- - Sunday, February 26, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“I’m not writing the story anyway. God’s writing the story, and for whatever reason he wanted me in Washington this year, and I’m more than excited that he wanted me to play here.”

— Free agent catcher Matt Wieters after signing with the Washington Nationals.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — I think even Scott Boras might be embarrassed by that comparison.

At the very least, God and Boras were on the same page when it came to Matt Wieters playing for the Washington Nationals.

After that, it’s a short list – but a powerful and influential one.

Nationals owner Ted Lerner, for one. Oh, and yes, Bryce Harper.

The Nationals front office wasn’t particularly interested in being in the Matt Wieters’ business. They already had a catcher, acquiring former Nationals catching prospect Derek Norris in a trade in early December from the San Diego Padres. In fact, it was one of the first deals the club made this winter – a week before the winter meetings — so they wouldn’t be in a position of having Boras pressure his good friend, Ted Lerner, into signing Wieters.

I guess that didn’t work.

It wasn’t that Washington officials didn’t think highly of Wieters – it was that they were working with payroll limits set by ownership. Money was tight, particularly with more than $15 million in cost overruns on the Lerner’s tab for the team’s new West Palm Beach spring training complex.

Washington’s front office had a roster plan with those payroll limitations that did not include spending $10 million this season on a catcher, with an option that would pay him $11 million next year – the deal Wieters got.

That money was not available to spend when the roster was being assembled. In particular, that money that was not available when they were trying to address their greatest need, the bullpen.

And then, suddenly, just like that, they had an extra $10 million this year – only, apparently, for an unsigned, desperate Boras client.

Here’s what Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters at Washington’s new spring training complex last week about the sudden move for Wieters:

“The conversation….we touched base early in the winter like we do with a lot of free agents….you know, had limited interest at that time, at that level and kind of went dormant for several weeks until we kind of circled back and saw what their interest level is and where we were working with years and numbers and that type of thing and when we did that, then we had some mutual interest.”

Not exactly a testimonial, was it?

At what point do you think they “circled back?” Think it was when Lerner and Boras sat together at Harper’s wedding?

Or was it when Harper responded to a report by former Nationals franchise gravedigger and, for some reason beyond explanation, ESPN analyst, Jim Bowden, who reported the Nationals still had interest in Wieters and another Boras client, reliever Greg Holland, but that they were “way over budget” on the spring training complex, making decision “difficult”?

Harper tweeted, “Matt Wieters/Greg Holland>Team Store! #NatsNatsNatswoooooo.” He tweeted this pitch for Wieters after Derek Norris had been Harper’s teammate for more than six weeks.

The relationship between Boras, the super agent, and the Lerner family is an unhealthy one for the business of baseball in Washington. It began in 2008 when the Lerners helped drive up the price for Boras client Mark Teixeira, who wound up with an eight-year, $180 million contract with the New York Yankees. Then came the drafting of Stephen Strasburg in 2009, the signing of free agent Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal in 2010, the drafting of Harper and Anthony Rendon and the signing of Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract.

As of now, nine players represented by Boras could wind up on the Opening Day roster. That’s more than one-third of the roster. And of the highest-paid players on the team, seven of them are Boras clients.

It is approaching a cult-like atmosphere – and becoming a joke around Major League Baseball.

Scott has his claws into Lerner like he has done with other owners, going around the general manager, who is trying to make the right baseball decisions,” said one high-ranking team executive from another organization. “It’s not healthy.”

The Wieters deal isn’t the first time that money that wasn’t there during the offseason roster construction suddenly became available for a Boras client. Rafael Soriano was signed to a two-year, $28 million deal in Washington in January 2013 when they already had a closer in Drew Storen. And Scherzer was another Boras surprise for the Nationals front office.

Now, Boras has good players, some very good. In some ways the relationship has served the Nationals well. After all, Scherzer won the National League Cy Young award last season.

But when you have a situation like the Wieters deal, it undermines the ability for the front office to build a roster and spend where the needs are the greatest. This winter, the needs were the greatest in the bullpen – and now remain so.

And for those who think this relationship between Boras and Lerner will translate into a deal to keep Harper in Washington — he will become a free agent after the 2018 season — Boras is not going to miss the opportunity to put the highest-priced free agent in baseball history on the market. There is nothing in his track record to believe there will be some sort of “hometown” discount.

Meanwhile, the catcher who the Nationals had already traded for, Norris, is there daily in the Nationals clubhouse, awaiting his fate, in what club officials have kindly described privately as an “awkward” situation.

Norris was coming off a career-worst season, batting just .186 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI in 125 games. But the year before Norris batted .250 with 14 home runs and 62 RBI in 147 games, and, with Oakland in 2014, made the All-Star team and batted .270 with 10 home runs and 55 RBI in 127 games. At the cost of $4 million this year, Washington was gambling on a bounceback year from Norris. But even so, he was seen as a transition catcher until their young prospect, Pedro Severino, was ready to step in as the starter, perhaps at some point this season.

He handled the turn of events professionally, telling reporters that he is going to go about his business. “As of right now, today, I’m going out and I want to start Opening Day and start every single day,” Norris said. “Obviously that’s probably not going to be the way things pan out, but that’s the kind of player I am and always will be. …

“I’m still going to fight for a starting job,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Pudge Rodriguez in the prime of his career, or Yadier (Molina) or Matt Wieters. As of now, I’m still competing for a starting job. I’m trying to help a team win, and whatever transpires, transpires.”

What will likely transpire is that Derek Norris won’t be a Washington National come Opening Day.

Turns out that wasn’t the story Scott Boras was writing.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide