Boras Factor Confounds Clubs
By John Manuel
See Also: A Scott Boras Timeline
Mark Pawelek was on the high school showcase circuit in 2004, making a name for himself as a potential top draft pick.
The lanky Utah lefthander was pitching in suburban Atlanta in June at the East Cobb baseball complex, before moving on to a Team One showcase in Phoenix and the Area Code Games in Long Beach.
While Pawelek was making a name for himself among scouts and college recruiters, striking out seven batters in a row in one game and throwing in the low 90s, Bill Caudill was watching, taking notes, sizing him up.
A former big league reliever who retired in 1987, Caudill sidled up to Pawelek’s father Danny in June at the East Cobb event, asking if he was indeed Pawelek’s father and noting how good his son looked on the mound. Cards and phone numbers were exchanged, and when the summer tour ended, Caudill and another former big leaguer, Scott Chiamparino, came calling at the Pawelek household in Springville, Utah.
Danny Pawelek made sure Mark sat in on every meeting with prospective advisers for his son. He wanted his son involved in the decision-making process, but as agents paraded through his home making their presentations, Danny noticed that Mark invariably grew bored with each sales pitch.
Something was different, though, when Caudill and Chiamparino came calling. For one, they were dressed neatly but casually—“Like us,” Danny Pawelek says. And the duo dazzled the Paweleks.
“Mark had no interest in all of this and he just wants to play,” Danny Pawelek says. “He seemed to fall asleep at times. (But) it was like day and night different when we sat down with them.”
Caudill had more information than the Paweleks could have imagined. He had charted every pitch he’d seen Pawelek throw and asked him about pitch sequences and how he was attacking hitters. He and Chiamparino lobbied against other agents who had come to the house, noting they represent players in other sports or were too small-time to be interested in anything other than a payday.
And speaking of paydays, Caudill and Chiamparino pointed out the power of going to college, using charts to illustrate the better success rate of college pitchers in the draft relative to high school pitchers. “It was almost like talking to an actuary,” Danny Pawelek says. “They had information, they had stats . . . It was a day-and-night difference (from other presentations).”
Soon, the Paweleks made up their minds. Scott Boras himself came to Utah to close the deal, as he does with all his amateur clients. The most famous—and, to many scouts, the most feared—agent in baseball had a new client. And when word got out this spring that Pawelek had become a Boras client, the number of scouts at his games dwindled from around 25 to single digits.
“If I had a son,” one area scout says, “and he was in the major leagues, I’d want Scott to represent him. But if he’s an amateur, there’s no way.”
Boras calls this a business strategy by major league organizations. “They’re trying to separate us from our clients, and that’s what I don’t understand,” he says. “We’re good enough to work with clubs with major league players. Major leaguers flock to us, and we have good relationships with general managers and owners when we negotiate. So why don’t they want us to represent amateurs?”
Perhaps it has to do with the record-setting holdouts of such Boras clients as Jason Varitek, a first-round pick in both 1993 and ’94 who finally signed with the Mariners in March 1995. Current holdouts Jered Weaver (Angels) and Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks) are challenging Varitek’s mark now, still negotiating while Weaver works out on his own and Drew plays in the independent Atlantic League.
His current high profile holdouts, and the fact Boras represents many of the top players in the Class of 2005 has made Boras a primary topic among scouts all spring. Scouting directors know who has Boras as an adviser and who doesn’t. In Baseball America’s discussions with many of them leading up to the draft, the “Boras factor” has loomed large in the minds of scouts from area supervisors up through crosscheckers and directors.
As Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier, owner of the No. 2 overall pick, said in January, when the current draft cycle really cranked up, “Just because you pick second, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the second-best player. This is the highest draft pick in the history of our organization, and in theory, we’re supposed to get an impact player, a potential all-star. But a lot of times, you’re at the mercy of the draft.”
Including Drew and Weaver, 10 of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects are Boras clients. If baseball’s draft had a formal, rigid slotting system for signing bonuses, as the NBA does, many of those players would figure in the first 10-20 picks. But Boras tries to work around Major League Baseball’s informal slot payments, and he repudiates the predraft deals many clubs strike with agents and players who will take less money for the right to be called a first-round pick.
(Of course, Boras points to predraft deals when it supports his cause, saying the Angels and Diamondbacks made informal agreements that would have paid Weaver and Drew much more than the clubs formally have offered.)
Boras admits Scott Boras Corp. is not the right choice for every player, particularly high school players, and that every player is not right for his corporation.
“Our success in the amateur draft is predicated on how well we forecast where a player sits upon entry to the sport,” he says. “We have our own scouts; I’ve played (in the minor leagues) and have watched the top picks in every draft for the last 25 years. We’re very selective about who we choose.
“We have highly qualified people with experience in the game who have the ability to go in and crosscheck players and get to know them and see what kind of players they are.”
Boras stands by his track record, and it’s a strong one. For every Bobby Hill or Dane Sardinha or Jeff Austin—clients who were highly touted but did not become impact players—Boras can point to Varitek, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Benes, Alex Fernandez or Mark Teixeira, all of whom proved difficult to sign but were worth the trouble. Clubs have to pay for that track record.
Boras’ de facto scouting department includes Caudill and Kurt Stillwell, two of his first clients, as well as former big leaguers Chiamparino and Bob Brower and former college coach Jim Pizzolatta. They identify the talent the same way scouts do.
This year's roster is impressive. Along with Drew, Pawelek and Weaver, Boras represents St. John’s righthander Craig Hansen, Baylor righthander Mark McCormick, Tennessee righthander Luke Hochevar, Georgia Tech shortstop Tyler Greene and righthander Jason Neighborgall, Wichita State righthander Mike Pelfrey and Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden. Many of them, such as Teagarden, were with Boras when they were in high school.
Scouts generally regard Teagarden as the best defensive catcher in the draft, but he was a low-round pick out of high school because scouts respected both his commitment to the Longhorns and his affiliation with Boras. Now re-entering the draft as a potential first-round talent, he knows he may be selected later because of the Boras factor. It’s still not an issue for him.
“That’s what people say that aren’t with Scott Boras--they’ll say you’re going to fall because teams aren’t going to want to draft you,” Teagarden says. “But coming out of high school, I made a commitment to Scott Boras Corporation. We weighed everything with guys coming out of college and making it to big leagues. I feel like they’re going to do the best job with representing me come draft time.”
The information Boras presents to families and players includes data showing pitchers who sign out of college earn more—up to three times more—than those who sign out of high school, once their major league careers are factored in. (Position players’ earning power is also greater, he says.) It’s one reason the Boras clients who signed out of high school are rare: Alex Rodriguez, Jay Bell, Rick Ankiel and Brien Taylor stand out from the crowd.
“It wasn’t like Boras said you need to go to college,” says Penny Teagarden, Taylor’s mother. “He just said these are some black-and-white statistics, and you need to do whatever you’re comfortable with.”
Pawelek might be the kind of pitcher who is talented enough to sign out of high school and thrive in pro baseball, as Boras grudgingly admits. While Pawelek has a commitment to Arizona State, he may join Ankiel and Taylor as hard-throwing lefthanders who passed on college.
But Boras says because his agency makes most of its money negotiating major league contracts, he has more control over the amateur signing process than the average agent. He doesn’t need a commission on Pawelek this year to help pay the bills. If Pawelek decides he isn’t ready—which isn’t likely—then Boras can wait, whether it's through a long holdout, or three years of college.
“A lot of agents are selling, ‘I can get you drafted here,’ and that’s not what we’re about,” he says. “If you have an agent whose budget depends on him signing a certain number of players in the draft to certain signing bonuses, the scouts know this. They know what it comes down to is, that agent is going to convince the player to sign for a lower number, because the agent has to get that signing bonus.
“To me, that’s not representation at all. It’s a breach of their fiduciary obligations.”
It would be a breach of a scout’s obligations not to know whom Boras represents, and how that affects players’ signability. As one scouting director put it, “One thing about Boras clients: You know as a club your chances of signing a player and getting him out and playing in sooner than six months is slim and none.”
Another scouting director adds, “Scott understands leverage better than anyone in the business."
Leverage comes from having success. It comes from representing talented players. And it comes from knowing that sooner or later, clubs will want that talent—and will be willing to pay for it.