What I’m Hearing: While progress towards a deal has finally materialized our insider Bob Nightengale reports the length of the regular season is still a point of contention for players.
PHOENIX — Major League Baseball executives and owners, seething after the union’s latest proposal Thursday, believe agent Scott Boras’ influence has been detrimental in their attempts to reach an agreement for a 2020 season.
“I’m very disappointed,’’ New York Yankees president Randy Levine told USA TODAY Sports, “because I’m hearing more and more from all sides that Scott Boras – who I like and have done a lot of business with throughout the years – is providing confusing and wrong information to people on the union side.
“I hear a lot of talk about the union filing a grievance. I respect our players and I believe they are the heart and soul of the game, and what people come to watch. But I’ve been practicing labor law for 40 years, I think I have a good grasp of what ‘bargaining in good faith’ means. And I don’t believe there’s any chance that any grievance based on the clubs’ failing to bargain in good faith would succeed.’’
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“Randy’s viewpoint is based on innuendo,’’ Boras said. “There’s no basis for his suggestion that he’s providing confusing information. All of the information I’ve given is documented and sourced.’’
Boras and the MLB Players Association vehemently deny that Boras has been a controlling force during these negotiations.
The union countered Thursday with a 70-game proposal, including a $50 million postseason pool and a 50-50 split in the extra TV revenue from expanded playoffs in 2021.
“I’m not involved in these direct negotiations, no way,’’ Boras said. “I haven’t said a word. I don’t know why owners think it works that way.
“My job is representing individual players and consulting with them on their individual needs. I respond only when they ask. The players will call, ask for information, and I’ll respond. I don’t give them opinions. I give them facts. That can help define their opinion rather than giving your opinion.
“I represent a number of players who sit on boards and panels. I’ve got 15 guys who are making $25 million to $35 million a year. These guys have big voices. Let them speak. A lot of times the players don’t agree with the direction the union takes.’’
Several players who aren’t represented by Boras confirm that he has played a role in their negotiations. Some are annoyed with his participation, while others have expressed their gratitude.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer recently criticized Boras in a tweet, calling the agent’s motivations into question:
“Hearing a LOT of rumors about a certain player agent meddling in MLBPA affairs. If true – and at this point, these are only rumors – I have one thing to say… Scott Boras, rep your clients however you want to, but keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.’’
“I talk to Scott every day, and I talk to the union every day ‘’ New York Yankees player representative Zack Britton says. “He has never tried to influence my thoughts with the union. Never. I ask for his advice. He gives it. But he doesn’t interfere with the union business at all.”
There are competing agents who dispute Boras’ claims on his role with the union. One insists he has too much power. Another questioned whether Boras even wanted a season with his hardline stance. Another believes that Boras’ influence doesn’t stretch past his own group of players.
“Scott Boras is not a factor in this equation,’’ one veteran agent said. “He does not have influence over Tony Clark or the player body. He speaks for himself first, and a small number of players second – who always take the exact same position in every situation. The vast majority of players are unified in their position.’’
“There were times in the past some of his actions benefited players, but that’s not the case now. He’s acting entirely in his self-serving interests.’’
Boras, in an email obtained by the Associated Press last month, recommended to his clients that they not alter terms of their March 26 agreement between MLB and the union.
“Remember, games cannot be played without you,” Boras wrote to his clients. “Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.’’
Said Levine, who is chairman of the YES Network: “I personally saw a document he sent out relating to the Yankees that had a lot of misinformation in it. For example, that the Yankees owned 100% of the YES Network, which is not true. (Actually 26%). And that the Yankees made a bond payment ($100 million) on the stadium this year, and it doesn’t count as an expense for this year, and several other misstatements.’’
Boras, who says his data is sourced and documented from Forbes and Sports Business Journal and TV Revenue, represents 71 players on 40-man rosters, the most of any agent, including three of the eight players on the union’s executive subcommittee boards.
“If the union reaches out to me about something relative, they ask me questions,’’ said Boras. “But I’m not offering CBA stuff. It’s more specific contract stuff. It’s always been that way. When they’re in negotiations, I let them negotiate their own stuff. The players are the ones that talk to the union, not me.’’
Some owners, several who have friendly relationships with Boras, still believe Boras has more clout over the union than any other agent and wondered aloud if he scuttled the framework of a deal between Manfred and executive director Tony Clark.
Manfred believed they had a deal that the owners were prepared to vote on Thursday, and approve. The union insists that Clark was in constant communication with attorney Bruce Meyer and other staff members during his four-hour meeting with Manfred, and never consented to a 60-game season, only promising to deliver the proposal to the players.
“We thought there was an agreement,’’ Levine said.
Said Boras: “The owners thought they had a deal from who? Tony still would have had to get authority from the board. Rob couldn’t have gotten away from reaching an agreement without the board.’’
Clark, in response, said Thursday: “It is unequivocally false to suggest that any tentative agreement or other agreement was reached in that meeting. In fact, in conversations within the last 24 hours, Rob invited a counterproposal for more games that he would take back to the owners. We submitted that counterproposal today.”
On Thursday, Manfred also weighed in on the disagreement, wondering aloud: “I don’t know what Tony and I were doing there for several hours going back and forth and making trades if we weren’t reaching an agreement.”
Boras insists he was in meetings and unaware of the proposal until late afternoon Wednesday, and that his players on the executive boards weren’t even scheduled to see the formal proposal until Thursday.
“When the union gets a proposal, they’ll pass them onto the players, and the players will have a meeting,’’ Boras said. “The players will call me and talk about the proposals. We’ll have discussions individually. I don’t talk to them as a group, just individually. Then they’ll go on and do what they have to do.
“I get my information from my clients. Tony communicates the information to union officials, they distribute the information to the players, and then to me. Bruce doesn’t call me. It doesn’t work that way.’’
Boras still believes the season should be at least 70 games, playing regular-season games in October and the postseason in November. Yet, MLB has been told by health officials to anticipate a second wave of COVID-19 this fall, threatening the postseason and wiping out nearly $1 billion in TV revenue.
“If the question is time,’’ said Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Los Angeles Times, “I would try to keep it in the core summer months and end it now with the way we play the World Series until the end of October when it’s cold.’’
MLB wants to end the regular season by Sept. 27 before beginning a 16-team postseason, but needs an agreement with the union to expand from 10 teams, including an extra round of playoffs.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement, Manfred can simply mandate a season of 50-54 games. The players will be guaranteed $1.5 billion for 60 games in the latest proposal, with each game worth about $25 million in salaries. If Manfred sets the schedule without the union’s approval, the players will play the games, but threatened a grievance.
“I think the March 26 agreement is very clear,’’ Levine said. “Once the players are paid 100% – which the clubs agreed to in their latest offer – then it’s up to the commissioner to set the schedule.
“If I was a lawyer in this case, I would say there’s a 90% chance the clubs would defeat a grievance. So if Scott and Bruce Meyer really do believe that they should win, they should put it in writing to each and every player that they believe they have better than a 50% chance of winning a grievance.’’
Certainly, time is of the essence. MLB wanted to resume spring training by June 28, giving the players three weeks of spring training. The longer the negotiations drag on, the fewer games in the calendar to have a season of at least 60 games.
“The sticking point is the number of games, we may not be able to get there,” Levine said, “which might actually lead to a situation where the players’ side winds up with less than 60 games. The bottom line is if the players really do mean, “when and where’, and I do believe them, let’s just negotiate the health and safety protocols. Have the commissioner set the schedule.
“And then let’s play ball.’’
If it were only that easy.