‘Frustrating’ Ozzie Albies Deal Could Prove Harmful to Small Agencies

Ozzie Albies inking an extension with the Braves sent shockwaves through the industry, which is really saying something given the number of deals being signed by young players recently. In what is being referred to as perhaps the worst contract ever signed, the 22-year-old agreed to an eight-year, $35 million extension with two club options for $7 million each and a $4 million buyout on the first.

Even if he maxes it out, the total value is a mere $45 million over nine years (the buyout is factored into the $35 million and obviously doesn’t pay if the options are picked up). That’s $5 million AAV for a player who posted 3.8 bWAR and was named an All-Star in his first full season. He’d almost certainly be able to clear more than that through arbitration, and now he’s potentially locked up through the entirety of his 20’s. It’s just a weird deal all around.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote about the extension as a flashpoint among other long-term deals for players with little or no MLB experience. The incredibly low guarantee and max value drew the ire of the union and had other agents pulling their hair out. Adding another layer of intrigue to the matter is the fact that Albies is represented by SportsMeter, a relatively small agency headed by David Meter that also lists Craig Kimbrel — who’s unemployed at least in part of what many see as an irresponsibly high asking price — among its clients.

About a dozen large agencies are employed by a majority of players. These agencies, because of their size, do not depend on single commissions for the health of their businesses and thus are inured from the moral hazard that can influence those with fewer clients. At 5 percent commission, a $20 million extension means $1 million for an agent. The incentive, then, to do an extension can be strong for smaller shops — Albies employs one in agent David Meter — which also fear client-poaching from larger agencies. Even among the larger agencies, the concern over losing a client — and a commission — can compel extensions.

That logic makes sense if we suspend any notion of ethical propriety or fiduciary duty, both of which an agent has to their clients. The staggeringly low value of the deal alone is bad enough, but it’s even worse when viewed through the lens Passan provides.

“It’s frustrating,” an agent who operates with a smaller agency told Cubs Insider. “CBA framework frustration, frustrating as a benchmark for future deals.

“There’s also a bullshit narrative that this was caused by a ‘small agency’ trying to cash in before a ‘big agency’ poached their player. Big agencies are made up of agents with small client bases that could have made the same terrible deal. This just gives ammo to big agencies to poach even more. It was a self-serving line given by big agency to Passan.”

If that sounds a little conspiratorial, consider for a moment how much it could benefit a big agency to plant seeds of doubt regarding smaller competitors. Any agent can screw up and sign a bad deal, but the idea that small agencies are more likely to jump on a low early offer just to lock in a payday for themselves could raise eyebrows among players and the union.

Even if people in the industry tacitly accept the reality of unethical practices, big agencies stand to benefit from their smaller brethren being cast in a poor light.

To be fair, Passan did explicitly state in the quoted text above that fear of losing a client can drive any agent to pursue or agree to an extension. And my understanding is that he and the agent in question have ironed things out. Regardless of the clout or capital possessed by a given agency, the fallout of being driven by selfish motives could be dire.

“If there’s any truth to an agent putting their interest before their client’s interest, that’s shameful,” the agent said. “As a lawyer I would get disbarred for such activity.”

There are obviously any number of additional factors involved in the Albies deal, including the possibility that the player told his agent he cared nothing for money and just wanted a deal immediately. Perhaps Albies feared that his production would drop off sharply starting in May of this year and his future earnings would go in the tank as a result.

Some of our readers might be drawing comparisons to Kris Bryant, whose name has come up frequently in extension talks and who is currently in the midst of an early-season slump. He and Scott Boras are certainly not going to take an offer so egregiously low relative to his potential value, but last year’s brush with athletic mortality may have increased Bryant’s willingness to sign long-term.

Hypotheticals aside, the fact of the matter is that baseball is undergoing something of a sea change in which younger players are jumping at offers to ensure financial security now while older players are speaking out against undesirable labor conditions. Of those player groups, the former is going to be around longer and wields greater influence over future labor negotiations despite perhaps not being as upset about their collective situation.

In the meantime, the current state of unrest will continue as the union and ownership tug on their respective sides of the rope. But as the Albies deal shows all too clearly, ownership is winning by a wide margin.

“I wish I was shocked,” the agent admitted. “The last CBA was a disaster for the players, so this kind of deal is all too possible.”

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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and co-founder of Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana's foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan's greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson's Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College.

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5 Comments

  1. Even if Albies had instructed his agent “money is not an issue, I want a long term deal asap” – his agent failed to negotiate/obtain a fair/equitable return from the Braves. That’s just a terrible contract from the player side. If Albies has a couple/few more all-star seasons, it will be interesting to see if and when the words “renegotiate new deal” come out of his, or a new agent’s mouth.

  2. First, no one is forcing anyone to take one of these offered contracts.
    Guys like Albies, Bote, Jiminez, Hendricks, et al see an opportunity in guaranteeing themselves and their families life changing money.
    How much better is a player such as Rizzo that he can focus on honing his skills?
    How much better is a Rizzo is so he can focus being a team player first and foremost.
    Team, that’s what baseball is, the emergence of free agency has turned the focus on the individual which, in many ways, has corrupted the nature of the sport (if it’s that, any more).
    Any of these guy’s careers can end in a flash thanks to talent being overrated by themselves, their agents, or their teams.
    I think guys such as
    Bote (strong Christian values), Rizzo (cancer probably changed his life perspective), and so on. help them understand what life is supposed to be about.
    A guy like Bryant may be wrestling with that right now as, for the first time, he may no longer see himself as invincible thanks to that shoulder.
    The classic case may be a certain now left-fielder for the Cubs who, thanks to an outfield accident in 2016, effectively changed his career objective from being a catcher whose bat would be a bonus to someone who now has to be more than a HR slugger.

    I see this as teams carefully identifying certain players that they see as building blocks not only on the field but in the clubhouse and working with other players.

    The night the Cards signed Carpenter to the extension (3rd of the season), one of their execs appeared on the radio pregame.
    One of the things he stressed was not only Matt Carpenter’s field ability but also how he spent time with younger players and brought them to his winter home in Texas to work out.
    Building team identity which may well lead others to remain part of the organization longer.

    If teams and individuals players see their objectives as meshing; that’s great — and those are the guys I cheer on most.
    I have long said that if Ernie Banks were playing ball today, there would be no MR Cub.
    Circumstances would not allow it as the focus would turn to greed rather than a team.

    I see these guys (and perhaps their families) as having a better value structure than the greed that pervades so many of the players and the agents that feed and instill it.

    Good going Ozzie, David, Eloy.
    Baseball needs this ffor its future if teams will mean anything a decade oor 2 from now.
    Why then be a Cub, Cards, Brewer, Sox, Reds fan, whatever.

    1. His agent failed him in a big way and hurt other players as a result. Going with the idea that it’s good for owners to get a bigger percentage of revenues is just not good. A player of Albies’ talent getting less money is not good for baseball, it just means Braves ownership pockets more money over time.

    2. owners are colluding to depress value and exploit that fear.
      the divide between who people are paying to see vs who is taking all the money is getting exponentially worse.
      it’s a free country sure, but what the owners are doing now is not ethical.

  3. It’s impossible to know the circumstances that drove the signing of the Albies extension. But on the surface, what we do know is that ‘worst extension ever’ is not hyperbole.

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