- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Pope Francis will reportedly visit Washington, D.C. on his trip to the United States this fall.

Maybe he will get a chance to have an audience with Scott Boras.

Boras has become the pope of Washington baseball, with his latest miracle delivering ace starting pitcher and high-priced free agent Max Scherzer — the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner and a two-time all-star — to the Washington Nationals.

The miracle in this is Boras convincing the Lerner family somehow to spend a reported $210 million — with a $50 million signing bonus in a deal that is more complicated than a Congressional budget amendment — on any player, let alone a pitcher, resulting in raising the 2015 payroll to more than $160 million, as currently constituted.

That wasn’t the plan, believe me — unless as Scherzer walks into the Nationals clubhouse, he is saying goodbye to Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond or Doug Fister, all of which are entering the final year of their contracts and looking at free agency next season.

If that happens, the math fits the bottom line set by the Lerners, though how they got there changed, thanks to Boras.

I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Boras has any undue influence on Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo — just the opposite. No one pushes Rizzo around. He has one of the toughest reputations in the game. If you needed proof of that, witness this winter’s dispute between the Nationals and Boras over language in Bryce Harper’s contract.

Basically, Boras forget to dot all the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” on Harper’s original contract with Washington in 2010 that would have allowed him to opt out of his 2015 salary and enter arbitration instead. It was a mistake on Boras‘ part, and Rizzo could have simply said, I understand, no problem. Instead, he told Boras too bad, and held them to their contract until they reached a settlement before an arbitration hearing, a settlement that works for both sides.

The fact that Rizzo does business so often with Boras — his Nationals clients include Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, and Danny Espinosa, as well as Rafael Soriano — does not mean it is bad business. For years, Orioles owner Peter Angelos refused to draft any Boras clients. How did that work for him?

Now, Ted Lerner and company, that’s another matter.

The love affair between the Lerners and Boras appears to have begun in the winter meetings of 2008 in Las Vegas, when Boras convinced Lerner to get into the Mark Teixeira bidding war. The Nationals owner jumped in feet first, driving the price up on Teixeira to $180 million over eight years.

It’s continued since then, sometimes where Boras and the Lerners will hammer out their own deal — something that Boras has done with other owners as well.

Was that the case with Scherzer?

Rizzo wanted Scherzer. He’s known him since he drafted him as the Arizona Diamondbacks scouting director in 2006, and last year talked to the Detroit Tigers about trading for Scherzer, though he thought that was a long shot and really had his sights set on Doug Fister.

“We were talking to Detroit about other players,” Rizzo said last year, describing the deal that landed Fister. “We talked a lot about Max Scherzer. [Tigers general manager Dave] Dombrowski knew about my relationship with Scherzer. He knew we were interested in him. When we found out Max wasn’t available, we went to Doug [Fister].”

Now he’s got Scherzer and Fister — at least for the time being.

Boras may not be a holy man, but he may be a mystic. In November 2004, this is what he predicted for the new Washington Nationals franchise:

“You will have a monstrous television outlet that will go from Maryland all the way down to Georgia, a huge amount of people,” he said. “The team will be a raving success. I think it will be the darling of the National League. Players and families will want to come to that city.”

This is a guy the Pope might want to talk to.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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