By John Manuel and Kevin Goldstein
September 9, 2005
Luke Hochevar admitted to having a difficult Labor Day weekend.
The Tennessee All-America righthander said Thursday that yes, he switched advisers on Sept. 2. He faxed a letter to Dodgers scouting director Logan White—who had selected Hochevar with the organization's top draft pick, the 40th overall selection—instructing him to negotiate not with Scott Boras but with Matt Sosnick of the Sosnick-Cobbe Sports agency.
And yes, Hochevar said in a telephone call that also had Boras on the line, White and Sosnick negotiated a $2.98 million signing bonus for the Colorado native, one that would be the highest in Dodgers history and would set a record for any player ever drafted outside the first round.
But before the Dodgers could get an official contract signed, Hochevar spoke with Boras and changed his mind, returning to the Boras fold and refusing to sign with the Dodgers. He remains unsigned and says Boras is his attorney.
Aside from those facts, the parties involved—from Boras to Sosnick, from Hochevar to White and the Dodgers—don't agree on much.
Hochevar and Boras made the rounds with media Thursday, responding to stories in the Los Angeles Daily News and the Los Angeles Times. They are no longer denying what Boras had dismissed as "rumors" in a Monday interview with Baseball America.
Hochevar characterizes his switch as a mistake made by a young man under pressure, specifically from an agent, Sosnick, who he says "badgered" him throughout the spring and summer. Boras said he can only surmise White was trying to use Sosnick as a way to get Hochevar signed for significantly less than Boras sought, and that White was acting independently of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt or general manager Paul DePodesta.
White said, “I’m not going to dignify those comments with a response. I have maintained from day one that it was never about who the agent was." DePodesta echoed the sentiment and added, "Whoever represents Luke is a matter for Luke and his family, and is of no concern to us.
"Our concern is to make Luke a member of the Dodger family. I know the Dodgers organization and I in particular put all our trust in Logan White, and the reason we do is we know he is a person of the highest integrity."
Sosnick said he doesn’t understand what went wrong with a deal that would have been his company's most significant in the draft. His connection to Hochevar came from Hochevar's Tennessee teammate and good friend Eli Iorg, an outfielder who was a supplemental first-round pick of the Astros in June. Iorg is a Sosnick-Cobbe client and signed for $900,000 soon after the draft.
Hochevar, Iorg and Eli's father Garth, a former Blue Jays infielder, played golf in Knoxville Sept. 2, a day when Hochevar says he had received good news from Boras. The agent says he had met with DePodesta and was encouraged enough to advise Hochevar not to attend class at Tennessee that day. (Boras would not comment on how the weekend’s events might affect Hochevar’s NCAA eligibility and a possible return to Tennessee for his senior season.)
Had he done so, Hochevar would have gone back into the 2006 draft pool and lost the right to negotiate with the Dodgers. Instead, he golfed and joined the Iorg family for a birthday dinner in honor of Eli's mother Patty.
Long Distance Runaround
According to Sosnick, Hochevar initiated the conversation between the two that led to the switch in representation. Hochevar says Sosnick initiated the conversation, calling the Iorg house during dinner.
"I declined to talk to him several times, but finally I said, 'Give me the phone,' and I told him I'm very happy with my decision and with Scott Boras Corporation," Hochevar said. "He said some unflattering comments about Scott, and he proceeded to tell me he'd been contacted by Logan White and said that if I stay with Scott, a deal would not get done. But he said he could get me a deal for $3 million within an hour."
Hochevar said he was unsuccessful in trying to reach Boras by phone and called his home in Colorado to talk to his father Brian, who told him it was his decision. After deliberating, the pitcher decided to take Sosnick up on his offer. He typed a letter to White—who had told Sosnick that he needed proof he was authorized to speak for Hochevar—signed it and faxed it, noting it was 10:23 p.m. The fax informs White that he was being advised by Sosnick rather than Boras.
"The Dodgers wanted to sign him, and Luke wanted to sign, so it was a pretty quick negotiation," Sosnick said. "We got within $100,000 of each other and were informed that the Dodgers would not go over $3 million, so we agreed to a $2.98 million bonus.
"The number came from a negotiation with the Dodgers. Luke wanted to sign for $2.3 million–he told me that on the phone Friday afternoon when we first spoke about this. He wanted to sign and get going, and I said, 'What do you have to lose by letting me try to help you?' "
Sosnick says the contract called for the entire bonus to be paid by the end of January 2006 and required Hochevar to pass a physical, in addition to the other basic terms of a standard agreement.
White and DePodesta neither confirm nor deny that Hochevar agreed to terms. The Dodgers, according to both Hochevar and Sosnick, dispatched area scout Marty Lamb to Knoxville to get the contract signed as soon as possible, perhaps fearful Hochevar would do what he went on to do—change his mind.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Garth Iorg confirmed Hochevar was at his home Friday night and Saturday morning, and said he was a witness when Hochevar informed the Dodgers that Sosnick, not Boras, was acting as his adviser in negotiations before changing his mind. In a written statement, Iorg said Hochevar was “happy and relieved and ready to sign a professional contract,” until Boras re-entered the discussions.
Boras, who said he had not been able to receive cell phone messages when Hochevar tried to reach him, called Hochevar back after midnight and went to work persuading his client to return to the fold.
"Thank heavens I contacted Scott and got my wits back under me," Hochevar said. "He got it all under control. I was about to sign a very bad contract. I got my head screwed back on and realized what was going on."
Hochevar says White told his mother Carmen that the $2.98 million offer was good only if Sosnick represented her son. If he went back to Boras, the bonus would be $2.3 million, the Dodgers' original offer. White would not comment on any offer made by the Dodgers.
Trying To Move On
In the aftermath, both sides have gone into spin mode that would make a Washington insider proud. Boras said Monday he intended to continue negotiations with the Dodgers, but he indicated Thursday those discussions would not be with White. DePodesta signed Boras clients J.D. Drew and Derek Lowe in the offseason, and Boras has had extensive dealings with the Dodgers in the past, including massive contracts for Kevin Brown (seven years, $105 million) and Darren Dreifort (five years, $55 million).
"Paul DePodesta is someone I have worked with very closely," Boras said, "and we've had no difficultly working on items at the major league level. I believe Paul DePodesta had no involvement or knowledge with what went on Friday.
"I don't know Logan White . . . I only know Logan White from his conduct on Friday."
Sosnick, who said he called Hochevar three times in 2005 prior to Sept. 2, still has not received a termination letter from Hochevar. Attempts to reach Gene Orza, chief operating officer of the Players Association and the man who would sort out disputes over player representation with agents, were unsuccessful.
Ultimately, while the Dodgers and Hochevar are missing out—the Dodgers on getting their top draft pick on the field, Hochevar on a considerable signing bonus—rival agents spar. Boras said agents such as Sosnick who are not lawyers breach their “fiduciary responsibilities” to players by cozying up to scouting directors and agreeing to contracts below what Boras believes to be the true market value. He says Hochevar is comparable to 2005 draftee (and Boras client) Craig Hansen, who received a $1.3 million bonus and a guaranteed $4 million major league contract from the Red Sox, and to Philip Humber, the Mets' 2004 first-round pick who signed for a $4.2 million major league deal with a $3 million bonus.
Sosnick countered that Boras doesn't have a monopoly on the moral high ground just because he's a lawyer.
"That’s interesting, because he’s had three months to negotiate and he hasn’t done it," he said. "When I called and asked the Dodgers where this was, they said they offered $2.3 million and Boras has not counter-offered. He was going to let him go to school without counter-offering? If he wants to say what I did wasn’t a negotiation, then what is he doing?
"Luke just didn’t know what he was getting into. We handed him a 'Get Out of Jail Free card,' and he decided to build his hotel on Baltic Avenue."