weaver told him he wanted to sign long-term with the Angels, he negotiated a five-year, $85 million deal that avoided free agency while shattering Felix Hernandez's contract deal.

His preference in signing free-agent deals is to be last on the market, where philosophically, he most likely thinks the best deal will be left standing. However, he’s also very aware of the market place. This year with Boston, New York and Philadelphia possibly sitting out negotiations for Pujols or Fielder, he’s capable of surprising the industry and signing Fielder ahead of Pujols, if he thinks his best final deal on the table is at risk.

One thing that is consistent with Boras is if his players take his advice, they won’t talk to the team, media or friends about the negotiations at any time during the process, and they’ll sign for the most years and the most money on the table. Boras is available 24/7 for negotiations and will always return a phone call to a GM in a prompt, timely manner. His negotiations sessions are detailed, complex and prepared and he’ll use any angle to increase the value of his players. He knows how to use the media, other general managers, executives and owners to his advantage and is never afraid to go around the GM to the team president or to the club owner if he thinks he can get a better deal.

He will bluff and threaten with the best of them, and the written presentation for each of his clients will be as record-breaking as the contract for which he ends up signing. He will be the sole voice in the Fielder negotiations, even though he has an all-star staff behind him. They are to be seen and not heard in the negotiating room. The process with Boras is always difficult, but because of his level of intelligence and preparation it’s worth the price of admission. The most challenging part from a general manager's perspective is that you know club loyalty will never exist unless you have the best offer on the table and are willing to break whatever previous contract record is left standing. Love him or hate him, you have to respect him and his track record.

In all likelihood Fielder will end up with the team that offers the most money, unless of course the Brewers decide to match it and add a dollar.


Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

Agent: Dan Lozano – Icon Sports Group

Dan Lozano worked for Beverly Hills Sports council for more than 22 years with partners Jeff Borris, Rick Thurman and Dan Horowitz before branching out on his own last June. He represents such All-Stars and class-act players as the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, the Reds' Joey Votto and the Rangers' Michael Young, all of whom stayed loyal to him when he made the move. This past year he added Nick Swisher of the Yankees and top prospects Manny Machado of the Orioles and Yonder Alonso of the Reds. The clientele speaks volumes for Lozano. Pujols supported Lozano publicly when the split was made in a press release which read, “Dan is the best agent in sports and a guy that I trust with my life. ... What more can you ask for?”

Lozano set a deadline to get a deal done for Pujols and the Cardinals at the start of spring training and when they couldn’t get an agreement, he kept his word and ended all negotiations until Pujols becomes a free agent in November. Tony LaRussa told me earlier this year he thinks Pujols will end up signing with the Cardinals because both parties really want to get a deal done. The actual negotiations sessions between Lozano and Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt were kept private, and offers from both sides have been kept out of the media. However, length of contract appears to be the largest barrier in getting a deal done. Mozeliak has been very respectful of the way Lozano has handled the negotiations.

When Lozano was younger, besides being aggressive and having great work ethic, he had a temper that occasionally made negotiations difficult. Today, he has a good working relationship with most general managers.

There have been reports that the Cardinals offered Pujols an eight-year deal believed to be worth more than $200 million, but Lozano was looking for a deal greater than the record 10-year, $275 million contract Rodriguez signed with the Yankees before the 2008 season. It appears he’ll have a difficult time getting that type of deal because some of the larger markets, such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Tigers, already have first base committed, most of which include no-trade clauses with likes of Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Howard and Miguel Cabrera, respectively. Lozano is aggressive, experienced and communicative, and he will be center stage this offseason representing Icon Sports Group when he walks to the podium for a Pujols press conference that will more than likely take place where it should in the city with that huge arch.