The average fan has a warped view of Scott Boras. They see him as arrogant, even by Sith Lord standards, and somehow think if he wasn’t around that ticket prices would go back to 1970 levels. It doesn’t help that he looks like the relative with obnoxious political views who always corners you at family gatherings. But if Boras disappeared, he’d be replaced by some Ken doll who was smooth around the edges and therefore wouldn’t enrage the public but who did the same things and got the same results. You know, like Brodie Van Wagenen.
Boras and the Mets have had a rocky relationship lately, at least since the Bernie Madoff fiasco and potentially earlier than that. Who was the last Boras client the Mets signed or acquired in trade from another organization? The first one that comes immediately to mind is Carlos Beltran. There are likely others. But if it is indeed Beltran, that was prior to the 2005 season. Wait, it seems Oliver Perez was a Boras client, too. It’s difficult to tell when Perez hired Boras. But let’s say he was his agent when he was with the Pirates. New York got him from Pittsburgh in 2006. Doesn’t change the equation very much.
Post Madoff, Boras has complained loudly that the Mets are shopping in the discount stores. Certainly he’d like the Mets making offers on his clients. Even if they didn’t sign them, just the threat of a New York team being in the hunt would drive up the price. And no one, not even Boras’ biggest critics/haters, would deny that the Mets have been mostly frugal in the free agent sphere the past 10 years or so.
When the Mets selected Van Wagenen to be their new GM, Boras led the charge that it was a conflict of interest for a former agent to become a part of management. He also disclosed that he never even had a conversation with Van Wagenen previously. In pure theory, few would argue with Boras’ position. But because of who he is and how he delivered his criticisms, the public mostly just shrugged them off. And during the Winter Meetings, the two men did indeed have a sit down.
Of course, the media asked Van Wagenen to divulge what was said in that meeting and the new GM was vague in his response, mentioning the specific case of Michael Conforto, the only Boras client on the Mets currently, and not much else.
It’s no shock that they had a meeting; they pretty much had to have one. And maybe they exchanged pleasantries and talked about Conforto and that was that. But it seems likely to me that the names of two Boras free agent clients – Zack Britton and Bryce Harper – were brought up that day. It was no secret that the Mets were going to go after relief pitchers in the offseason, which made Britton a natural for his agent to discuss with the club’s GM. And how could he not bring up the name of either the top or second-best free agent available?
Britton’s off the market now, as he’s re-signed with the Yankees. And news has come down recently that the Yanks have publicly entered the Manny Machado sweepstakes, offering the other top free agent a lengthy deal. Of course, the Yankees met with Machado earlier in the offseason but did not seem to be among the leaders to wind up with Machado. And that was before signing Troy Tulowitzki.
The Phillies have always seemed like a destination for either Harper or Machado or both. They had both the payroll room and a willingness to spend the money it would take. Yet neither free agent seemed to be eager to play in Philadelphia, for whatever reason. If Machado goes to the Yankees, does that make it more likely that Harper goes to the Phillies? Will Philadelphia up its offer once the other prime free agent target is no longer available?
That’s certainly possible and perhaps what Boras is counting on here in February.
Or maybe there’s another angle Boras is hoping will develop. There’s a school of thought that the Wilpons are interested in the old Steinbrenner ploy of owning the back page. It’s been a pretty good offseason for the Mets in that regard. They chose the “wacky” GM, he traded for ex-Yankee star Robinson Cano and has made a host of other interesting acquisitions. And that’s to say nothing of all of the virtual ink spilled on rumors surrounding Corey Kluber, J.T. Realmuto and Noah Syndergaard.
But what if on the eve of Spring Training, the 100-win Yankees add one of the prize free agents by bringing in Machado? Suddenly Keon Broxton and Justin Wilson don’t seem that important. If the Wilpons really want the good publicity to continue, will that mean a change of direction and an embrace of Harper?
Back in January, Van Wagenen said that the outfield was not a top priority. Later in the month, Jeff Wilpon stated that they weren’t interested in Harper because it would mean the Mets would carry two $30 million players. Supposedly, the vision that Van Wagenen sold ownership on was using payroll to address multiple needs, rather than one specific need.
And the Mets have done that, bringing in multiple relievers, a starting catcher and new players for second and third base. But still there’s the perception that the club only has two starting outfielders. And while Harper doesn’t play center – or at least play it very well – it would be a feather in Van Wagenen’s cap and a triumphant end to his first offseason if he were to convince the Wilpons to open up their checkbook for the Boras client.
David Wright has already agreed to a restructured contract and perhaps insurance is still kicking in some money on that, too. The Mets will also collect some unknown amount of insurance on Yoenis Cespedes this year, as well. And internal reports on Cespedes might be the ultimate deciding factor on going after Harper.
When news came out last year about Cespedes requiring surgery on both heels, then Assistant GM John Ricco gave an 8-10 month window for a recovery time, adding, “it’s possible it could be longer than that; it probably won’t be shorter than that.” Since then what little news that’s come out has been positive. But rarely do you hear about setbacks or anything of that nature early in the recovery process.
It’s possible that Cespedes is on track and will rejoin the team this year.
But it’s also possible that internal forecasts have him missing the entire year. And if the Yankees sign Machado and the DH is coming to the National League in 2020, maybe that’s the perfect storm for Harper joining the Mets after all. The Yankees signing a big free agent is expected. The Mets signing one – and a Boras client at that – would be a shock. And we know that shock carries the day on the back pages.
Just try to imagine the press conference, with Boras and Van Wagenen flanking Harper. The agent and the GM would both be glowing over how the Mets are doing everything to return to the top of the NL. And Harper could get in on the act, too. He could say how New York was always his preferred destination and how glad he is not to be in Philadelphia or Washington. The press would eat it up and the positive publicity would be off the charts.
Of course, it would require the Mets to exceed the Luxury Tax threshold, which probably means it has no chance of happening. But until Harper signs with another team, it’s tantalizing to envision him in the middle of the Mets’ lineup.