P.T. BARNUM WAS RIGHT

By:  Holly Horning

Enough already. I am sooo tired hearing about how unbelievable it is that Bryce Harper doesn’t have a new whopper of a contract. All because the free agent system is “broken” and that owners are “colluding.”

Nonsense.

First of all, the Washington Nationals offered him $300 million for 10 years last year which would have made him MLB’s most expensive player. He turned it down. In fact, the Nats owner indicated that Harper and his agent hadn’t stayed in touch with the team since that offer. A familiar tale considering that this same agent, with his client, Max Scherzer, did the same thing to the Tigers back in 2014.

So who then is to blame?

Scott Boras, that’s who.

Boras always does what he does best. Branding and marketing his clients like no other agent. And as a branding expert, I do admire his ability to perform this task exceptionally well. It doesn’t mean I have to like the guy though.

The fact that Harper doesn’t yet have a contract he likes places the blame squarely on him and his agent. Not on MLB or ownership. It’s simply that public perception has been molded by Boras to favor his client and to deflect from Harper’s true value.

Harper signed with Boras over 10 years ago when he was in high school and playing at levels never seen before in someone his age. He was a phenomenon and being compared to the greats of the game. Even then, Boras was marketing him extensively to both MLB and the media in general.

And 5 years ago, Scott started ratcheting up the hype with the first of several extensive spreads in Sports Illustrated. Articles that conveyed the extraordinary drive of his client and also one that pounded home how Harper would break all salary records with a “well-deserved” contract topping $400 million when the time came.

The table was already being set. Expectation levels were being etched into stone that would lead up to the assumption that Harper would naturally fetch MLB’s highest price as a player.

The fans’ – and media’s – beliefs were being manipulated. When you state something long enough – and often enough – many start to believe that it is true.

And in those past 5 years, something happened. Harper turned out to be a merely good, occasionally better, player. Not a great one.

Also a time in which he was voted by his fellow MLB brethren the dubious distinction of being the most disliked player in the game.

Combine that with the knowledge that he has no leadership skills in the clubhouse. He himself has said he’s not a leader. And last year, in the Nationals’ dysfunctional clubhouse, players called him out for not helping lead the team.

Simply put, beyond his bat, the man offers no real added value. Something to consider when you’re talking about baseball’s biggest contract. When you spend that kind of money, you want to get your money’s worth.

The marketing hype flew fast and furious for years with few people willing to say the emperor has no new clothes.

The truth is that in 7 years of playing professional baseball, Harper has had 1 exceptional year. Just one.

He’s also had another really solid year. But 5 of those 7 years had him hitting well below .300. And only 1 year in which he drove in exactly 100 RBIs. And with talented, not struggling, teams which gave him distinct advantages in the lineup.

Last year, he hit .249 with an OPS under .900. MLB was abuzz with his struggles and poor performance.

Based upon his stats, no one can say he is a regular and consistent performer at the top levels of baseball. And that’s what earns you the big bucks. Or at least it should.

Yet, he wants to be paid as if he is the top player in MLB.

Add to this, Bryce’s horrible fielding stats. He’s been ranked at the bottom of NL’s right fielders. In all of MLB, he sits at the bottom with Nick Castellanos. Last year, his skills with the glove cost the team 26 runs. His WAR was a mere 1.3 which is considered below-average.

Are these the stats that make you want to sign this player to baseball’s most expensive contract?

Harper ranked 75th in WAR at the end of the 2018 season. And he’s not even considered to be one of the top 10 players on any analyst’s list.

Yet the PR machine churns away with allegations of stupidity, greed and collusion by owners because they see what Boras is trying to hide with his media manipulations and infamous encyclopedia-thick notebooks used to persuade owners. And yes, he only deals with owners, not GMs. You can imagine the reasons why.

Dave Dombrowski certainly wouldn’t have signed Prince Fielder if he had been the point man. Dan Duquette, GM of the Orioles, would not have taken on the disaster of a contract to Chris Davis several years ago. Those signings were made by Scott Boras skipping the middle men and appealing directly to both teams’ owners.

The same agent with so many high-profile expensive clients who have yet to earn the reputation of actually being instrumental in helping deliver a title for their new teams.

Yet given all these reasons for not signing Bryce to baseball’s most expensive contract, it may, sadly, still happen. Boras will do what he does best and convince one owner to make an emotional, not fact-based, decision.

And it only takes one owner, desperate for a championship, to make it happen.


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14 thoughts on “P.T. BARNUM WAS RIGHT

  1. I read that the Nationals offer to Hyperer (spelling intended) wasn’t truly a $300M deal because it was $200M over 10 years with $100M deferred bringing the current value down to $244M. Maybe he should have taken that and then called JG Wentworth and got his cash now. I think we would all enjoy seeing a Boras client having to accept less than he was told he would be getting.

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  2. Bravo Holly! Indeed the Emperor has no clothes and Boras is the glorified snake oil salesman from the Old West. Forgive me for expanding this beyond baseball but it’s a reflection of the world we live in. Facts are fakes and the people who can paint the prettiest (or ugliest) picture and feted and adored. Common sense is the least common of the elements.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Snake oil salesman indeed! “Mr Douglas, can I interest you in this genuine facsimile of a baseball superstar” – Mr. Haney. Did you ever notice that NO Boras client ever signed up with his current team at free agency? He is the “great divider”. Going straight to a team’s owner is a practice that ought to be banned outright.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great job of cutting through the Harper “hype”, Holly. In a battle of analytics versus emotion, bet on emotion – especially if it’s backed by the owner’s money. And the owners seldom lose because they can pass the cost along to the other “suckers” in our P. T. Barnum world – the fans who flock to see guys like Harper play. They’re manipulated by emotion too – that’s why we have advertising.

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  5. Thank you, Holly! I totally agree with everything you have written! When is “enough” — Enough? At
    least Miggy was good when he signed his monster contract!

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  6. Holly, great article. Looking at the numbers for comparison, I think I would much rather have Castellanos at 15-17 million/year for the next 5 years than Harper for 30 million/ year. Nick is starting to put comparable offensive and defensive numbers in a much tougher park.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If this off season is any indication, Nick won’t fetch $15-$17 million/year. I see him settling for $12-$13 million/year, unless he really tears things up this season. I think all of the talk about Nick being offered a Q.O. if he’s still around is nonsense. Does anyone see the Tigers offering him what should be about $18 million/year?

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  7. Free Agency is a free market system where a player’s supposed value is determined by whomever is willing to shell out the most money. And since he waited until after Machado set the bar ..I have no doubt whatsoever that Bryce will sign a contract greater than Machado’s perhaps even before this week is over. On the other hand, I also agree that there is no so-called collusion and that agents like Boras tend to overvalue their clients true worth to a team.

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