Man. With the way the Rays have been playing lately I thought I would be able to break the drought with a positive article. After all I did think they were going to pull off the 75 wins this year, that’s pretty optimistic. Instead, I have to write about the one man that 99% of the sporting world hates.
As the Rays season draws to a close there are few bright spots to look back on. There is B.J. Upton’s emergence as an elegant and gifted center fielder. The pitching staff’s anchors of James Shields and Scott Kazmir both gave glimpses of a 20 win future. The Chosen One – Andy Sonnenstine – shook off some rough outings to earn a spot in the rotation next season. Over all , there was one slugger who shined above them all – Carlos Pena.
Yet one person decided to rain on the parade. That person is Scott Boras. Yes that Scott Boras. He’s super agent to the athletic stars and despised by 99% of the sporting world. The 1% that doesn’t hate him just happen to be his clients. One of those clients is the aforementioned Pena.
Picked up off the large pile of former number one draft pick busts in the off season he joined the Rays as a non roster invitee. As the season progressed Pena developed into the power threat that has been lacking in Rays history. He has set a franchise record in home runs and is nearing Jorge Cantu’s RBI record of 117. His slick fielding at first often goes unnoticed, but has helped steady an infield comprised totally of players playing full time for the first time in the careers.
Without Pena’s prodigious blasts off and past the catwalks it would be hard to imagine how bad Tampa’s record would be this season. It’s hard to measure how much pressure he has taken off of young hitters like Upton and Delmon Young (who should be looking at serious Rookie of the Year consideration, but that’s a story for a later column).
Right now the young Dominican, hard to think he’s only 29, is surely a lock for comeback player of the year. Last season he bounced between the minors and the Boston Red Sox finding only 33 at bats in the majors. It looked like he was destined to become another prospect whose ability never matched his potential.
A less than stellar spring training made him one of the final cuts and he was only spared starting the season in Durham by a late injury to Greg Norton. He then slowly earned playing time and unseated Ty Wigginton as the every day first baseman. 40 home runs and 112 RBI later he is the heart of the lineup.
The best part is that the Rays control his rights for two more years. This is where Boras slithers into the picture. Even before the feel good story of the year can complete a season he has to open his mouth and put a damper on the celebration.
“Carlos Pena is the greatest player to ever put on a Devil Ray uniform,” Agent Evil spouted off before Monday’s game in LA. I understand that his job is to promote his clients, especially ones who are arbitration eligible, but to make an absurd comment like that is reprehensible. I’m sure former Rays Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs wouldn’t mind comparing careers with the young Mr. Pena. Even current Rays Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir may take umbrage at Boras’ presumption.
A less abrasive way to phrase it might have been to say that Pena has had the best season of any Ray ever. That is a much stronger point to make. To declare the southpaw slugger the “greatest ever” forces one to overlook the fact that Pena has a lifetime average of .251 and only averaged 12 home runs heading into the season. Which I’m sure Boras wouldn’t mind one overlooking.
If Boras had kept his mouth shut after that comment I would have been fine, a little irritated but mostly fine. Of course he’s not capable of keeping his mouth shut. He insinuated that the Rays got one of the best deals ever by “getting a player who had a $15 million season for about $1.2 Million”.
That’s where I have a problem. Boras has now set the bar for negotiating and arbitration. The magic number is out there - $15 million. It is an absurd number for a player who has had one very strong year. There is no way the Rays can play in that ball field. Nor should they. In fact they should laugh in Boras’ face and hang up on him the next time he calls.
Agents in general and Boras in particular are very good at throwing numbers out to the press. Ted Lilly is a $40 million pitcher of Al Soriano is a $100 outfielder. Where do those numbers come from – their agents. They’re definitely not generated on past performance merely future potential. Barry Zito’s agent (Scott Boras shocking I know!) didn’t get the pitcher a $126 Million deal because of the 102 wins he had with Oakland, but because Boras convinced the Giants Zito would win that many games in the future.
Now, if the Rays do the smart thing they can’t win. Boras will crow about how tight fisted they are and how he just wants a “fair deal”. A fair deal is 3 years at $15 Million. Make Pena prove it’s not an aberration. If the Rays sink more than $5 Million a year into Pena and he ends up a bust then they damage all progress made over the last few years.
If they do throw $10 Million at Pena how are they going to keep Crawford happy knowing that he worked his way through the team and is getting half of what Pena makes? That’s not good. Wouldn’t that money be spent better on locking up Kazmir or Shields? I think it would.
This is not a knock on Pena. He has said all the right things and done all the right things. I honestly believe he would like to stay, but his test will come in the off-season. If he really does want to stay he has to reign Boras in. All of the good will and good feeling can be erased in one nasty arbitration hearing. Make no mistake if this goes to arbitration it will get ugly. The Rays management will have no problem finding faults with their first baseman and despite what players say that type of feud has lasting consequences.