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Boras' billions: baseball agent creates free-agent flurry

NEW YORK, NY – Scott Boras showed up at the winter meetings with his own press conference backdrop. How appropriate, given his banner offseason.

Beloved by his high-profile clients, courted by powerful owners and a polarizing figure for fans, baseball's most famous agent negotiated $814 million of contracts in little over three days last week.

All told, he projects his deals will top $1.2 billion and lift his career agreements past $9 billion.

In an industry where agent commissions typically are 3 to 5%, that adds up. Not bad for a former Cardinals and Cubs infielder who never made it above Double-A.

"The greatest joy certainly in my life is when you get to make the phone calls I got to make last week," Boras said. "You've gone on a journey with them that may have taken 10, 11 years for them to reach this point in their lives where they're getting their ultimate reward of what they hoped for when they came into the game. It provides them the opportunity to win, it provides them security for them and their families, it properly places them among their peers. It's a very rewarding and prideful moment that often is very emotional."

He opened the winter meetings by striking a $245 million, seven-year deal between World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals. That record contract for pitchers lasted just one day, shattered when Boras got Gerrit Cole a $324 million, nine-year agreement with the New York Yankees. Boras finished the meetings by landing third baseman Anthony Rendon a $245 million, seven-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

If fans know the name of one agent, it's the 67-year-old Boras. His impact has been far greater than his .293 batting average with four home runs over four minor league seasons — he spent time spent as a double-play partner with future All-Star Garry Templeton and Ken Oberfkell.

He loves the limelight, seen in his front-row seats at Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. He works to represent many of the top prospects ahead of the amateur draft and is criticized by competitors for trying to steal their clients as they approach free agency. His clients fill three of the eight seats on the executive subcommittee of the players' association: Max Scherzer, James Paxton and Elvis Andrus.

His news conferences are focal points at the November general managers gathering and December winter meetings, filled with big-picture suggestions such as a neutral site World Series and over-the-top metaphors such as dividing teams into categories of supermarket shoppers and bird species, determined by wealth and aggressiveness. This year he unveiled a backdrop with his company logo, a B over a baseball field.

What stands out most his client list, the envy of many other agents. He says he has rejected overtures to represent athletes in other sports.

"He knows the market. He's got relationships, and he's got really talented players," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I think the talent level dictates the deals that are made."

Boras has been the agent for 23 contracts of $100 million or more, including eight of baseball's 19 deals worth at least $200 million and two of the five guaranteeing at least $300 million. Before the three deals last week, he negotiated outfielder Bryce Harper's $330 million, 13-year deal with Philadelphia last February and topped $200 million for Alex Rodriguez (twice), Prince Fielder and Scherzer.

Scott Boras Corp.'s overhead includes 137 full-time employees, training centers in Florida and California, and staff in Canada, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Taiwan and Venezuela. Among the departments are 35 researchers, 12 people in marketing, four other lawyers and two psychologists. Boras says his development and scouting division has 40 people across amateur leagues, the minors and majors.

As of Aug. 31, Boras represented 71 players on active rosters and injured lists. Just behind with 69 was Excel Sports Group, whose baseball division is headed by Casey Close, a former Big 10 Triple Crown winner at Michigan who eschews publicity and is married to 1989 Miss America and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson. While Excel's players totaled a FanGraphs WAR of about 92 last season, Boras' clients added to approximately 127.

"He consistently signs the best young players in the game and produces cutting-edge results for them when they're mature big leaguers," said Jeff Moorad, who competed against Boras as an agent before becoming an executive with San Diego and Arizona. "Scott was always more focused on specific projected results, and I tended to focus more on comfort and feel, letting my own track record tell the story as it related to results. Scott would often predict what a particular outcome could be."

Boras says his pitch simplifies to: "You are the best. You deserve the best. And you have a value."

Primarily a second baseman who played as high as Double-A, Boras realized he would not reach the majors.

‘He was very smart. He knew the game. I used to call him the clubhouse lawyer — I mean that in a good way," Oberkfell said. “He was a very, very, very, very good defensive player. Offensively, he was like me ... a line drive, gap hitter, not a lot of power."

Boras had his third knee operation after the 1977 season and enrolled at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law the following year.

Putting his Doctor of Pharmacy degree to use, he was an associate in the medical practice department of Chicago's Rooks, Pitts and Poust when he was contacted by Mike Fischlin, a former youth ball teammate. Fischlin asked him to negotiate his contract with Cleveland when he became eligible for arbitration for the first time. Boras worked out an $85,000 salary in 1983 — more than double the $35,000 minimum.

"My teammates, they'd call and say, 'You should do this. You played. You're an attorney. You know what to do. You know the game,'" Boras recalled.

Concluding that top baseball draft picks from high school and college were underpaid, he became the adviser to players Tim Belcher and Kurt Stillwell in 1983. They became the top two selections in the amateur draft; Belcher refused to sign and Stillwell agreed to a $135,000 signing bonus, matching what top pick Shawon Dunston received from the Chicago Cubs the previous year.

Boras' next big step was when pitcher Bill Caudill, a former minor league teammate, hired him before his arbitration hearing with Toronto in February 1985. Boras negotiated a deal guaranteeing $4 million for three years.

He is credited with inventing the first significant opt out, which let Rodriguez terminate his $252 million, 10-year deal after an MVP season in 2007. That allowed him to negotiate a $275 million, 10-year agreement. He's represented 123 first-round draft picks, including 12 who were first overall.

Some say other agents have agreed to under-market deals for clients before they reach free agency, fearing Boras will poach them as the chance for a bigger payday approaches.

"There's no question when you look at some of the deals, they're almost unexplainable," he said.

Boras returns calls while running on a treadmill or shaving, and the slick blazer of his early career has been replaced mostly by a sweat jacket with a company logo. A workaholic, he had prostate cancer surgery about nine years ago and a heart valve replaced approximately five years ago. He says he was back at work within five days. Foreign travel isn't much fun — impossible during the offseason and unsatisfying during the season.

"I went to Paris and I was supposed to stay 10 days," he said. "I couldn't because I couldn't sleep. Every night at 3 o'clock in the morning, I'm turning on the games and I'm watching."

He has 18 employees who have been with him for roughly two decades, a group that includes Fischlin, Mike Fiore, Jeff Musselman, Scott Chiamparino and Bob Brower. Daughter Natalie, 31, and son Shane, 30, both work for the company after getting MBAs from Southern California. She manages social media, and he is in finance and corporate management. Son Trent, 26, is a student at Loyola Law School in California.

“We have a corporate board and the cocoon of ownership will remain intact and the operation of the business will be the same,” Boras said. "And the people involved in it will be the same. And I anticipate that 30 years down the road, whatever, that this company is going to be better. The reason is the people are going to have more experience, be better trained. There's a whole bunch of talented minds in this company that are much smarter and brighter than I am."

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AP Baseball Writers Janie McCauley and Ben Walker contributed to this report.

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