CARLSBAD, Calif. — The second day of the Major League Baseball general managers meetings, a near-perfect 70-degree postcard of Southern California sunshine and fall weather, revealed no new answers or insight into the impending dark clouds of labor strife and potential lockout.
With National League general managers taking their turn for the informal media availability, answering with similar stock lines those of their American League brethren Tuesday, it became clear that the group had been well-schooled in what to say regarding the expiring collective-bargaining agreement between the owners and the MLB Players Association and how an expected lockout by owners might affect their offseason.
“Business as usual,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, told a group of reporters. “We are doing what we’ve always done.”
One person who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind Wednesday was agent Scott Boras, who held his annual media scrum earlier in the day.
With more than 50 reporters surrounding him and standing on a makeshift podium, Boras criticized the MLB system that has only “17 teams” trying to win, dropped multiple metaphors and similes — some amusing, others awful — about his clients on the free-agent market and offered his typical candor.
“This is the Easter Bunny delivering rotten eggs,” Boras said. “Every team says, ‘I need to do this because it’s my only option, knowing I can’t reach a divisional crest, I can’t get in the playoffs.’ “
The Mariners were one of those teams that opted for a rebuild, and the 2019 and 2020 seasons became about development and not ending a postseason drought dating to 2001.
“We don’t ever want a system that rewards being a lesser team,” Boras said. “We’ve got a real cancer in this game. We know now, clubs will sacrifice seasons.”
He pointed to the Braves winning the World Series title as a byproduct of a broken system.
“The rules allowed them to be a less-than-.500 team on August 1 and add four or five players from teams that no longer wanted to compete,” he said. “And for very little cost, it changed the entirety of their team and season.
“And we saw this unfold to the detriment of teams that create at vast expense, planning and intellect and won over 100 games. In doing all this, we have now created an understanding that a fan would not know who the true team is until, frankly, the trade deadline.”
While Boras’ media machinations often generate eye rolls and shrugs of disgust from a large portion of baseball fans, his opinions matter because the collection of players he represents — many of the best in baseball — gives him influence.
On the free-agent market this season, he has shortstop Corey Seager, shortstop/second baseman Marcus Semien, outfielder Michael Conforto of the Mets, perennial Cy Young contender Max Scherzer, hard-throwing lefty Carlos Rodon and former Mariner Yusei Kikuchi.
He also has five clients on MLBPA’s executive subcommittee — Semien, Scherzer, Zack Britton, Gerrit Cole and James Paxton.
After his scrum with U.S.-based media, Boras met with a small group of Japanese media to discuss Kikuchi and his decision to decline a $13 million contract option with Seattle, which GM Jerry Dipoto called “a little bit of a surprise.”
MLB sources said Kikuchi knew the Mariners wouldn’t exercise his four-year, $66 million club option as he struggled in the second half of 2021. The lack of a guaranteed spot in the 2022 rotation was said to factor into his decision to test the open market.
As always, Boras had other reasons.
“We knew the marketplace for pitching is extraordinary,” he said. “Other organizations that don’t have pitching, you can look at (Noah) Syndergaard, he threw four innings and they gave him the qualifying offer. That’ll tell you about the demand for pitching. Obviously Seattle has a lot of young, talented pitching. We knew that from their reasons for their decision, and I think they understood that we wanted get a true market feel for his value by clubs that needed pitching. Seattle is not so high up on that list.”
With Kikuchi’s power stuff and his first half of 2021, for which he was named the Mariners’ only All-Star selection, Boras will seek a multiyear contract.
“How many teams wouldn’t want an All-Star pitcher on their staff?” he said. “Teams are coming to us and letting us know that he is a priority for them, because they need starting pitching. He throws left-handed and throws 97 miles per hour. When you look at the number of pitchers that are left-handed and throw 97, you’re talking about how many people? Maybe five, six. And how many of them are free agents? Then you’re talking about maybe two or three.”
Kikuchi threw 157 innings in 29 starts in 2021, posting a 7-9 record with a 4.41 ERA. In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he threw 47 innings in nine starts, posting a 2-4 record with a 5.17 ERA.
He reached 120 innings in his 20th start of 2021 and had a 7-6 record with a 3.89 ERA. In his next nine starts he posted an 0-3 record and 6.14 ERA in 36 2/3 innings with 22 walks, 34 strikeouts and opponents posting a .297/.400/.487 slash line against him.
“He had an amazing innings jump, and that innings jump in baseball affected many, many starters,” Boras said, mentioning Scherzer, Cole and Rodon. “Yusei pitched at All-Star levels for his first 120 innings. I think all teams understand the fatigue — because he went from literally 50 innings to 120 and then to 150 innings. Those innings jumps just caused fatigue. And you can see that in his last five or six starts that Yusei was not the Yusei we know.”
Boras blamed the fatigue as to why the Mariners opted not to have Kikuchi make his final start at the end of the season in a critical game vs. the A’s.
“They were doing him a favor and protecting him, but he was just tired,” Boras said. “He tried to pitch as best he could. But when you reach those levels, you can’t create those jumps without having performance (issues). Going from 55 to 150 is too much; probably 120 would’ve been good.”