Forming rapport with Boras could be O's agent of change

ON BASEBALL

June 06, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

It could happen this year.

Given what's looming this offseason - and especially in 2008 - this is the time for the Orioles to make the unimaginable occur.

Tomorrow, they should take a Scott Boras client with the fifth pick in the amateur draft, and then watch pigs fly around Camden Yards.

It has been one of those unspoken truisms around here. The Orioles - like some other teams - do their best to avoid Boras, baseball's most formidable agent, even though the scars from the contentious Ben McDonald negotiations in 1989 have faded. Boras has had several Orioles clients since then (such as Charles Johnson, Rodrigo Lopez and Corey Patterson), but most have come from other organizations or switched to him after their initial Orioles contract.

Know this: There has never been a mandate from club owner Peter Angelos, according to several team officials. The owner has never told his baseball people, "Stay away from Boras."

Yet we all understand it's a terrible fit. A Britney Spears marriage has a better chance at perpetual bliss than a Boras-Angelos union.

Both men are supremely competitive, nail-tough negotiators who refuse to give in. And that doesn't work well in major league baseball. Angelos, who built his fortune representing Everyman against life's injustices, isn't fond of agents in general. To him, they're more carnival barkers than honorable barristers. He'd never let one bully him.

Boras, though, usually gets what he wants. And more. His clients eschew hometown discounts for the incredibly lucrative deals he fosters. Consequently, he attracts the most talented clientele each year.

This amateur class is no different. Boras advises seven of Baseball America's top 20 draft-eligible prospects in tomorrow's draft. That includes the best college bat, two of the three highest-ranked high school pitchers and the top college right-hander.

When they'll be selected, however, is anyone's guess. Boras' clients have a tendency to free-fall, yet, ultimately, get huge paydays when they land.

At No. 5, the Orioles might have their pick of the Boras litter if others pass on his clients because of signability fears. The Orioles most covet Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound switch-hitter with perhaps the best bat in the draft. His defense and rocket arm are already ready for the major leagues, one scout said.

Baseball America rates him as the draft's second-best prospect - behind Vanderbilt left-hander David Price - but predicted Wieters would drop all the way to the St. Louis Cardinals at 18th because of anticipated financial demands.

Wieters shouldn't get past the Orioles. He's a perfect fit, even if Boras represents him. For one, the catching dearth in the system is startling - and historic. The last time an Orioles Opening Day lineup included a home-grown catcher was 1975, with Andy Etchebarren. Brandon Snyder, the club's 2005 top pick, was temporarily switched to first base because of a shoulder injury and might not move back behind the plate.

Certainly, Wieters wouldn't come cheaply. But because of offseason free-agent signings, the Orioles don't have a second-round pick (compensation to the Atlanta Braves for Danys Baez) or a third-round choice (compensation to the New York Mets for Chad Bradford).

So the money they would have used in those rounds - theoretically, anyway - could help seal a deal for Wieters.

Plus, if they choose a client of Boras' and can't sign him, the compensation has vastly improved. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, a team that can't sign its first-round pick gets a pick one spot behind the original selection in the next draft (so they would get the sixth pick in 2008 if the Orioles don't sign their 2007 selection).

But maybe the most important aspect of drafting Wieters, or another Boras player, is what it could mean in the next few winters.

Boras represents Braves center fielder Andruw Jones, probably the best player in this offseason's free-agent class. It's unlikely Jones would come to Baltimore, but forging a better relationship with Boras this summer couldn't hurt.

The real drama begins the next winter, when the Holy Grail of Severna Park, Texas Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, is a free agent. At this point, he's a long shot to return home because of the perception that Angelos and Boras can't work together.

But what if that's untrue? What if they reach a deal for a first-round pick this summer with inevitable yet acceptable acrimony? Orioles vice president Jim Duquette already gets along with Boras - he sat in the agent's box during last week's trip to Anaheim. So there's a start.

Honestly, the flip side would be appreciated, too. If the Orioles take a Boras client at No. 5 tomorrow and can't get a deal done, then the murmurs about Big Tex in 2008 can be put to rest 18 months early.

All this, of course, could be moot if the Kansas City Royals decide to take Wieters at No. 2 and the Chicago Cubs snag California high school third baseman Josh Vitters with the next pick. If they're gone, the Orioles would likely select a pitcher, and word has it their remaining top choices aren't Boras guys.

Orioles fans can live with that. But if Wieters is still there, the club can't use Boras as an excuse.

Instead, they could use this as a dry run for the 2008 Teixeira sweepstakes.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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