License To Deal

In “License To Deal: A Year in the Life of a Maverick Baseball
Agent”, longtime Baseball America columnist Jerry Crasnick chronicles
the life and career of Matt Sosnick, who runs an upstart baseball
agency with his partner, Paul Cobbe. Their story also serves as a
jumping-off point for a review of the history of baseball agents. In
this exclusive excerpt, Crasnick takes us through draft day 2004 from a
different point of view: that of the agent:


It’™s a blustery San Francisco morning, and Matt arises early and
rubs the bleariness from his eyes. He’™s sleep-deprived, and his insides
do flips if he forgets to take his stomach medication. His
wardrobe–gray Polo T-shirt, blue Toronto Blue Jays workout shorts and
flip-flops–seems more suited to a frat boy gearing up for a fantasy
league draft than an agent presiding over the future of 15 aspiring big
leaguers.

The only certainty today is that Matt and the other members of the
Sosnick-Cobbe contingent will order out for lunch. Matt keeps delivery
menus from a local pizza joint and an area sushi restaurant handy, in
much the same way an asthmatic keeps an inhaler within easy reach. His
reliance on takeout food for sustenance is a running joke among those
who know and love him.

Takeout pizza and sushi won’™t cut it this morning. Paul makes an
early bakery run for a dozen doughnuts, and Matt lays the tools of the
trade on the round glass table in his office. There’™s a Baseball
America Directory with names of front-office people and team phone
numbers, and Sosnick’™s personal phone list with dozens of contacts for
area scouts, crosscheckers, scouting directors and general managers.

A couple of years ago, Paul’™s wife, Ellen, suggested that the boys
use yellow Post-It notes to track the progress of potential draftees.
Today, that’™s Toby Trotter’™s job. He writes the names of 15 aspiring
picks on 2- by 3-inch yellow squares and methodically sticks them on
the wall atop a framed color photograph of Joe Montana.

Once the players are selected, Toby will peel the notes off the
wall, mark the name of the selecting team and the round, and move them
to a larger framed photograph of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. For 15
kids, a potentially life-altering event is as simple as shifting two
feet to the right.

Sosnick will spend much of the next two days on the telephone
networking with scouting directors, an endeavor in which he takes
considerable pride. He enjoys negotiating with the no-frills baseball
guys–people like Cleveland’™s John Mirabelli or Baltimore’™s Tony
DeMacio–because they’™re so direct and free of pretense. The ball guys,
in turn, speak favorably of Matt and Paul because it’™s common knowledge
that clubs aren’™t going to select a Sosnick-Cobbe player and get
bushwhacked by unreasonable expectations.

“They’™re up-front and all their players sign,” Mirabelli says.
“They’™re not out there grabbing for every last dollar they can get out
of you.”

If two parties want to resolve a problem, Matt believes, obstacles
can be overcome. When the Cubs drafted Dontrelle Willis, it was with
the understanding that he expected a bonus of $200,000 from whichever
team selected him. But after the Cubs chose Dontrelle, they found there
had been a team miscommunication and only $60,000 had been allocated
for the spot. Jim Hendry, then Chicago’™s scouting director, did some
digging, got to the root of the problem, and made good on the $200,000
promise. “Not only did he take responsibility for the team,” Matt says,
“but he totally honored his word.”

Recent draft history has amplified the hazards involved when teams
and advisers are at odds. In 2000, the Rockies selected a California
high school pitcher named Matt Harrington seventh in the first round.
But the negotiations quickly turned sour, and Harrington refused to
sign when his adviser, Tommy Tanzer, claimed that the Rockies had
reneged on a promised $4.95 million signing bonus.

The Harrington family fired Tanzer, hired Scott Boras, and turned
down a $1.25 million bonus from San Diego the next year. Matt
Harrington began playing independent league ball and has since become
something of a professional draftee, getting drafted three more times,
but the offers are now so meager and the expectations so low that he
has yet to sign a contract. He’™s washed up at 22, and he pays the bills
working at a Target store in the offseason.

Matt Harrington serves as a cautionary tale–that no matter how much
time a team invests in scouting a player, it’™s meaningless if he
doesn’™t sign. “It’™s like an old scout once told me: ‘˜This is a lot like
fishing–they only count if you get them in the boat,’™ ” says Chris
Buckley, a front-office executive with Toronto.

Sosnick and Cobbe don’™t have any Matt Harringtons in their
portfolio, but they know what it means for a negotiation to go bad.
Their nastiest one came in June 2002 when they represented two high
school players, Jason Pridie and Wes Bankston, who were selected by the
Devil Rays.

Pridie, one of Matt’™s three tattooed clients, signed for $892,500 as
the 43rd overall pick. The player, his family and the team were all
happy, Matt says, until the commissioner’™s office chastised the Devil
Rays for giving Pridie a bonus exceeding the recommended amount for his
spot.

Matt and Paul both accused Dan Jennings, then the Rays’ scouting
director, of playing games with the disbursement of Pridie’™s bonus,
delaying payment unnecessarily. Sosnick is also convinced that Jennings
made statements that caused him to lose Wes Bankston as a client. So he
left a message on Jennings’™s answering machine: “You are an amoral
person,” Matt said. “You did everything you could to be disgusting and
unethical and distasteful about this to serve your own needs. There was
zero morality in either of these negotiations, and it makes me ill.”

Jennings, a true son of the South, is regarded in the business as
the consummate “scouts’™ scout.” He has a love for the craft and a lingo
forged through long, hot days at the yard on the trail of the next
Griffey or A-Rod. When Jennings checked his answering machine, his
opinion of Matt Sosnick fell almost as much as his blood pressure rose.
He believes the real reason for Sosnick’™s displeasure was that Tampa
Bay scout Craig Weissmann, following the organizational mandate to get
players signed quickly, negotiated Pridie’™s deal with the family while
Sosnick was in San Francisco, out of the loop.

Jennings denies that he “caught crap” from the commissioner’™s
office, insists that he said nothing to convince Wes Bankston to dump
Matt (because he couldn’™t care less), and can’™t recall precisely how
the Devil Rays distributed Pridie’™s bonus. When he picked up the phone
and called Sosnick, they had a shouting match loud enough to rattle the
dishes.

“As soon as you begin to pay me a salary, then I’™ll start conferring with you,” Jennings said.

Jennings now works in the Marlins’™ front office, but there’™s been no
rapprochement. Sosnick, who stakes his business model on congenial
relations with front-office people, flatly calls Jennings a “liar.” And
Jennings can’™t quite understand why this San Francisco agent whom he’™s
never met regards him as a sort of scouting Antichrist.

“When things don’™t go Matt’™s way, it’™s someone else’™s fault,” Jennings says. “Maybe that’™s part of his silver spoon upbringing.”

Next: Draft Day

Majors | #2005 #Book Guide

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