Scott Boras is used to getting his way with baseball’s teams and general managers.
But in a few weeks time, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak may have signaled the beginning of the end for Boras, and in the process, acquired an essential piece of the puzzle for the rebuilding of the Phillies in signing Jake Arrieta, considered to be the prize of this offseason’s free agent class.
Klentak played Boras like a fiddle through the last few weeks of the Phillies’ courtship of Arrieta. How did it happen?
Here’s what we know:
Matt Klentak is smart. (So is Boras.)
Matt Klentak is now going into his third season with the Phillies, practically making him a veteran general manager.
Matt Klentak has worked in three other front offices, giving him natural ties around the league.
Matt Klentak is going to do things his way with the blessing of the franchise. It’s not always going to be the conventional way.
The Phillies’ need for at least one more experienced starting pitcher was so glaring and borderline irresponsible, there was no way the Phillies could have gone into the season without significantly upgrading.
Now, knowing all of these things, I’m saying Klentak knew everything that was going to happen this offseason. He knew the free agent market would be cold as ice, he knew it would be so bad there would be talk of collusion, and he knew there would be some unemployed stars come March. He likely talked to enough general managers to have heard, “My owner isn’t letting me go past three years, those days are over” or “We’re not soaring above the luxury tax” dozens of times. Then he saw it actually happening.
He also heard Scott Boras talking tough with contract demands of seven or eight years for his star clients, including Arrieta. And because Boras put it out there, Klentak knew the super agent would go down to his dying breath waiting for the flimsiest, most needy team to cave until he had absolutely no card left to play.
Those teams never came around.
And once that happened, he knew Boras would have to come back to the teams that had any bit of interest to sit down and actually make good deals that made sense for the team. Boras wildly struck out in his representation of Mike Moustakas. He got lucky with Arrieta, but not by much.
Klentak waited. And waited. And in a stark contrast to his predecessor Ruben Amaro Jr., he decided to let the market come to him rather than setting it.
Boras probably dropped his initial seven-year demands to five. Then four. At which point, you can just see Klentak saying, “Ummmm, yeahhhhh. We’ll get back to you, Scott. (Faking covering his hand over his phone, so that Boras can accidentally hear) ‘Hey! Where did we put Alex Cobb’s number?'” It was a classic slow play that would have Phil Hellmuth jealous.
It paid off by only giving three guaranteed years to Arrieta for an affordable (by Phillies standards) $75 million. Options could take the contract to five years, but three is all that is guaranteed. It makes the Phillies instantly three or four wins better than they were Saturday, which puts them on the cusp of wild card contention. Make no mistake, it doesn’t make them a favorite, and it doesn’t make them bona fide contenders. There are too many holes in a lineup that is one of the youngest and inexperienced in baseball, and the starting rotation still has more question marks than answers. And no matter how much money they gave him, or how much money Boras thought he was worth, Arrieta’s body of work points to a pitcher in decline who by the end of those three guaranteed years may look closer to a fourth starter on a decent rotation than the Cy Young winner from 2015.
But in one signing, Klentak proved the Phillies will be players in the coming years in free agency. Better yet, he proved he’s going to do it on his terms. If the wild and mostly fruitless spending spree of the last 25 years in baseball is truly over, then Klentak has become one of the first GMs to announce to the world his spending intentions will truly be on his terms.
Klentak stood toe-to-toe with the biggest agent baseball has ever seen. And he won. He got the star starting pitcher the team needed for an affordable price. Of any move Klentak has made so far, this may be the one the reverberates the loudest and has the most long-lasting effects on his tenure.