Is there anybody left who even remotely doubts that agent Scott Boras is the most feared individual in baseball? If so, it’s time to get out from under the rock.
Even from a distance halfway around the world, (he was in Japan, according to an ESPN report), Boras has the ability to dominate the front and back pages of the New York tabloids and raise the blood pressure of general managers and owners throughout baseball. Just when it seemed all was finally right with the New York Mets -- who were enjoying a seemingly comfortable lead over the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East -- somebody figured it was a good time to bring up the not-so-little matter of a 180-inning limit on righty pitcher Matt Harvey.
Talk about perfect timing. Harvey already had 166.1 innings in the “used” category, so unless he was going to become a one-inning closer, his season was going to end much sooner than his team’s planned finish in October/November.
Heretofore, Harvey had been the darling of the back pages of the tabloids, the “Dark Knight of Gotham” who had become the face of the Mets’ young and powerful pitching staff, the one who was going to lead New York’s “other” team back to the promised land. But he discovered the tabloids can taketh even faster than they giveth, and the punishment can be as severe as it is swift.
It’s hard to say how, or why, this whole mess started, but it quickly became apparent that Boras became the villain when he said the Mets “would put Harvey’s career in peril” if his client exceeded the 180-inning limit. That number reportedly was set by Dr. James Andrews, baseball’s surgeon for the stars. It apparently was not written in stone, according to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, who called the report “bull spit” or something like that and said the team had a “soft” limit of 185-190 innings during the regular season, plus a “reasonable” number in the postseason.
As Orioles fans know all too well, Boras has a history of putting himself into the equation when it comes to how his clients should or shouldn’t be used. During spring training, when the O’s were trying to get catcher Matt Wieters into playing shape (a process still in progress, by the way), Boras was rather insistent that his client should be the everyday designated hitter until he was ready to resume full-time duties as the team’s catcher (another process still in progress).
It wasn’t lost on observers that Wieters was entering his so-called “walk” year, with free agency straight ahead, and was in need of a productive year for his resume, after missing last year because of Tommy John surgery. An “incomplete” grade, now a certainty, didn’t figure to help his bargaining positioning.
Boras also strongly chastised the Orioles for optioning lefty Wei-Yin Chen to the minors for one start in order to have the left-hander skip a turn against the Toronto Blue Jays’ heavily right-handed hitting lineup. The club used a similar tactic, sans a trip to the minors, moving righty Chris Tillman up a day so Chen wouldn’t have to face the Blue Jays Sept. 6.
The fact that Tillman took a pounding in his own right and came out of the game with an 0-4 record and 15.50 ERA against the Blue Jays this year pretty much tells you all you need to know about how the O’s felt about a possible Chen-Toronto matchup.
That brings us back to the subject at hand. Boras doesn’t mind injecting himself into a controversy in an effort to deflect criticism of his clients, which is admirable. But make no mistake about it: his mission has absolutely nothing to do with what’s good for the team. When Harvey said he hired Dr. Andrews to do his surgery and Boras to be his agent in order to protect his health and his career, there was little, if any, separation between the importance of the two.
Short-term goals are not in Boras’ playbook. His job is to protect the long term, and in Harvey, he has a top-tier client whose career is already at a crossroad. He is 26 years old, in his first full year following Tommy John surgery, is arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason and won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season, which can be a lifetime in baseball.
Harvey will be 30 years old when the 2019 season starts, so barring an extension with the Mets before then, his next major contract could very well be his last. That’s a point that will not be lost on Boras.
In the meantime, though, Harvey and the Mets are in an almost impossible situation. As recently as July 24, when the Mets were 49-48 and manager Terry Collins was said to be in jeopardy of losing his job, the issue now at stake wasn’t even under consideration. Even though the Nationals were in napping mode, there was more talk about printing World Series tickets than there was about the possibility of the Mets playing in the postseason. A flurry of deadline-beating trades in July, plus the Nationals’ continued slumber, changed all of that. The Mets did a 180, and Boras started talking about 180.
There is a great deal of irony here. In 2012, as they contemplated a rotation for postseason play, the Nationals decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg, another Boras client, rather than exceed his innings limit. The situation was the same, first full year after Tommy John surgery, and even though Strasburg said he wanted to pitch on, there weren’t any objections by his agent.
Like Strasburg three years ago, Harvey now says he will pitch in October, if possible, after first indicating he might not go beyond the 180-inning limit barrier. Now, he and the Mets have to get there. If they don’t, there will be a lot of losers in this one.
But Boras won’t be one of them. His stance won’t change -- long term is the name of the game, baby, and don’t you forget it.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.