Why saving 4% is not worth it for the professional baseball player.
The quirky anomaly NFL agents feared would evolve into a trend is now taking shape. So much so, that this week it was reported a group of powerful NFL agents were arranging an emergency meeting to deal with the nightmare scenario. With All-pro Left Tackle Russell Okung announcing he was terminating the services of his agent and choosing to represent himself, all NFL agents are now in panic mode.
Firing an NFL agent sounds good on paper. A typical NFL agent charges 3% of the player’s gross salary. For MLB players this fee is usually 4%. Since NFL careers are short in duration (according to NFL Players Association 3.3 years) and there is very little negotiating in the rookie payscale system, one could see the reasoning why self-negotiation would be advantageous. However, for the industry which I am in (MLB), there are countless reasons why the MLB agent should not be considered an endangered species.
First, although the MLB draft bonus is capped, the typical baseball agent/advisor is required to put in an extensive amount of work prior to the draft. Since 2012 the MLB Commissioner’s Office has sought to reign in signing bonuses and limit the Club’s spending by placing a maximum pool amount on each team’s draft picks. Due to this maximum limit, and similar to the NFL and NBA, there is less negotiation required of the MLB agent/advisor prior to the execution of the first professional contract.
However, unlike the NBA or the NFL system, the baseball agent/advisor is extremely active in the player’s amateur career due to the sheer amount of the games played on the diamond. A typical high school baseball star plays a minimum of 100 games his junior and senior year of high school. Such events include showcases, all-star events, scout teams and the high school team. A good agent/advisor will need to be at most, if not all, of these games to collect opinions from the pro scouts, stay in contact with the player’s potential college coach and to monitor the player’s performance. Such an extensive workload is not required of agents in the NBA or NFL. In these sports high school players are exempt from the amateur draft. Therefore, by the very nature of the extensive workload put in prior to the draft, the MLB agent is more valuable to the player in his amateur career.
Another reason the MLB agent is more of a necessity is due to the fact most baseball players spend years and years in the minor leagues. A good baseball agent acts as both a friend and a counselor to the player while toiling in the minor leagues. All minor league contracts now last for 6 ½ seasons. By the very nature of this relationship, the parties are contemplating a long minor league career and the agent will need to be along for the ride.
After the expiration of the 6 ½ seasons, the player is free to become a minor league free agent. Very few players become minor league free agents. After 6 ½ years the player has either been lucky enough to have been promoted to the Major League club, or more commonly the player has been released or retired. During this minor league career there is bound to be some turmoil, or personal strife, which a good agent will help the player navigate. An experienced agent should be up to date on the player’s dating status, whether he approves of the coaching staff, and how the player is getting along with the ever-present clique of Latin players. Each of these events require an experienced touch and a compassionate voice from the agent. Paying four cents on the dollar for this service is not an oppressive fee.
The cost of equipment throughout the minor leagues is one of the most important considerations for most agent/player relationships. In baseball, most of the equipment is not provided to the player by the team. Yes, the offensive players are supplied stock bats, but that is about it. Therefore, a good agent will supply the player with every piece of equipment required to perform his skill. Most agents make sure the players have new spikes, satisfactory leather and a hefty inventory of professional grain wood bats. Again, this requirement is foreign to the other professional sports and the 4% fee is warranted.
Throughout my thirteen-year career as a baseball agent there are other tasks I have performed which did not involve contract negotiation. For example, sometimes a player will have difficulty communicating with family or friends and the agent will need to step in. One of the biggest headaches for profesisonal players is ticket requests. A good agent can accept this task and help the player deal with friends and family seeking fee tickets. Also, on more than one occasion I have called a fancy, sold-out restaurant on late notice to try and gain entry for a player. All these obligations are not what the public thinks of when I tell them I am an agent. Although agents in other sports also deal with these tasks, they are more of a reason why the MLB player should think twice before firing his agent.
In the end, I think the consensus should be that saving four cents on the dollar to act as your own agent is not worth it for the professional baseball player.