ORLANDO, Fla. – Right from the beginning of these high-stakes negotiations, Scott Boras so obviously wants to play one free agent against another, implicitly contrasting Jake Arrieta’s big-game experience as a Cub with Yu Darvish’s awful World Series performance for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I don’t want address a specific franchise,” Boras said. “But in the law, we call it ‘res ipsa loquitur.’ It speaks for itself. I said earlier in the season that while we can’t talk about nuts with the exception of squirrels and trees, I just say this: Jake Arrieta, he’s a big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.”
Rocking a bright blue sport coat, a white dress shirt and jeans, the super-agent stood outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando on Wednesday afternoon and delivered a State of Boras Corp. address for roughly 45 minutes, dropping all sorts of metaphors about the gated community he calls “Playoffville.”
Boras spun it like this at the general manager/ownership meetings in Florida: To move to a better neighborhood – and get improved services, a new sense of security and a higher overall net worth – you have to pay more property taxes.
That sales pitch will go nowhere with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who have overseen a renaissance at Wrigley Field, take the long-range view and understand the luxury-tax implications in the collective bargaining agreement and how that limits ways to acquire more talent.
“First of all, you have to give Theo and Tom a great deal of credit,” said Boras, who routinely criticized Cubs ownership during the rebuilding years. “They may have increased their franchise value by a billion dollars in three or four years. They have a new TV contract coming up. And they have this amazing group of everyday players that are young, gifted. They have all these choices.
“This isn’t the Windy City. This is the economic hurricane in Chicago of what the Cubs have done. It is something where with the value of the franchise, the amount of money rolling in, the revenues annually, in the future, the Cubs can do whatever they choose to do in this free-agent market and the next one. To not have championship pitchers on your team – there aren’t many of them.”
Well, the Cubs still have Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, who combined already own four World Series rings, but this stump speech wasn’t really for a Chicago audience, anyway. Boras needs to appeal to the type of team the Cubs used to be, desperate to finally win a World Series and convinced this will be the year. Boras can also market Arrieta as a Lester-like presence worth the nine-figure investment for the rotation, around the clubhouse and in October.
“There is no one with the championship-caliber numbers of Jake Arrieta in this market,” Boras said. “We know that. We have seen what great talents do in the postseason. Some do really, really well and they take that environment and win with it. And others in that environment with great ability do not do anywhere near that.
“The goal is to win now with this team. I don’t think there’s any general manager, manager, anyone that doesn’t want a guy that’s going to win World Series games for you and elimination games.”
It’s different when Arrieta has already done it for you – from winning the 2015 National League wild-card game to beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series – and will be 32 next season.
But Boras – who could slow down the entire winter when his clients also include J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – will find a team that believes it’s one pitcher away from winning the 2018 World Series.
“I go back to Cleveland,” Boras said. “If Jake Arrieta doesn’t win Game 6, they don’t win. And there’s a lot of pitchers who do not win Game 6s or 7s and their teams lose and they don’t become world champions.
“Other organizations are seeking that. When you have a guy like that out there, I don’t know why you would not want him – and want him long-term – because he brings a dimension to you that few teams have.”
The Dodgers just lost a seven-game World Series where Darvish – a heralded trade-deadline addition and the other top-of-the-rotation talent now on the open market – got 10 outs combined in two starts against the Houston Astros.
The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988 and Boras obviously rolled with a question about moving from “Playoffville” to “Championship Town.”
“There are lessons about who pitchers are in the postseason,” Boras said. “There is that defined group of stellar pitchers, Cy Young types who have won the award, been in the voting for two or three years. They are really, really good at performing at high levels during the season, and that’s a great value to a franchise.
“And then there’s the ultimate cherry on top of those pitchers that have the ability to perform in the postseason where they distinguish themselves from all others. That’s winning elimination games.
“You look at (Justin) Verlander. You look at (Madison) Bumgarner. You look at Arrieta. They have separated themselves from the pack. They’ve won the big games. They’ve won the World Series games.
“And I think when owners are looking for not only great performance to elevate them into the postseason – excuse me, ‘Playoffville’ – the theme of it is that those big games, those pivotal games where you’ve got leads, and you know how to keep ‘em, your team is winning those games.
“That, to me, is where value is for an owner. They’re all hunting for the trophy. They’re all hunting for those moments.”
This angle just might work, but it's just so much harder to see it with the Cubs when Arrieta already helped them build their dream house and put down roots in "Playoffville."