The first thing you have to do is imagine Scott Boras in long, white, flowing robes, with a six-year beard and a twitchy eye. That’s what I’m assuming he looks like when he gives these quotes, and any pictures you find of him in a suit are from several years ago. His brain has expanded now, and he’s not the one who has broken the English language. He’s the one fixing it for the future generations that can keep up with him.
For example, this is what he said about Shohei Ohtani:
He is precocious, greatness cast adrift, forced into the MLB lifeboat.
“I have watched an international superstar crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. That's my nightmare: crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor and surviving.”
To Boras’ larger point, he thinks that Ohtani is getting hosed under the salary-suppressing red tape of the CBA, that it’s a transparent transfer of money in an upward direction, and that it’s an embarrassingly bad look for Major League Baseball.
He’s absolutely right.
But first, let’s tone down the rhetoric just a wee bit. We don’t need to run everything through an English-to-Esperanto-to-Welsh-to-Luxembourgish-to-Borasian translator like Boras does before every sentence.
Is this an international event or an international incident?
It’s neither. This is a story about millions that were willingly given up by a player who has already received millions and will still get even more millions. I don’t need a lot of coaxing to spew outrage on this here website, but the ol’ Outrage-O-Meter 3000 is barely beeping for this one.
That doesn’t mean Boras doesn’t have a great point. Think about this in the simplest terms. There is a person who wants to be employed by a private company. This company has a legal monopoly in its country. It has rules in place to suppress salaries artificially, which means this person will be underpaid by roughly $200 million. The money that isn’t spent will benefit the owner or ownership group, and the franchise will gain value as a result.
It’s, at the very least, a little squicky. In a decade, Ohtani will have millions of dollars to console himself, so perspective is absolutely necessary, but it’s a clear case of money going to anybody but the player who is actually responsible for generating it. I’m as guilty of anyone for being excited at the idea that my favorite team can sign him and afford to spend the savings on other shiny free agents, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.
Here’s the unspoken corollary to this, though: Baseball screws every young player. It’s baked into the system. And it’s not like Boras doesn’t realize this — he has red, fiery, flowing robes when he delivers his missives on this point — but focusing on Ohtani is a great way to forget that Tony Sipp made more than 10 times as much money last year than Carlos Correa. It’s a great way to forget that Bryce Harper would have received at least a $99 million contract instead of the $9.9 million contract he got after the Nationals drafted him.
The system is designed to suppress salaries for players in their peak years. The MLBPA agreed to this in exchange for the potential reward at the end, which is the right of players to get overpaid for their declining years. Ohtani will fit this timeline perfectly, becoming a free agent when he’s around 30 or 31 years old, just like Lance Lynn and Jay Bruce, who will reap millions. You know, just like Peter Bourjos and Rob Scahill.
In other words, this is only a noticeable screwing because of how close Ohtani was to being a truly free agent. If the CBA made it so that international free agents couldn’t sign big contracts until they were 30 or 31, Ohtani would be just another young player, getting hosed by the industry that couldn’t succeed without young players.
Before spiraling down the whirlpool of righteousness, I’d like to point out that this system isn’t entirely cruel to players. There’s a little symbiosis going on. The only reason teams like the Brewers and Twins can compete is because of the artificial suppression of salaries. They can build affordable teams with 20-somethings. This helps the competitive balance of baseball. The state of competitive balance is healthy enough to help all 30 teams. This helps the popularity of the sport, which helps drive revenue to the players. It’s a complicated financial web, and I’m not qualified to untangle it.
I know that if Boras had his druthers, he would make every amateur player, every international player, and every rookie a free agent. There would be no discounts for young players, and this would crush baseball in some markets, which wouldn’t be good for the overall health of the sport.
The overall point stands. Shohei Ohtani is getting hosed. He will be underpaid by so much that his new team should feel guilty and embarrassed. But so will Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, who are subsidizing the monstrous contracts helping the Dodgers compete. We’re just used to that distinction. We’re not just used to it, actually, but we’re counting on it to make the baseball world spin around. It’s ethically dubious, but somehow it leads to better competitive balance, so, thanks? I’m incredibly conflicted on this whole mess.
Still, I’ll save the deepest outrage for the players in Single-A right now who are working at Staples for the holiday season. You know, the ones who will get spit out on the other side of the industry, either 30 years old or close to it, without any skills that are transferable to another career. Some of these players will have given up a chance at a college education, and now they have to catch up with other people their age, who had a decade-long head start on building a sustainable career. Now that’s something worth ranting about.
When it comes to Ohtani, he’s getting hosed in a very familiar, very acceptable way. It doesn’t feel right, but none of this does. And if you’re looking for a conclusion that tells you what to do or how to feel, sorry. I’m fresh out. I have no idea what the right answer is. I just know that young baseball players are underpaid at almost every level, and that Ohtani is a young player. The only reason we’re noticing this time is because international players have a better chance of getting rich when they’re younger.
I wouldn’t be opposed to players having a better chance of getting rich when they’re younger, really. So when you cut through the bizarre rhetoric and twisted analogies, Scott Boras is absolutely right. But I don’t see how young players will ever get enough leverage to improve their position — not when the veterans have the bargaining power, and a huge chunk of that sweet young player cash flows in their direction — so all we can do is wait for the next State of the Boras address.
He’ll probably have some good and strange points then, too.