In yesterday’s Brent Morel post (or was it yesterday’s Brett Morel post?) I wrote a little bit about Jeff Baker, the free agent lefty-masher with positional versatility who seemed like such an obvious fit for the Jays — at least until this afternoon, when Jon Heyman tweeted that he’d agreed to a two-year deal with the Marlins, while Joel Sherman added that it’s for $3.7-million. Mostly I was trying to dream up ways that the club could conceivably justify passing on him, given the paucity of platoon options for Adam Lind currently available in-house, and the fact that last year he saw time at first, second, third, in left field, right field, and at DH.
All we’ve really ever heard about why the Jays weren’t being linked more strongly to Baker, as far as I’ve come across, is what Mike Wilner had to say about him on last week’s edition of The Blue Jays This Week on the Fan 590.
“Jeff Baker would be perfect,” he explained. “He’s a free agent out there, and late of the Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs. And he can play six positions poorly, and he can wail on lefties. But I’ve talked to a number of people out in the baseball world about him, and the consensus is that this is a really, really bad dude, who you don’t want anywhere near your clubhouse. Which is why the Blue Jays haven’t moved on him.”
That was certainly a new one to me, but it’s not like I’m doing a lot of talking to the sorts of people who would know enough about Baker to make such claims. I was, however, able to put the suggestion out there on Twitter to see if anyone might be able to confirm that which, as far as I have been able to ascertain, only Wilner has said. Lo and behold, Mike Ferrin of MLB Network Radio, and Baseball Prospectus’s outstanding Fringe Average podcast took up the mantle.
@AndrewStoeten I asked someone about that today & they were surprised by it. Not sure he’s had an impact either way on clubhouses.
— Mike Ferrin (@MikeFerrinSXM) February 4, 2014
Ferrin added that he hadn’t heard any of this on Baker himself, but cautioned that none of this means what Wilner is hearing isn’t true.
What struck me more, though — and what caused me to raise the issue again on Twitter, which prompted the above exchange — was a tweet from Jon Morosi, who yesterday said that he had spoken to Scott Boras, and that the über-agent told him he was very close to deals on his clients Oliver Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Suk-Yin Moon, and… Jeff Baker.
I must admit, I hadn’t realized Baker was a Boras client, which adds another potential layer to what may be going on here, because when it comes to him and the Jays there’s a history there.
There are no players currently with the Jays who are represented by Boras Corp., at least according to MLBTR’s agency database, and back at the end of the Ricciardi era, in mid-2009, Will Hill of TSN.ca – and former front office man at 1 Blue Jays Way — claimed that “at no time during Ricciardi’s tenure have the Jays ever traded for or signed a Boras client,” though at least two relatively minor exceptions were made in the Ricciardi/Godfrey era, in the form of Scott Schoeneweis and Brad Wilkerson.
Still, though, just last week, in the Globe and Mail, Jeff Blair noted that “Paul Beeston used to swear he wouldn’t sign a free agent represented by agent Scott Boras,” though he noted that this policy may be shifting, as he reported that the club had spoken to the agent about another client, Stephen Drew.
The wounds, though, are deep. Back in 2009, Tim Dierkes of MLBTR looked back at Boras’s first foray into representation, in 1985, when he got a five-year, $7-million deal out of the Blue Jays for his former minor league teammate, Bill Caudill.
Maybe the relationship between team and agent would have been better if Caudill hadn’t flamed out in year two of the contract, but that’s what happened, as the Jays released him before year three and ate the money owed to him for years three through five — but not before Boras hired an airplane to fly over Exhibition Stadium in 1986, with a message for the club’s new manager, whose usage of his client was evidently not sufficient by his standards. It read: “JIMY — GIVE CAUDILL THE BALL.”
Many years later there was also the whole James Paxton mess. In 2009, with Beeston back as the club’s president, the Jays failed to sign the Boras-advised Canadian pitcher out of the University of Kentucky, a supplemental-round pick who went 37th overall.
Or… did I say Boras “advised” him? Because that’s not what Beeston — who, it should be noted, is not a dumb man — told Robert MacLeod of the Globe and Mail that summer:
Beeston personally handled the negotiations with Paxton, the top Canadian selected in the draft and his agent is Scott Boras.
When Boras is involved, Beeston said, you can only talk with Boras.
“Because it was Scott, the way that you deal you deal through him,” Beeston said. “You don’t deal through the family. Now I would prefer to deal with the family and I wonder whether I could have done a better job on it. I kind of criticize myself.
“But I don’t think it would have changed things because you’re dealing with one of the shrewdest and best prepared negotiators in sports. I have no regrets.”
Paxton, you’ll recall, lost his NCAA eligibility over the statement — a decision that the pitcher fought, unsuccessfully, in court. A follow-up piece in the Globe a year later, by Matthew Sekeres, quoted the pitcher as saying he had no regrets about how things turned out, and his father as saying that the family wasn’t bitter about Beeston’s comments, but that they had been “surprised and confused” by them.
If I really wanted to I could put the most negative spin possible on all of this, but… well… let’s just say I’m glad for the existence of Blair’s piece saying that Beeston’s refusal to deal with Boras may be softening, otherwise one might be tempted to wonder about the strange rumblings Wilner has heard on Baker, where they’re coming from, and whether they could be framed as just the latest salvo in a monumentally stupid, decades-long grudge.
Even without indulging notions of such an insidious angle, you wonder how much Boras could actually have to do with this, and whether the line about Baker being some kind of clubhouse poison isn’t meant to submarine him so much as it is, like the talk of five-year limits on player contracts, a means to avoid answering tough questions about why the club chooses to hurt itself by standing firm on a policy that can only be described as petty and dumb.
But that’s all probably just a bit too conspiratorial, eh?
Especially since, to believe it, you’d have to believe that the Jays needed to get all their ducks in a rather serious row, given that Wilner says he has spoken to multiple sources — and not necessarily just Jays people, of course — about Baker’s alleged clubhouse problems. Pressed by co-host Ben Ennis on why he was so cavalier about what seems like some awfully spurious reasoning to avoid a player who is damn near a perfect fit, Wilner explained, “I agree with you, but I’ve heard from enough people about this guy that I’m convinced. Fine with me not to sign him.”
I’m willing enough to buy that that’s really what’s going on, despite what I’ve found (in my completely unscientific survey) to be a lack of similar chatter elsewhere. However, neither it, nor the possibility that the Jays are being held back by an unwillingness to deal with a player’s representative, is an acceptable excuse to pass up the chance to make this club better.
Shit, even if I believed that clubhouse nonsense has remotely close to the type of impact we’re supposed to swallow here, do the Jays really think they have the luxury of passing on Baker’s ability against left-handers??? Does a dirt cheap second year really seem so scary to a club that jumped last year to sign Maicer Izturis for three?
Maybe they’ll find an acceptable alternative from elsewhere, maybe he didn’t want such a limited role, though that’s not what we were hearing. Whatever the case, something just doesn’t smell right about the apparent failure to pursue this avenue by the club that — for example — just a little over a year ago guaranteed $16-million to suspended drug cheat, website forger, and shunned member of the Giants, Melky Cabrera. Doesn’t it?