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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: August 8, 2022 10:29 pm PDT
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Whether Juan Soto gets traded by this evening’s deadline will remain a hot topic throughout the day with executives, players and fans likely refreshing their social media feeds seemingly every second to see where the difference maker will be when the sun sets.

If he remains in Washington or is headed to points north, south or west, perception of the young star will have changed in the eyes of many. How could it not? He turned down a 14-year contract extension worth $440 million, a deal that would have set him, along with his family, up for generations.

Considering the state of the country these days and the economic hardships felt by many, walking away from that kind of scratch is certain to have some people wondering about this young man’s true objective. Is it to get the most money humanly possible, squeezing whatever team employs him for every last penny imaginable? Does he care about being part of a team or working with those around him to create a winner?

Sure, let the snickering begin on that last point but there are some players who have actually taken less so that others around them could have more, thus allowing ownership to bring in more talent in an effort to create a winner. Look no further than Tom Brady. The greatest quarterback of all-time and arguably the greatest player the NFL has ever seen spent two decades in New England and all he came away with was a fortune, seven Super Bowl championships [six with New England], a supermodel wife and a post-playing career as a broadcaster that will only add to his riches.

Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals takes a knee before the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park on July 31, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Soto is a tremendous player, of that there is no doubt. But he is not baseball’s version of Tom Brady. If you look at the game today, exactly who is? Mike Trout came close production-wise for nearly a decade but has no rings to show for it and now with his back betraying him, he may never get to that level again. Aaron Judge? Not likely. He’s having a tremendous season and turned down ridiculous money himself this spring [that’s a whole other story] but his age, injury history and lack of any titles doesn’t even put him close to a player like Brady.

Sure, we’ll wait for all the folks with the apples and oranges comparisons to have their say before we point this out – if the greatest player in the recent history of team sports can leave money on the table to continue winning why can’t Soto?

Take one look at what the Braves did with Ozzie Albies [seven-year deal] and Ronald Acuna [eight-year deal]. They locked up each player long-term in 2019 for handsome sums neither of which crippled Atlanta’s budget. Both took less and then took grief for leaving money on the table when they should have been commended for securing a great financial future not only for themselves but for their families.

“They won’t have someone with some minor league team rubbing their back and saying you’re a good boy, don’t worry. They’re going to have someone ready to cut your balls off. ”

Part of the problem with the current situation is Soto, I would imagine. Ego, greed, an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance could all be factors and the decision to seek such a contract could be solely his. However, when you think about who his agent is, well, then you have to wonder who is actually driving this engine. Scott Boras has made a fortune of his own as an agent and does very well in terms of making his clients money while getting the last drop of blood from every stone around.

Turning down the largest guaranteed contracted in Major League history, that’s more than likely all Boras. At this point, should anyone be surprised? We spoke with one Major League executive last week who made no bones about pointing out how the greed factor comes into play here.

“Also, when I read the [initial] media report about Soto, I couldn’t help but wonder who the agent is,” the executive said. “Here is a guy who has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from baseball and is still not satisfied. He’s operating under the guise of doing right by the player. What can you do with $440 million, though, that you can’t do with $300 million or $200 million? I think this is an obscenity that people have declined to observe. So quit running for the cover of having to do right by the player. That’s baloney. It’s just a cover for someone being greedy.”

Agent Scott Boras sits with Washington Nationals Juan Soto, wearing a Trea Turner Nationals jersey, cheers in the stands during the MLB National League Wild Card game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 6, 2021 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This week, we spoke to an agent who says Boras’ take no prisoners style works much of the time but there are also times when it doesn’t. Some players have been hurt by Boras’ guerilla tactics but the success and victories he’s racked up far outweigh the losses.

“He runs a very ‘us against the world’ mentality,” the agent said. “There is no idea of let’s figure out a fair deal here. They [the clubs] are the enemy and we need to maximize every penny we can get. And there are other issues with him. You can read a ton of articles about it. The other agents are jealous, sure. But in a certain respect, they are fearful he’ll come in and swoop him [the player] up.

“My philosophy is that every player has different needs and different goals. I’ve had [young] players that I’ve tried to convince not to sign, not because they weren’t offered enough money but because of maturity issues and things like that. They won’t have someone with some minor league team rubbing their back and saying you’re a good boy, don’t worry. They’re going to have someone ready to cut your balls off. He just has a different way of how he handles business.”

While Boras’ outfit does offer things that many other agencies do not – the best trainers, the best doctors, the best this, the best that – there can be a lack of personal service. The agent with whom we spoke said that the attention that is afforded Soto isn’t necessarily what the kid playing in Double-A gets.

“He preaches about the best and he reinvests in his business; that’s all true,” the agent with whom we spoke said. “But do you want to have the kind of representation where you won’t have a close relationship if you are a young player? You’re going to be handed off to Mr. Jones or Miss X. he’s not going to be hand holding. He’s not flying into Reading, Pennsylvania if you’re having a problem. If you’re comfortable with that philosophy, fine. It’s just a different world. He’s tenacious.”

Right fielder Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals swings during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Scott Boras watches batting practice before the game between the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on May 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

That tenacity has gotten Boras the most high-profile clients in the game. It’s also gotten him a well-earned reputation as someone with whom dealing is difficult. The Nationals learned that with Soto as will any team that trades for him. Boras has a list of client opt-outs, testy negotiations and, it would seem, a somewhat myopic approach. After all, if his client takes less money and the club uses that money to build a championship team, everyone should be happy. The player still gets a hefty sum and potentially walks away with a championship ring. Ask Brady how that felt.

Not everyone would be happy, though. There’s a certain someone who wouldn’t be satisfied.

“The bottom line is that he is trying to maximize his client’s value,” the agent said. “If the value is $400 million, he wants to get him $400 million. I think the question, though, is not why is Boras seeking $400 million? The question should be why would a team give a player a 15-year guaranteed contract?”

That’s an excellent question but one for another time. We’re sure, however, that Scott Boras would have his reasons.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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