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Some of you may have already read my story in today’s paper about how several Mariners are continuing an MLB-wide trend of going outside their teams for more personalized skills training and conditioning. Much of this is driven by player agents, who recognize the fact that a healthy, productive player at the top of his game is going to command a bigger salary than the struggling player who isn’t being all he can be.
And when those players make more money, the agents themselves do. So, it’s in their best interests to work as a team with their player/client in order to strive for on-field production. That’s also, naturally, the end goal of the team itself, which invests millions every year in players and their development. With higher-end draft picks, the millions are invested the day the player signs. Then millions more once they go on to become a major league piece with a little service time. Even with low-cost players, if a young one doesn’t pan out, or a rebuilding plan fails, it can cost teams untold millions in lost revenue opportunities.
So, needless to say the stakes here are very high. And everybody wants a say in what type of training a player is going to be doing. Everybody wants their input into the development process. Where it gets complicated — and you see the potential for some real head-butting between teams and agents for control of the process — is once the players head home for the winter. As Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik correctly states in the story, no team has the resources to supervise every single player each and every day when they are scattered across the country and even the world.
Teams can pick and choose, maybe send a trainer to make a personal visit to a very special player’s home. But the resources just aren’t there. In the end, in many cases, the agents themselves have known the players since they were teenagers, have a vested interest in their individual development (as opposed to an interest in the entire team) and when you break it all down, they are probably best-positioned to be making the on-the-ground decisions regarding a player’s day-to-day well-being in the off-season.
It’s all great until somebody disagrees. And it happens, believe me. I once saw a former MLB power-hitter take his game to the next level when he stopped listening to what his manager wanted him to do when it came to being a pull-hitter. That manager — a very good hitter in his day and a former hitting coach as well — kept on that player until he wasn’t the manager any more. In comes a new manager and hitting coach, out goes the pull-hitting approach and what do you know? The hitter becomes a star and goes on to pull down eight-figures per year.
Like I said, this happens more often than you think in baseball, where the boss is still the boss and players are required to listen. This manager happened to be very good at what he did, but like all humans, he could be wrong from time to time. Mostly, he got it right, but that player and his agent — one of the biggest in the game at the time — weren’t so much concerned with the manager’s record on guiding the other 24 guys. It’s every man for himself in this rough-and-tumble business of professional — not high school, or Little League, or American Legion, but professional — baseball, where life isn’t always fair and players do get messed around with in the name of the greater good.More