Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Selling Prince Fielder is big business
By Jerry Crasnick
In conjunction with Prince Fielder's free-agent debut, his representatives at the Scott Boras Corporation produced a 73-page binder celebrating his achievements in the game. The book originally encompassed eight sections, but the Boras folks added a ninth after Fielder finished third in the National League Most Valuable Player race -- marking the third time since 2007 that he has cracked the top five.
Boras recently distributed the book to assorted general managers, team owners and media members. He also gave a copy to Fielder, who walked with an extra spring in his step after examining the contents.
"Prince is a very modest guy, but there were a few things in there he really, really loved," Boras said. "He told me, 'I don't have much in my man cave -- just my Silver Slugger [Awards] and some other things I've done. But this book is going in my man cave.' I figure if we made it into his man cave, it held high standards."
Fielder, one of baseball's top two free agents this winter alongside Albert Pujols, now has the stage almost exclusively to himself. Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels last week, and shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle have dropped off the board as well. That leaves Boras clients Fielder, Ryan Madson and Edwin Jackson among the top tier of players still available.
Boras has argued from the outset that Fielder is a separate case from Pujols, because Fielder four years younger and will be 35 at the end of his next contract even if he signs an eight-year deal. Fielder has never been known for his defense, but Boras contends that his youth and durability make him a fit for National League teams as well as AL clubs, because he'll be able to continue playing first base for a while yet.
It's still anybody's guess where Fielder will land. The Seattle Mariners are a candidate because they need a big power bat and general manager Jack Zduriencik drafted Fielder out of high school in his previous tenure as Milwaukee scouting director. Toronto seems intrigued, but CEO Paul Beeston has declared a moratorium on deals of more than five years in length. The Cubs are talking to Fielder, the Orioles are free to dream, and the Rangers, Nationals and Marlins keep resurfacing in speculation no matter how adamantly they deny it might happen.
When the website mlbtraderumors.com invited its readers to take a stab at Fielder's destination, it received more than 37,000 responses. Almost 24 percent of baseball fans predicted Fielder will sign with the Cubs. Seattle and Texas were the only other teams to surpass 10 percent in the poll.
|Prince Fielder was second in the National League in both home runs (38) and RBIs (120) in 2011.|
If aspiring Prince Fielder suitors need a nudge, they might want to consult "The Book."
Boras produced his first binder of this type before Alex Rodriguez signed his $252 million deal with Texas in 2000. Cooperstown called to request a copy, and the A-Rod book now sits in the Hall of Fame library beside the binder that Boras produced for Greg Maddux upon his retirement in 2008.
This year, Boras put out similar books for Madson, Jackson and fellow free agents Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Pena. No offense to Boras clients Willie Bloomquist and Bruce Chen, but they'll have to find something else to put in their man caves.
What some people might call promotion or marketing Boras views as hard-core information sharing. He's a paid enlightener.
"It's kind of a catharsis for me when we do these books to say, 'What's a player's standing historically? What's his standing currently? What does he mean to a franchise?'" Boras said.
"My attitude is, it never hurts. It educates our staff, the players and myself. And it educates members of the media and may prompt further thought for their articles. I've never had a general manager say, 'No, I don't want one.' They like the information. I had one general manager say, 'You gave me two of them on a couple of players, and I put them by my bedside and looked at them at night.'"
Boras is no different from other agents who assemble reams of statistics on their clients and pass the info along to baseball executives. As Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin notes, he recently received an informational packet from agents Rex Gary and Jim Turner on behalf of clients Brad Lidge and Jon Rauch, and was particularly impressed by Lidge's charity work and involvement in the community. Similarly, Melvin finds some useful nuggets in Boras' binders.
"There are times I leaf through them, and I think they help," Melvin said. "It's not as detailed as an arbitration case, but it's a good selling point. It's no different than a car dealership putting out a brochure on why you should buy an Audi or a Range Rover. This is a world of statistics, and we can get caught up and buried among some useful stats and some wasted stats."
Boras' books attract lots of attention because he represents so many big-name players, but there's also a painstaking attention to quality and detail in the product. The homage to Fielder is encased in a silver aluminum antimicrobial binder and features black cardstock dividers, metal rivets and the Boras company logo emblazoned in the lower left-hand corner of the cover. It's not the type of production that's hastily assembled at Kinko's at 3 a.m.
"I told Scott the other day, 'It's fireproof,"' Melvin said, laughing. "It's a fireproof booklet. Even if you wanted to throw it away, you can't."
A Prince-ly profile
The information within is destined to make any team believe that it's getting a bargain regardless of how much money it spends. Fielder's life story includes separate sections dedicated to his power, plate discipline and durability. The first section in the book proclaims him "Historically Great Through Age 27," and the momentum builds from there:
• The book is sprinkled with laudatory, previously publicized quotes from Heath Bell, Tony La Russa, Ron Roenicke and fellow Brewers Randy Wolf and Ryan Braun, who once said of Fielder, "He's the strongest man in baseball, no doubt. I really think he could hold his own in the World's Strongest Man competition."
• The "Built Fielder Tough" section points out that he's one of only 10 players in history to appear in at least 959 games over any six-year span. The others: Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Juan Pierre, Cal Ripken Jr., Pete Rose, Ron Santo, Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Tejada and Billy Williams. Unfortunately, there's no room at the inn for Lou Gehrig, who topped out at 928 games back in the days of the 154-game schedule.
• Section 2 duly notes that Fielder has 230 home runs through age 27. Only three Hall of Fame first basemen -- Jimmie Foxx, Orlando Cepeda and Harmon Killebrew -- surpassed 200 homers by that age.
• In the Projections portion of the book, Boras' statistical analysts gaze into the future and point out that in five years, Fielder will have joined Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott and Babe Ruth as one of six players with 400 homers, 1,000 RBIs and 1,000 walks through age 32. A few pages later, the book projects that Fielder will have 600 homers, 1,700 RBIs and 1,500 walks by age 37. Those totals would place him in the exclusive company of Ruth and Barry Bonds.
|A 73-page binder celebrates everything about Prince Fielder.|
Inevitably, the books elicit some eye-rolling in front offices. Baseball executives also find their eyes glazing over when Boras starts pontificating about franchise values and the specifics of TV rights deals. One general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it's impossible to take the historical comparisons too seriously because differences in eras are lacking and the portrayal is inevitably slanted 100 percent in favor of Boras' clients. Indeed, he thinks the binders are meant to impress Boras' players as much as potential suitors.
"I think they're a curiosity," the GM said. "It's kind of like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar. You look forward to it coming out each year. But you're not really going to do anything about it.
"This is as much about client retention as anything else. This is the client saying, 'Boy, is Scott working for me or what?"'
In the end, a team without the resources to play in Boras' sandbox isn't going to chase his players with phantom cash. Clubs have their own research departments, and they're going to form their own judgments on players and stick within a budget -- unless, of course, the Boras binder falls into the hands of the owner, who's so smitten by the contents that he steps in and big-foots the process.
"There was one instance where it proved to be a very, very important part of the team's consideration," Boras said. "The general manager gave it to the owner, and he looked at it and said, 'Wow, I didn't know this guy was that good.'"
Boras is selective in releasing the books, in part because he wants to make sure they don't fall into the hands of people with ulterior motives. A few years ago, the Boras agency was surprised to find a player's binder posted for sale online. The same free-market forces that prompt an owner to spend $254 million for Albert Pujols or lord-knows-what on Prince Fielder are bound to spur some enterprising, guerrilla capitalist from snaking the merchandise and shopping it to the highest bidder.
"It's like when people come to the ballpark and ask me to sign a ball on the sweet spot," Boras said. "I've done it, and then I see someone try to sell one on eBay."
If you think that's just super-agent bluster, we checked, and there are currently four Scott Boras-signed baseballs for sale on eBay, with one bid starting at $50. When a man spends most of his life pitching superstars, it's inevitable that he's going to become a bit of a commodity himself.
Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via email.
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