The calendar has once again put Scott Boras into the spirit.
Coming holidays have nothing to do with his joy. He’s giddy, revved, his premium salesman self again because the regular season is over, which means free agency has begun.
Annually, Boras has a large grip on the market and the Nationals’ future. This year, he’s in a white-knuckle place. Boras represents both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. He also represents starter Gerrit Cole. Those three are the top free agents -- by a wide swath -- this offseason, putting Boras in a place of leverage he may always talk from but likely has this time.
The Nationals have long felt Boras’ influence, on both good and bad fronts. He convinced Nationals founding principal owner Ted Lerner that Max Scherzer was worth $210 million and, more importantly, a seven-year commitment when other teams did not believe that to be the case. The contract has been a coup despite its hefty numbers. But, Boras also provided underwhelming veterans to the Washington roster. Matt Wieters and Jeremy Hellickson are among those who come to mind.
This time around, he has curious clients. They’re different. Neither is Bryce Harper in flamboyance or age. Both have established relationships with the Nationals. The vetting process is unnecessary and even an exchange of numbers is probably well in the past. Two huge, but somewhat reticent, stars coming from the same team after winning the World Series will be new for everyone.
Rendon has used his own leverage on Boras. Back in spring training, when Rendon told NBC Sports Washington negotiations with the Nationals “hit a wall,” he also made clear how he perceived the agent-player relationship when it came to him and Boras.
“What everyone has the misconception of is they think that we work for Scott,” Rendon said. “Like, no. That’s not the way it works. Like, I’m telling him how it’s going and you can ask him. We’ve gotten (into) some jibber-jabbers before, too. Like, I’m paying him. Nah, [debates] don’t fly with me.”
Move to Media Day at the World Series. Rendon was asked if he thought Boras would be busy this offseason. He quickly answered, “yeah,” then added this poke.
“He’s about to be even richer, too, probably,” Rendon said. “Must be nice.”
Strasburg undermined one of Boras’ prime tenets in 2016 when he signed an extension early. Washington had to trade back-end opt-outs as the cost of keeping Strasburg from the open market. Negotiations then worked from spring training into the first month of the season. Strasburg wanted nothing to do with them until both sides were very close to an agreement.
“I pretty much told Scott to kind of leave me alone as much as possible,” Strasburg said then. "To be honest, it’s hard to block something like that out. It’s your future and your kid’s kids future, too. I think one thing that kept me centered, kept me focused, was why do I play this game. Bottom line was I play this game because I’m a competitor.”
The deal gave Mike Rizzo a chance to crow a tad.
“I think we had a discussion with Scott,” Rizzo said then. “He works for the players. I think this was player-driven -- the agreement. I think that Stephen wanted to be here and he expressed that to Scott. We hammered out the best deal that we could.”
Strasburg agreed with that sentiment at the time, before the World Series, before he found a formula for good health which allowed him to lead the National League in innings pitched in 2019. It's one of the tenets which makes Washington hopeful Strasburg will return.
“I think what they believe in and what I believe in kind of coincide,” Strasburg said of the organization.
Strasburg chose to exercise his first opt-out opportunity. However, what he listed as causes for signing the extension -- level of comfort, opportunity to win, quality of life outside of baseball -- remain in place. The wrinkle is Boras will be working the open market with both of the top-tier pitchers under his guidance.
Typically, competition between agents to define the market can drag out free agency. This offseason, Boras will simultaneously be handling the clients whose markets play off each other. Strasburg’s numbers will influence Cole’s numbers. Their age -- Strasburg is a little more than two years older -- should be the defining point for gap in payment and years. Boras will argue up Strasburg in order to later obtain more money for Cole. Waiting could be beneficial to both players and laborious for fans.
Boras is again in command no matter the ultimate process. Washington’s most pressing issues are in his hands. The league’s most in-demand players are in his hands. So is the future. Juan Soto, a client of the Boras Corporation, becomes a free agent in 2025.
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