Sports agent Scott Boras speaks during the Major League Baseball...

Sports agent Scott Boras speaks during the Major League Baseball winter meetings on Dec. 10, 2019. Credit: AP/Gregory Bull

LAS VEGAS — Scott Boras’ official job title is sports agent. But there are times, take Wednesday at the GM meetings for example, when he sounds like someone campaigning for union president.

Boras is arguably the most influential agent in the business, and the fact that he calls his own impromptu news conferences at the two biggest offseason MLB gatherings is only more evidence of that. In the run-up to last winter’s contentious labor negotiations, Boras was a driving force behind the scenes, and the union’s decision-making boards were populated by his clients.

Against that backdrop, Boras opened with a handful of talking points during Wednesday’s media address, making sure to touch on a number of industry-related issues before launching into a pun-filled standup routine involving his roster of free agents. One of the more interesting topics suggested a player pushback on the analytics-dominated front offices that threaten to bury baseball in an avalanche of data-driven management.

Previously, most of this criticism had been coming from media and fans, as the rapid expansion of so-called “nerd ball” was a convenient bogeyman for the sport’s myriad issues, from the boredom of the three true outcomes to the exhausting length of games. But Boras publicly voicing his opposition was taking it to another level, considering that he represents some of the highest-profile names in baseball. Boras referred to this developing concern as the “analytics bombshell.”

“Analytics are great, they’re helpful, they are certainly a way of improving players,” Boras said. “But the difference is the creators of the analytic information are not effectively implementing and executing the information to the player. We’re constantly seeing players talk about the fact that the focus on the standards given by the team are different than what the player utilized to arrive in the major leagues. He feels as though they’re not achieving the standards that teams want , and they want change — change from the very platform that the player used to arrive in the major leagues.”

Therein lies the conflict between individual talent and organizational process, a clash that teams are now trying harder to remedy as they invest more resources in their analytics operation. Both sides agree that more information is always better than less. But it’s the delivery method of all this data that can create friction between the front office and clubhouse, which is why you see teams becoming more cognizant of their information pipelines to the players.

The Mets greatly expanded their analytics department after Steve Cohen’s purchase of the franchise two years ago, and just added another data-minded pitching “strategist” this past week in Eric Jagers, previously of the Reds. Jagers, 27, will work more on the development side, but it’s just the most recent example of the team’s quest for the best cutting-edge intel. Then the challenge becomes finding the right balance for its implementation, at every level of the organization.

“You want to be able to serve the needs of the player,” Mets GM Billy Eppler said. “So if you have a player that wants a lot of information, and you can’t provide that to them, then I think you failed the player. And I think if you have a player that doesn’t want that quantity of information, or wants things distilled in a really simple way, and you’re shoving things into them with only one kind of methodology to do that, then I think you failed the player — both ways.

“We’re trying to give tools to people to do their jobs and to optimize their job. That’s how I approach it. It’s not binary. It’s just a matter of serving the player, so we want to continue with that same approach.”

Boras, like Eppler, emphasized the importance of communication in this data-impacted relationship, and suggested it was no coincidence that the two World Series teams were piloted by veteran managers. The decidedly old school Dusty Baker, 73, now on his fifth team, has managed for a quarter-century. The Phillies’ Rob Thomson, 59, was a rookie MLB manager this season, but had been in a coaching role for more than three decades.

Boras identified that blend of traditional guidance with modern techniques as a key to players’ success. The Mets appeared to tap into that this season with the hiring of Buck Showalter, who is likely to win his fourth Manager of the Year award this week.

“Players need to hear from their managers and coaches — those veterans — what it is they need to do to be effective for them individually and for their team,” Boras said. “We’re finding clutter. We’re finding players that are malperforming. We’re finding players whose confidence levels are shaken.

“So we need to address the analytic bridge. We need to create new methodologies ... We want the game to be at its best, and we certainly have evolved in a scientific way to do that. But we can clearly hear from player after player that there is a true absolute barrier or clutter of information that they just really don’t know how to execute.”

In some ways, this data-influenced behavior is the enemy of Boras, as teams try to copy-cat the Rays by striving for greater efficiency and spending less on players to do so. That’s also sort of ironic, because Boras’ free-agent strategy has always relied on manipulating the numbers to pump up his clients’ value. But he does have a point, and teams already have been responding to this concern within their own organizations. Those that do it the best are bound to be the most successful.

The wrong pitch

We’ll give credit to Boras for shedding some light on that analytics friction. But his appeal to shut off the pitch clock for the playoffs after MLB plans to use it during the 2023 regular season is not realistic.

Baseball already solved one October inequity by implementing the universal DH, eliminating the need for different rules in different ballparks for the World Series. As much as we love the runner-on-second rule for extra innings, it’s understandable that the game is played without that particular innovation during the postseason.

But MLB can’t spend seven months (including spring training) getting accustomed to a pitch clock and then remove it for October. By then, it’s reasonable to assume that players will have adjusted, despite what Boras expressed this past week.

“In the postseason, there clearly should be no pitch clock,” Boras said. “The players are there, in the big moment, and they need to reflect. They need more time. It’s a different scenario than the regular season and we don't want their performances rushed. We understand why they would probably do that during the season, for the efficiency of the game and what they believe to be a positive move for the shortening of games. Understood.

“But in the postseason, we don’t want these men in a completely different emotional environment, where the settings mean so much more, all their work and effort, all their goals are achieved, and at this level, we want them to have the appropriate time — both pitchers and position players — to evaluate and move forward in the most prepared and directed way.”

Boras was just echoing the players’ long-held position, as they’ve been resistant to any sort of pitch clock for years. But after the timer reduced the average length of minor-league games to 2:38 this season, it’s a rule addition that’s been long overdue in the majors. 

Astros choose to Click off GM

It was an odd juxtaposition this week in Las Vegas to have the Yankees’ Brian Cashman and the Astros’ James Click attending the GM meetings for their teams without a new contract.

But that also goes to show how important it is to have a great relationship with the owner. Cashman’s team just wrapped a 13th consecutive year without a World Series appearance but the GM sounded fully confident (for good reason) that both he and Hal Steinbrenner would come to an agreement shortly on a new deal.

“Work first, contract second,” said Cashman, whose five-year, $25 million contract expired on Halloween. “I haven’t had a chance, to be honest. It’s something we’ll sit down and get to, but there’s some bigger things that need to be taken care of first ... [Hal] expressed an interest, an intent of  ... retaining me in that position as general manager and certainly I expressed the same interest in staying.”

While Cashman’s future in the Bronx was never in doubt, Click was another story despite the Astros winning the World Series a week ago. Click was celebrating on the Fox stage with his team at Minute Maid Park, then rode in the parade Monday in Houston. But he showed up Tuesday at the GM meetings without an extension, and by week’s end — only six days after the Astros’ Game 6 clincher — he had turned down the one-year offer from owner Jim Crane to return. Consider it a deal Click could refuse, as the former GM admitted to not seeing eye to eye with Crane, and the differences apparently had been an ongoing problem between the two during the GM’s three-year tenure in that position.

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