It’s 11:54 a.m. on the second day of baseball’s Winter Meetings, and two young men arrive in the jam-packed lower lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, carrying a backdrop emblazoned with the logo of the Boras Corp.
They cut through a mass of maybe 200 baseball writers, broadcasters, and cameramen to place the backdrop. A few scribes who’ve come early to stake out great positions are displaced and now must scramble to find another vantage point. A small table is placed in front of the backdrop.
It’s almost showtime.
“Boraspalooza,” one veteran Southern California columnist says.
Everyone looks around, wondering which way super agent Scott Boras will approach the scrum. It’s almost like going to a Rolling Stones gig and wondering whether they’ll open with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Street Fighting Man,” or “Start Me Up.”
At 12:04 p.m., Boras walks down the stairs, flanked by two employees — all three are wearing pullovers with the Boras Corp. logo — and cuts through the crowd. Boras gets up on the small table. “Stand on the black mark,” one of his handlers says.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of the annual gathering is on.
(Breaking news is always eagerly anticipated at these gatherings, and Boras held a formal news conference Monday to announce that Stephen Strasburg was returning to the Washington Nationals with a seven-year, $245 million contract.)
Boraspalooza starts with Pedro Gomez of ESPN asking two questions. Few in the throng can hear the answers, or many answers, for that matter. There are simply too many people jammed into a tight space and those in the back or off to the sides can’t hear. Boras does not use a microphone as he speaks over the bustle and chatter of people in the lobby.
Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, stationed to Boras’ left, asks a few questions. Boras turns to face him, which means no one on the agent’s right can hear the answers.
“Can you hear anything?” a writer says, to no one in particular. “I can’t hear a thing.”
That’s how it goes for several minutes. There are questions about how fast the market is going and a lot of questions about free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, another one of Boras’ big clients. There probably are questions about Gerrit Cole, who at the time of Boras’ news conference was still a red-hot free agent, but most people can’t hear.
Sometimes Boras gives specifics. Often he doesn’t.
He never misses a chance to build up the greatness of his clients.
Asked his assessment of interest in Rendon, Boras says: “Only he and Mike Trout had 6 WAR appraisals in the last three years, so he is literally atop the game, one of the game’s greatest. The respective demand on him has been equal to that performance level.”
How far away is any deal?
“I’m not going to discuss terms,” Boras says. “Obviously, like any negotiation, you’re trying to put together something that’s agreeable to both.”
Some Chicago writers want to know about rumors that the Cubs are shopping star third baseman Kris Bryant, another Boras client.
One writer tries a few times to get Boras’ attention, with no luck. Finally, a tall writer in front says, “I’m tapping out,” and as he squeezes out of the scrum, the Chicago scribe slides up into his spot.
What are the chances Boras and the Cubs can figure out an extension for Bryant?
“We’re always in communication with them,” Boras says. “We’re discussing his arbitration values and contract as we speak and I have to leave it up to them whether they want to explore that.”
How does Boras think Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP, is reacting?
“Well I guess when you’re in the category of (Francisco) Lindor and a certain right fielder in Boston, I think you’re in that MVP category, so it’s quite an honor. I think it comes with the territory. When you get near free agency, any great player, that discussion always happens.”
The Chicago scribe tries for a follow-up but a Korean writer gets in a question about Hyun-Jin Ryu.
“All the pitchers have received multiple offers from multiple teams,” the agent says. “The top-level pitchers in the marketplace, (Dallas) Keuchel, Ryu, Cole, who remain for us, have attracted great interest from a wide variety of teams.”
(Cole came off the board late Wednesday night when he and the New York Yankees agreed to a record nine-year, $324 million deal.)
After another question about Rendon, the Chicago scribe gets another crack.
Does Boras expect the Cubs to trade Bryant?
“I think in these markets you can never, ever anticipate anything other than, great players who are close to free agency, one or two years, are always bandied about as potentials in the marketplace. It happens every year. Trades rarely happen. Sometimes they do. Anyone who has not signed a multiyear contract who is in that position that is an MVP-type player, they always get that attention.”
And then, the kind of pithy quote that these scrums have become known for.
Boras is asked if it’s true the Cubs can’t spend money until they move money.
“Well, I haven’t gotten that email,” he says.
“I only know what I hear from Theo (Epstein) and all I know is he feels he’s trying to build a competitive team.”
The crowd begins to thin as writers get what they need and tap out. Elbows and knees can take only so much.
But Boras riffs on.
“Great teams want great players and when you have great players available, it leads to a heightened sense of urgency,” he says in response to yet another question about Rendon.
And then a stock answer, which he’s already given several times, with some hype for his client:
“I’m not going to speak about specific teams but as you know, teams that want to win will be in contact.”
Gomez said ESPN set up its camera a half-hour before Boras’ scheduled start. He was in place 20 minutes in advance.
“We don’t have a boom mic so I had to be in in,” Gomez says. “It’s crazy to think that one agent has the power to draw this many people in. But that’s where he stands in terms of the agent market.”
Boras also holds a session at the annual General Managers Meetings, which precede the Winter Meetings by a few weeks.
“Obviously it is a much bigger crowd here because there are more reporters here, but it is almost insane to think that he has that much pull and draw to do this, but it is must-see, to speak,” Gomez says.
Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports chose a safe place on the edge of the mass of humanity.
“It’s sort of evolved over the years for me. It used to be that I would like squirm and get low in my legs and try to get to the front so that I could hear him,” Brown says. “Then I just stopped doing that. I sort of hang around on the periphery because not a lot of substance comes of it. It’s interesting color and it’s an amusing event.”
“I actually think it’s a good thing that Scott does, especially in a year like this when he has so many high-end clients, to make himself available,” Brown says. “I think more agents should do that. It’s still not particularly transparent, but you do see the guy, you see his face, you hear his words. Certainly, for a guy like Scott, who has been cast as Darth Vader at times, it puts a face and all with that reputation. I think ultimately it helps him and it helps the writers and it’s always amusing.”
The Winter Meetings had barely started on Monday when news of Strasburg’s deal broke.
“This year, one of the themes is that the winter is moving very quickly and sure enough, Scott goes a day earlier,” Brown says. “He always does these on Wednesday at noon, and this year it’s Tuesday at noon. Clearly there are signs that the hot stove is moving quicker than usual.”
At 12:57 p.m., just seven minutes shy of one hour, it’s over. Boras and one of his handlers walk the 30 feet or so to the SiriusXM set for an interview.
Now it’s time to process what Boras said.
“Which team was the sparrow and which team was the vulture?” one writer asks another.
Seems they both missed Boras’ big analogy.
But Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated tweeted it out for all to ponder:
“MLB teams are like birds. There’s some hummingbirds that buzz around. Sparrows get something they can’t carry the weight of. A lot of owls, who are wise and work at night. A lot of hawks. And you don’t want to be an ostrich and lay the biggest egg.”
That alone made it all worth it.