SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Scott Boras, who represents the biggest prizes in the free agent market this winter, swung away at baseball’s economic system, believing change is drastically needed, and is responsible for baseball’s declining attendance.
Baseball’s slow free agent market in recent years alone, he believes, has been a contributing factor in baseball’s attendance that declined to its lowest level since 2003.
A year ago, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, each signed after the start of spring training. Just 25% of the free agents last winter signed before January. And free-agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel didn’t sign until June.
The reason for the slow market last winter, Boras says, isn’t greed or unrealistic expectations, but simply the lack of competitiveness in baseball. Five teams lost at least 100 games last season, and 10 lost at least 90 games. The result was a 1.6% decline in attendance. It’s the fourth consecutive attendance drop , and the sixth in the last seven years.
Simply, if your team isn't trying to win, why bother showing up?
And if your team is playing a team who isn’t trying to win, do you really want to spend money when you know the outcome?
ASTROS: MLB must step up with latest cheating revelation
FREE AGENCY: Top 79 players on the market this winter
The New York Yankees, who were two victories shy of reaching the World Series, saw their attendance drop by 5.1%. And for the first time since 1964, the two teams playing in the World Series – the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros – each had a drop in attendance.
“When you go to the zoo, and half the bears are asleep,’’ Boras says, “you’re not able to enjoy the zoo. The industry is in a competitive hibernation, and the fans are reacting to it.
“We got a decline in attendance. We got owners charging more for generations that want to see the game, while we’re losing a generation of young people that are only interested in competition.
“Clubs feel there are greater rewards for losing than winning. And there is nothing to drive them to win because they don’t think it’s smart.’’
There is no salary cap in baseball, yet, only three teams this year eclipsed the $206 million luxury tax threshold. And the Boston Red Sox, who won the 2018 World Series with baseball's highest payroll, have publicly said they want to slash their payroll by $30 million to get below the $208 tax in 2020.
“Our previous commissioner [Bud Selig] put rails on the system because he was very concerned that owners could not control themselves,’’ Boras says. “The luxury tax. Restraints on free agency. Yet, this current commissioner [Rob Manfred] has said that system is wonderful. It’s great. They’re abiding by it. They’re more disciplined.
“If that’s the case, let’s remove the rails, that allows and rewards teams for competing and doing things and allow owners to purse the best talent and availability of talent, which creates greater competition and creates interest for the new generation of fans we have today."
Scott Boras speaks to the media on Wednesday in Scottsdale. (Photo: Matt York, AP)
Certainly, spending money in free agency doesn’t guarantee success. The signing of Harper and Machado didn’t lead to playoff berths for either the Philadelphia Phillies or San Diego Padres. Yet, the two franchises had the largest attendance increases in baseball.
“We have a system that quite frankly is corrupt,’’ Boras says, “because the system does not properly place progressive values of players at all. It’s always regressive. The reality is we got these excellent players performing at extremely high levels, and they’re extremely undervalued.’’
Boras declined to predict whether Gerrit Cole would set a free-agent record for a pitcher, but there’s a better chance of him pitching for the Miami Marlins than not eclipsing David Price’s $217 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
The Angels are the heavy favorites to sign Cole, but Boras put the Yankees on notice, reminding everyone that Max Scherzer was a free agent five years ago, won two Cy Young awards and just led the Nats to the World Series championship.
“Each franchise has windows of opportunity. I think everybody, when they talk about the Yankees, I think everyone views them as a now team. They view them as a club that is very capable of being really, really successful over a four-year or so period. And certainly, they’re in a great place to take advantage of that."
And if the Yankees can’t sign Cole, well, he’s got free-agent pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu, too. He also represents third basemen Anthony Rendon, Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Castellanos.
Boras says it’s time for baseball clubs to value experience. He pointed out the value of 36-year-old infielder Howie Kendrick, who won the ALCS MVP award, and hit the go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the World Series. And he doesn’t even represent Kendrick.
“Ask [21-year-old Nats outfielder] Juan Soto what he does,’’ Boras said. “As what he does to those players in key situations. Ask how he prepares.
“Yet, we have clubs who outwardly reject having those players on their team because they’re too expensive. I don’t want to put any form of revenue into that, because frankly, I don’t want to win 82 games, I want to win 69 games, because I get rewarded for it.
“And that’s in our current system, where the real cancer of it is today.’’
We’ll know in the next few months whether anything will change, but agents at the GM Meetings insist that clubs are showing their most aggressiveness in years. Boras already had lunch last week with Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno, who has shown strong interest in Cole. If the market is slowed this winter, Boras insists, it won’t be by him, but the owners.
“I’m frustrated in the sense because the game’s been hurt by it,’’ Boras said of the slow free-agent market in past years. “Fans want competition. They want to see baseball played as baseball should be played. They don’t want a predictive tone saying, 'Well, be a good fan, and we’ll compete three years from now.' ’’
It may take two years before baseball’s economic system changes with the collective bargaining agreement expiring in December 2021, but a vibrant market this winter will at least be a start.
Break out your checkbooks.
Source: Read Full Article