CARLSBAD, Calif. — Powerful veteran agent Scott Boras blasted Major League Baseball’s economic system Wednesday, believing that Atlanta’s World Series championship was a byproduct of teams no longer trying to compete.
Atlanta, which was a sub-.500 team until Aug. 6, made six trades before the July 30 deadline that helped catapult it to the NL East title and an 88-76 record, and past the 95-win Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Division Series, the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS and the 95-win Houston Astros in the World Series.
There’s something dreadfully wrong, Boras says, when so many teams are surrendering in midseason and virtually handing a team the keys to a potential championship.
“It’s not about the Atlanta Braves or about their general manager or ownership,’’ Boras said, “it’s really about the rules and the rules that allowed them to be a less than .500 team on Aug. 1, and add from teams that no longer wanted to compete, and for very little cost.
“So, in effect, the integrity of the 2021 season changed because it was a race to the bottom to get draft picks for many, many teams unloading payroll, and not in any way respecting the integrity of divisional races and/or the dynamic of what a world championship should mean. …
“It’s not about the Atlanta Braves, it’s just the fact that the system allowed them to do that.’’
Boras, who spoke for 55 minutes at the annual general managers’ meetings, said that the current draft system in baseball is broken, causing teams to intentionally lose to gain future top draft picks since 2012. He doesn’t blame teams for exploiting the system, knowing it led the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros to World Series titles; and teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates all losing 100 games in recent years to gain top picks.
There are currently only 17 teams, at the most, Boras says, who are trying to even win in 2022.
“This is the Easter bunny,’’ Boras says, “delivering rotten eggs.’’
Boras insists that he is not getting directly involved in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, saying he simply relays information to his players. He represents four of the eight players on the union’s powerful executive committee.
Yet, he believes that until the system changes in which there is a cost certainty for draft picks, there will continue to be competitive unbalance. The top six teams in payroll averaged 90 victories last year while the bottom six teams averaged just 75 victories.
“It created an incentive for the race to the bottom,’’ Boras said. “Being non-competitive, trading off their players, is making the game and the season very different than what it was intended to be.
“You must make competitive requirements of winning and retaining the integrity so every team has a reason to win every game. … We have seen a non-competitive cancer occur as a result of a bargaining change. It’s not good for the game. It’s not how our game should be played. It’s one of the greatest problems in Major League Baseball today.’’
The Kansas City Royals are the lone small-market team to win a World Series championship since 2003, and the Tampa Bay Rays are the only team with a bottom five payroll to advance past the division series since 2012.
“We need to return to a draft where cost certainty and the pick are not rewarded for losing,’’ Boras said. “You must make competitive requirements of winning and retaining the integrity so every team has a reason to win every game.’’
There were six teams that lost at least 95 games last season, including four that lost 100 games, including two 110-losers in Baltimore and Arizona.
The payroll disparity was the greatest in baseball history with the Los Angeles Dodgers having the highest payroll at $282.7 million, four times as much as Cleveland’s $60.2 million payroll.
Major League Baseball has proposed a salary floor of $100 million, which would have caused five teams to raised their payroll a year ago, but Boras believes that a floor would create only a bigger problem.
“They give you the rowboat of the minimum,’’ Boras said, “but the tidal wave of the ceiling on the maximum just drowns the whole concept. …
“I’ve never been about floors. When you do minimums, we’ve seen abuses of this and other leagues where they’re signing players that aren’t a value, aren’t a purpose, and affects that team for not only that year but years to come.’’
Boras refused to predict whether there would be a work stoppage, only that it would be severely detrimental to the industry if the season doesn’t open on time.
“I don’t think any fan or any one player or owner relishes the idea of interruption of the game,’’ Boras says. “Certainly, we all want a level of understanding that allows management and labor to work together. Obviously, we’ve got problems.
“We’ve got problems now because we’ve got great players being moved in the middle of the season that hurt the teams they left with a design that they’re going to be weaker. We don’t ever want a system that rewards being a lesser team.’’
In the meantime, Boras says teams have been aggressive in pursuit of his prized free-agent stable, which includes the likes of Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto and Carlos Rodón.
And, yes, he had prepared quips for each one of them …
Bryant: “He’s kind of the Sean Connery of baseball. He has positional versatility, which makes him untouchable. He has Bond-like abilities to create a giant middle of the lineup. He’s always red hot in the hunt for October. He’s an extraordinary gentleman and in a league of his own.”
Castellanos: “I advised all of you two years ago that Ol’ Saint Nick was going to bring a lot of presents to Cincinnati. Frankly, we’re just going to sit back and see what teams have been naughty or nice.’’
Semien: “He kind of brings a charge to the batter’s box. He insulates the middle infield. He’s truly a modern-day Semien conductor and we all know there’s a shortage of chips worldwide.’’
Seager: “The thing about Seager, [Bob] Segers are used to being on big stages. They have big hits. You can think of all of those Hollywood nights and postseason MVP. You know, homers against the wind. Frankly, he’s a guy that everybody knows, he’s like a rock. Of course, his parents knew this. That’s why they named him Corey.”
Conforto: “He basically has become the king of Queens.’’
In the meantime, Boras awaits, seeing what the future holds in the next collective bargaining agreement, hoping to reduce the six years needed for free agency, or at least prevent service-time manipulation that keeps players in the minors longer than needed.
“You know, there’s many creative solutions to it,’’ Boras said. “The collective bargaining agreement said that you get to be a free agent after six years, not seven. And now the rule of thumb is that six years have turned into seven.
“So now that we’ve identified the problem, we have to create the solution that allows for whatever the free-agent limit is and the new agreement as when players are free agents. We have to make sure that that is without manipulation, and that the intentions of the parties in the agreement are fulfilled to the exact term of the agreement.’’
Boras looked at his watch. Time was up. Less than three weeks remains until the labor agreement expires at 11:59 p.m., Dec. 1.
The clock is ticking.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.