For nearly three decades, the New York Yankees and baseball super-agent Scott Boras have enjoyed a mutually beneficial—and lucrative—relationship. Boras represented players who stood to earn the sport’s largest contracts and the Yankees had the most money to spend. It was a perfect match. In 1991, Boras scored what was then the largest-ever signing bonus ($1.55 million) for his client, Brien Taylor. That was only the beginning. Bernie Williams, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano all negotiated contracts with the Yankees through Boras.
In recent years, however, the cracks have begun to show. The first came when Rodriguez dropped Boras near the end of the 2010 season, saying: “Some of the things I needed 20 years ago, I don’t really need right now.” Next was Teixeira just six months later—and fewer than three years removed from the eight-year, $180 million contract Boras had negotiated for the all-star first baseman.
Now, Cano has jumped ship to join Roc Nation Sports, a new agency founded by Jay-Z (and affiliated with Creative Artist Agency’s sports division). Cano will serve as the centerpiece for the fledgling agency and, more importantly, is eligible for free agency at the conclusion of the 2013 season. As Grantland’s Jonah Keri points out, the 30-year-old second baseman is by far the most attractive prospective free agent and is likely to command an annual salary well above $15 million due to him in 2013.
Much has been made of the new Cano/Jay-Z partnership and what it means for the Yankees’ chances of signing the four-time all-star (Jay-Z is friends with Rodriguez and a lifelong Yankees fan), but the more intriguing question is what the move means for Boras. While it certainly isn’t a good sign that so many of his New York clients have left him, it’s not quite as disconcerting for baseball’s most notorious agent as it would have been even five years ago.
First, though his stable certainly isn’t what it once was and he had a trying offseason, Boras still has a handful of big-time, up-and-coming talents—most notably his duo in Washington: reigning Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and flamethrower Stephen Strasburg. Harper (who homered twice on Opening Day) and Strasburg (who threw seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball in the same game) are due for huge pay raises when their rookie contracts either expire or are renegotiated in the next few years.
The more significant explanation for why Boras wouldn’t sweat the ongoing Yankees diaspora is that the Bronx Bombers simply aren’t the only game in town anymore. In 2005, when Damon inked his Yankees contract, New York’s payroll was $205 million—over $80 million more than that of Damon’s former team, the Red Sox, and one of just three over $100 million. When A-Rod opted out of his contract in 2007 before eventually re-signing with the Yankees, they had the sport’s largest payroll by more than $55 million. And when Teixeira re-upped with New York before the 2009 season, they had a $209 million payroll, besting the second-place Mets by nearly $80 million.
Those days, by and large, are gone. The Yankees still have the game’s largest payroll at $228 million, but the Dodgers are close behind at $216 million (and will likely claim the top spot next year). Behind those two are a dozen more franchises with payrolls above $100 million. Even if Boras has fallen out of favor with the Yankees and their players—which wouldn’t come as a huge shock, given his reputation in the game—he’ll have plenty of potential suitors eager to negotiate with his talented clients.
The more pressing concern for Boras is whether those clients will remain with him. Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Rafael Soriano, all valuable players, were without contracts as of mid-January. Once heralded as the most ferocious agent in the game—always fighting to get the most for his clients, no matter the cost—Boras and his hardball tactics seem to be more hinderance than help of late.
As for Cano? Well let’s hope for his sake that he has more luck as the client of a hip-hop mogul than Ricky Williams did. Something tells us he will.