NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just as reliable as the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning, the managers' lunch on Wednesday afternoon or autograph hunters patrolling the lobby all week, Scott Boras' media scrum is one of the most venerable traditions of baseball's annual Winter Meetings. Late Wednesday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, the game's most prominent agent once again held court for a crowd of dozens of reporters.
As usual, Boras had plenty to say. He addressed the situations of several of his clients, both free agents and those currently employed by big league clubs, and he did it with characteristic bravado.
Boras' top clients in this year's market are outfielder Michael Bourn, most recently of the Braves, starter Kyle Lohse, who has spent the past five years as a member of the Cardinals, and reliever Rafael Soriano, who closed for the Yankees in 2012. Boras touted Bourn as a franchise player and Lohse as a No. 1-caliber starter, making it clear that he intends to secure hefty contracts for both.
"Michael by far is the best defensive center fielder in the game," Boras said. "When you look at his defensive runs saved in the last four seasons, he's in the mid-60s, and many of the players who have signed are in the minus-20s or minus-30s or zero. So he offers a team almost 80, 90 more outs than the quality center fielders. He's just that good. So he's somebody that a lot of teams are obviously looking into. Then you add the fact that he scores 95 runs and hits leadoff and averages 40 stolen bases and has led the league in stolen bases many times. He's a franchise guy."
The challenge for Bourn, who turns 30 later this month, is that some of his top potential destinations have been taken out of play. He will not return to Atlanta after the Braves signed B.J. Upton, and Washington's trade for Denard Span took the Nats out of the mix. Boras declined to list the number or names of the teams in pursuit of the speedster. He did say that some complicated past dealings with the Phillies would not keep him from doing business with that team.
Boras indicated that while he's found a robust market for Lohse's services, the veteran right-hander might not sign especially soon. Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez could set the market for starting pitchers, with a deal for Lohse, 34, getting done after those two younger pitchers sign.
"When you represent a player that's in his 30s, and there are players in the market that are in their late 20s, you understand that some teams at inception prefer the younger player," Boras said. "But they let you know that if they can't get into that market, they'll certainly look to a player that's in his early 30s. So to have the market complete, you certainly want to hear from everybody that you know is a candidate. So patience often proves a wise path to get an understanding of what the market is."
Then there's Soriano, to whom Boras referred as perhaps the best closer in the game. Soriano opted out of a $14 million payout from the Yankees to test free agency, and he declined a $13.3 million qualifying offer.
Thus, it was already clear Soriano would be seeking a hefty payday. But in light of some of the very big deals already signed this winter, including eight figures per year for players like Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino, it seems that the agent expects to command a potentially historic pact for the 32-year-old right-hander.
"[Closing] is a very hard thing to do and a very valued commodity," Boras said. "As time spins it out, I think teams have to evaluate. And [making the case] is a little easier in this market, because we're now seeing mid-level players make $13 million a year. Certainly, the value of a closer, you'd have to argue, has historically been more valuable than what you would see with mid-level players."
The highest average annual value ever given to a relief pitcher was $15 million per season, to Mariano Rivera. The largest reliever contract in total value is Jonathan Papelbon's four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies.
Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.