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The Times-Delphic

The Student News Site of Drake University

The Times-Delphic

MLB Free Agency in Standstill as Stars Struggle to Sign Contracts

Scott Boras’ inability to secure lucrative contracts for his clientele has been an unexpected development this MLB offseason. Photo courtesy of Cathy T. via Flickr

Sports Commentary

Scott Boras has made his name infamous among Major League Baseball fans as one of the most prolific agents in professional sports. He has negotiated multiple record-breaking MLB contracts, but his effectiveness has unexpectedly stalled in the 2023-24 offseason.

MLB fans hoping their favorite team will sign a prominent free agent are routinely disappointed when Boras conspires with a big market team to net his client as much money as possible. Examples include Gerrit Cole’s $324 million contract with the New York Yankees and Bryce Harper’s $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Both contracts were signed in 2019. Two offseasons ago, Boras negotiated over $1 billion in contracts, with his clients featuring Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts.

Boras is a negotiating monster, and his clients are almost guaranteed to receive massive dividends when they sign with his corporation. The 2024 offseason, however, has challenged that notion. Former Chicago Cub Cody Bellinger, former Toronto Blue Jay Matt Chapman, former Texas Ranger Jordan Montgomery and former San Diego Padre Blake Snell are all Boras’ clients. They all became free agents after the 2023 season concluded in November, yet Bellinger is the only one who’s signed a contract for 2024.

It took until Feb. 25, but Bellinger has finally secured a contract for the 2024 season. After three lackluster years playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in which Bellinger hit .239, .165 and .210, he was non-tendered after the 2022 season, making him a free agent. He then signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Cubs for the 2023 season. 

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The former National League MVP then bounced back and hit a career best .307 with 26 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the 2023 season. His stellar play netted him a top-10 finish in the NL MVP voting and a Silver Slugger award.

Bellinger was predicted to receive a lucrative contract, especially with Boras negotiating on his behalf. MLB Trade Rumors predicted Bellinger to receive a 12-year, $264 million contract. Bellinger’s contract was far off from the mark that many predicted. The 28-year-old agreed to a three-year $80 million contract to return to the Cubs.

The deal has player opt-outs after the first two seasons, giving Bellinger flexibility to test free agency again if he turns in another impressive season. Bellinger’s contract, however, is an outlier on Boras’ track record.

Boras’ failure to secure Bellinger a more lucrative contract appears to be a trend among his clients in the 2024 offseason. It took almost four months after the conclusion of the 2023 season for one of Bellinger, Chapman, Montgomery or Snell to sign with a team.

While the causes of the stagnant markets of the Boras clients are unclear, there are a few hypotheses. Regional sports networks are amid a swirl of uncertainty, and teams have been affected financially. Until Jan. 17, Diamond Sports was in bankruptcy. Diamond Sports owns Bally Sports, which televises games for many MLB teams. The Padres were the first team to be hampered by Diamond Sports, as they were forced to move their broadcasting away from Bally Sports mid-way through the 2023 MLB season. The financial strains caused by Diamond Sports also affected the Minnesota Twins, who cut their budget this offseason despite being in a prime position to spend more money and repeat as division champions.

Regional sports networks issues played a role in market stagnation, but it didn’t hamper the market entirely. Shohei Ohtani signed for $700 million, Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed for $325 million and Aaron Nola signed for $172 million. Money still flew this offseason; it just hasn’t migrated to Boras’ clients. Chapman, Montgomery and Snell may follow in Bellinger’s footsteps and sign short-term deals with opt-outs. Ultimately, the heart of the issue could be that the Boras clients are asking for too much money.

Although Snell won the Cy Young award in 2023, he led MLB in walks allowed. Montgomery is a consistent mid-three ERA pitcher, but it’s questionable if he’s worth a $150 million contract. Chapman is a premier defender, but his bat has fluctuated in consistency for three seasons. These players have flaws, and the market is timid because of television uncertainty. Although Boras is a savvy agent, he ultimately can’t make frugal teams overpay in a rigid market.

Superstar Juan Soto and slugger Pete Alonso are Boras’ clients on deck for a payday, as they’ll hit free agency in the 2025 offseason. If television deals are under control, teams should be ready to open their wallets again, and there’s no reason to believe Boras won’t be negotiating massive deals come next offseason. Unfortunately for Bellinger, Chapman, Montgomery and Snell, they hit free agency in an uncertain year and are likely going to be an anomaly in Boras’ decorated history of sports agency. 

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