Though agent Scott Boras wasn't able to hold court in a hotel lobby this year in what has become an annual Winter Meetings tradition, he still addressed a variety of topics on Tuesday in a remote session with reporters.
Boras touched on a little bit of everything in the 90-minute meeting, from discussing contract situations and trade talks surrounding his own clients to providing injury updates and analyzing the state of the free-agent market following the unprecedented 2020 season.
"You're really seeing clubs react differently. Some clubs have been really standard operating procedure, trying to acquire the best players and move forward," Boras said. "We've had other clubs that have said to us, 'We have interest in your players, but we want to get more direction from our ownership as to what we're going to do.' So it's been, depending on the team, you'd have to say there have been very different approaches as to how aggressive they are in the market."
As far as Boras' clients, two of his marquee players -- Kris Bryant and Blake Snell -- have already come up in trade rumors this offseason. That said, Boras stated that both he and Bryant are expecting the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player to remain with the Cubs in 2021. Similarly, the agent acknowledged that while it's not uncommon for other clubs to reach out about a successful young pitcher like Snell, it would be surprising to see the Rays trade away the '18 American League Cy Young Award winner.
As for the free-agent market, Boras may not represent prized free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto, but one of Boras' most notable clients -- Bryce Harper -- does have a vested interest in how that situation shakes out. Harper, who signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in February 2019, has made it no secret that he wants Realmuto back in Philadelphia next season -- and Boras noted that Philadelphia’s recent decision to hire Dave Dombrowski as its president of baseball operations would seem to indicate the club is intent on building a contender.
Here's a closer look at each of those topics, as well as some other key points covered by Boras:
Bryant's future with the Cubs
Though the Cubs ultimately decided against non-tendering Bryant earlier this month, there has still been plenty of speculation that Chicago could look to trade the three-time All-Star as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract. Boras, however, seemed to paint a different picture regarding Bryant's status with the club.
"We just had a long meeting and conversation with Kris, and he's been working hard, looks great and is really preparing to be a Chicago Cub," Boras said. "That's what he knows and what he's done. He's been highly successful there and we expect him to repeat that in 2021."
Bryant, of course, had a disastrous 2020 season, hitting .206 with a .644 OPS as a series of injuries limited him to just 34 games. That came on the heels of a much more Bryant-like '19 campaign in which he hit 31 homers and posted a .903 OPS over 147 games.
"I think that anyone who knows baseball, take a look at any season Kris Bryant has had where he’s had over 550 at-bats and you’ll see what kind of player he is," Boras said. "I think that the Cubs obviously know KB very, very well. [Cubs president of baseball operations] Jed [Hoyer] knows him very, very well. They have great plans for him. We've talked to him about that -- what his role will be, a very important role going forward from 2020. He's a huge core of his team, as you'd expect from a player of his abilities."
Would the Rays actually trade Snell?
It's been a whirlwind couple months for Snell, from his unforgettable World Series start (and exit) to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reporting last month that the Rays “have told other clubs that they’re open to the idea of trading” Snell this offseason. More recently, Snell acknowledged to the Tampa Bay Times that he expects to be traded “at some point” before his contract runs out following the 2023 season.
"Well obviously, any great young player is always subject to demand," Boras said. "I'm sure teams call [Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager] Erik Neander and the Rays all the time about Blake. That's really a subject that's normal operating procedure with good, young players."
Though Snell hasn't been able to replicate the dominance from his 2018 Cy Young Award-winning season in which he went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, he's still an enticing option for teams seeking pitching help. He turned 28 years old earlier this month and is under team control through '23 on a relatively team-friendly deal (three years, $39 million remaining on current contract).
Snell went 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts during the 2020 regular season before turning in a pair of dazzling performances in the World Series. The southpaw put up a 2.70 ERA while striking out 18 batters in just 10 innings.
"We want Blake to perform well and obviously those things are outside of our realm," Boras said. "He's been very successful in Tampa, he knows the people that he's working with, he enjoys his coaches. ... I think players of this level and where he is contractually, something pretty extraordinary has to happen for them to be traded. So I would say you just keep your focus on what you're doing and if something like that happens -- I would just say it'd be something that doesn't normally happen."
Phils ready to make moves?
Boras does not represent Realmuto, but that didn't stop the two-time All-Star's name from coming up on Tuesday night. After all, Boras does represent Harper -- and he's made it very clear that he wants the Phillies to re-sign Realmuto for 2021 and beyond.
When Boras helped negotiate Harper's mammoth deal prior to the 2019 season, his client received assurances from the organization that it was committed to building a winning club. Though the Phillies hadn't come up much in rumors to start the offseason, that could change after they recently hired Dombrowski to be their president of baseball operations.
“In fairness to what Bryce and [managing partner] John [Middleton] talked about when he came to Philadelphia, there was an owner committed to winning and an owner pursuing winning,” Boras said. “And you have to admit that I don’t think you play the game of hiring a general manager who is known for World Series hopscotch -- because everywhere [Dombrowski] goes he’s there to compete and win and has done so -- so I don’t think you hire a GM of that nature and capacity without an intention and a focus on winning today."
Conforto extension not yet in the works
It's no secret that Michael Conforto wants to stay in Queens. The outfielder has talked openly in the past about his desire to discuss a long-term extension with the Mets -- and the club, under new owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson, has expressed its own interest in having that discussion.
That said, it's a conversation that likely won't happen until after the new year, at the earliest. Conforto, who has one year remaining until he hits free agency, is arbitration-eligible this offseason.
“Normally, when you have a player who’s in arbitration, you kind of prepare for the obvious negotiation,” Boras said. “If there’s anything that Sandy or [general manager] Jared [Porter] want to do, they kind of let us know later in the process, so that’s something I have to leave with them.”
Scherzer extension talks
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer will be entering the final year of his current deal in 2021, and it remains unclear whether he and the Nationals will work out a long-term extension before his contract expires.
Scherzer posted a 3.74 ERA over 12 starts in the shortened 2020 campaign, but he had a sub-3.00 ERA in each of his first five seasons with the Nats. The right-hander received a share of NL Cy Young Award votes in each of those five seasons, including winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in '16 and '17.
"You know, normally what we do is we kind of, in that setting, we kind of wait for the ownership to talk with us about it," Boras said. "[Managing principal owner] Mr. [Mark] Lerner and I have had a few conversations and we're going to get together, you know, after the new year, and have some discussions, so we'll see how that goes."
Market for Korean slugger Na
The market is still taking shape for outfielder Sung-Bum Na, who was posted earlier this month by the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization. The 31-year-old had a .317/.384/.542 hitting line over his eight-year career with the Dinos, while racking up six-time All-Star selections and a pair of Gold Glove Awards.
Na had originally planned to make his move to the Majors following the 2019 season, but he sustained a season-ending knee injury that required surgery just 23 games into the '19 season. He rebounded by hitting a career-high 34 homers in 130 games while helping lift the Dinos to a KBO title.
Though his power numbers didn't suffer at all, Na was less aggressive on the basepaths following the knee injury. He stole only three bases (on four attempts) in 2020, well below the 14 stolen bases he averaged from 2013-18 -- and his career high of 23 in '15.
“He’s a five-tool player. He can run and not a lot of people know that. He’s a good defender. He hits with power and, obviously, the idea of what he will do in this game, it’s much easier for teams, with pitchers, to grade how they will perform here," Boras said. "Position players, there’s always been more concern. As we walk through this, our job is to do our best to let them all know and also really make them aware of who he is. Certainly in this type of market, teams are operating with more of a steady plan, so we’re going to have a lot of late signings in this market because a lot of teams are going to have a lot more direction about their seasonal plan from their ownership and their budgets."
Paxton, Rodón looking for starting gigs
Left-hander James Paxton was limited to just five starts for the Yankees in 2020 due to a left flexor tendon strain, but Boras said the veteran free-agent pitcher is making progress following an injury-riddled year. Paxton's elbow issue last season came after he had already worked his way back from undergoing back surgery in February.
"He's far into bullpen [sessions] and is throwing bullpens for select teams," Boras said. "Obviously, he was not completely rehabilitated when he made an attempt to help his club and come back. Now, he's certainly got his back strength back to 100 percent and he's back throwing off the mound and doing well."
Meanwhile, Carlos Rodón is also looking to prove he's healthy and ready to earn a starting job in 2021. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Rodón has struggled with consistency and staying healthy over his six-year career. He was limited to four outings (two starts) in '20 due to shoulder and back issues after making only seven starts in '19.
“He was obviously coming back and throwing 95, 97 [mph] out of the bullpen," Boras said of Rodón's brief return at the end of the season. "We have gotten very, very long-standing interest in him. ... Now, he’s healthy, back to where he was when he started. He’s a young guy, his future is bright and strong, he’s got a big arm and he’s left-handed -- that really appeals to a lot of Major League teams.”