Friday, December 7, 2012
Scott Boras still holds all the cards
By Jim Bowden
Scott Boras has plenty of clients still in play, and there is money out there.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last year, well into January, Prince Fielder remained unsigned. But as colleague Jerry Crasnick wrote at the time, it wasn’t going to cause his agent, Scott Boras, to sweat: "In Boras' world view, the trade market is almost tapped out, the non-tenders have been picked over and teams are seriously assessing their rosters and coming to the realization that they still have holes to fill and a need to act before spring training."
So when Fielder got a jaw-dropping $200-million-dollar-plus contract from the Detroit Tigers, it may have shocked the marketplace, but not the agent. This is the Boras M.O. -- there are a lot of teams, there’s plenty of money, and for every client it’s only a matter of time.
This year is no different. The 2012 MLB winter meetings will be defined by so many deals that didn’t happen, but for Boras, that’s by design. The sense here is that players aren’t in a hurry to sign because almost everybody has at least something to spend, and when they’re ready to start writing checks, Boras’ guys will get their cut.
Here are four key free agents he reps, the sense of the market for each, and some teams that should be taking a close look.
1. Michael Bourn, CF Free-agent center fielders B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan (as well as Torii Hunter) have already gotten their money, and if Josh Hamilton signs soon, some may think that will depress the market for Bourn, who comes off a season in which he provided exceptional defense, stole 42 bases and got on base at a respectable .348 clip. But the need is still out there, and Boras knows it.
Fits: The Philadelphia Phillies are the best fit but it's questionable whether they're going to be willing to step up and pay a price that will be north of Upton's five-year, $75 million dollar deal with the Atlanta Braves. The Seattle Mariners are interested, with a big need to improve the offense and land a leadoff hitter. They are also in on Hamilton, but the interest might not be mutual if Hamilton can get comparable dollars in Texas or Boston. The Cubs also need a long-term solution in center field.
2. Kyle Lohse, RHP There are suspicions that Lohse can’t sustain the two-year run he’s on, but he should have put to rest at least some suspicions that he’s a Dave Duncan creation, as he delivered a 2.86 ERA last season over 211 innings. The issue with Lohse is how many years he can get. He’ll be looking for four, but teams will be hesitant, given that he’s 34 years old. Still, if you felt you would get even two years that looked at all like his 2012 season, you’d be interested.
Fits: If the Dodgers don’t get Zack Greinke -- and it’s fair to say many assume they will -- they’re big favorites for Lohse. But even if they do get Greinke, that team wants to add two starters, and we know they can afford it. The Red Sox are interested, as are the Angels. Dark-horse teams could include the Tigers if they don’t retain Anibal Sanchez or the Rangers if they don't sign Greinke.
3. Rafael Soriano, RHP You can minimize the save statistic, and dismiss the idea of the ninth-inning “mentality” needed to get saves consistently, but plenty of GMs have seen good teams derailed by relievers with the inability to get those last few outs, and that turns into big money spent on guys they believe can do the job.
Soriano saved 42 games last season, maintained a 2.26 ERA and whiffed 69 guys in 67 2/3 innings. There is very little interest in him so far, but wait until we get to January and you have three or four teams who still see a big hole for the ninth. Soriano could be the guy who ends up with a classic Boras “pillow contract” -- one year at big dollars -- if he can’t get multiple years.
Fits: The Red Sox make sense with their lack of confidence that Andrew Bailey or Mark Melancon can bounce back. The Tigers want to give 21-year-old Bruce Rondon the job, but there is no guarantee that his 100 mph heater will be enough to save games with the pressures of the major leagues' final three outs. The Toronto Blue Jays would be a nice luxury while moving Casey Janssen to the eighth. The Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds signed Brandon League and Jonathan Broxton, respectively, to be their closers, but both cubs would love to move them to a setup role if they could get a guy like Soriano to close. The Los Angeles Angels blew 20 saves in each of the last two years and hope that Ryan Madson bounces back from Tommy John surgery, but Soriano is more of a sure thing.
4. Stephen Drew, SS Another year away from surgery should mean that Drew is close to 100 percent in 2013. He's still capable of 10-15 home runs and stolen bases. He's underrated defensively, with range to both sides and a strong arm. As a bonus, he could easily move to second or third if needed.
Fits: The St. Louis Cardinals are the best fit, with Peter Kozma needing another year in Triple-A and Rafael Furcal trying to bounce back from elbow surgery. The Red Sox aren't convinced that Jose Iglesias' bat is ready and Drew would certainly look good for them on a pillow deal. Drew could also go back to Oakland, where he played well this past season, and the Cleveland Indians have shown interest just in case they're able to trade Asdrubal Cabrera for young starting pitchers.