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Who's right in the Boras-Reinsdorf flap?

Jerry Reinsdorf held a candid interview with reporters on Tuesday, tackling several subjects surrounding the construction of the 2011 team. The central theme, which James did a nice job of summing up and WU has repeated often throughout the winter, is "you can't take it with you."

While Reinsdorf's explanation of the "all in" strategy has been thoroughly told and re-told over the last few months, an even older story took the lead in the second day of news.

Asked about how he determines when to commit to a young player, as the White Sox did this offseason in extending [Alexei] Ramirez for at least four years, Reinsdorf was honest in saying, "First, Kenny and [assistant GM] Rick [Hahn] have to say they want to commit to a guy. It’s different for each player [as to] when is the right time. And you can be wrong. You can obviously make a mistake."

Then, he cited a onetime fan favorite.

"Sometimes, the agent makes a mistake. We were ready to commit to Joe Crede, and Scott Boras didn’t [want to] talk about it. Look what that’s cost Crede."

Boras did not take kindly to that account of the events, and Brett Ballantini has his response:

Boras unearthed two pieces of correspondence dating to February 2006, one detailing a multiyear deal offered to the White Sox, and a response from the team, rejecting the proposal and indicating that the White Sox would only work year-to-year with Crede. The agent wouldn’t disclose the financial terms he outlined in his offer to the White Sox, but indicated it was a three-year proposal covering the 2006-08 seasons.

Boras also objected to the notion that there is a "hostile" relationship between his Boras Corporation and the White Sox, in spite of, in just one example, the club actively avoiding his clients in each June’s MLB Draft.

Boras pointed out that in 2010 he "steered" Andruw Jones to the White Sox and for the 2011 season avoided an arbitration hearing between client Tony Pena and the team—generally, that he and the White Sox work together "all the time."

"Jerry has to look at the files," Boras said. "I deal in facts. The White Sox didn’t want to do a multiyear [for Crede]."

This is a pretty strong rebuttal by Boras, but it automatically triggered some cognitive dissonance when considering the track records of the parties involved. The Sox generally like to extend players well before free agency if motivated, while Boras urges his clients to test the free market almost all the time. He'd rather take a one-year deal to boost value than risk sacrificing dollars with an advance signing.

Digging into the archives, my guess is that Reinsdorf and Boras are talking about two different times in Crede's Sox career. Both sides are probably right, but Boras' counterpoint fails to address what Reinsdorf was really referring to.

The key is the timing of Boras' alleged proposal. Note the years involved in the three-year deal: 2006 through 2008. Such a deal would only have settled Crede's remaining arbitration years. The Sox exercised control of Crede through 2008 - the final contract was a one-year, $5.1 million.

When Reinsdorf says the Sox were ready to "commit" to Crede, it's reasonable to assume he doesn't consider that contract much of a commitment, considering the Sox already had Crede in the plans for those years, regardless.

When Reinsdorf says that Boras balked on an extension, I'm guessing he's specifically thinking of the end of the 2007 season. According to Mark Gonzales' story on Feb. 17, 2008:

While the third baseman was taking swings during the Sox's brisk workout for pitchers and catchers, Williams recalled his bid to start talks on an extension designed to take pressure off Crede trying to rush back from surgery in a contract year.

"I was told point blank that he was going to be taken into free agency and there was no interest in that discussion," said Williams, who didn't exchange monetary figures. "So that's where we left it and we haven't revisited it."

Williams and Crede spoke after the workout for about 30 minutes to clarify his status. Crede says he would like to stay with the Sox but thinks it's wise to discuss an extension when he's healthy.

"I just look at it as a business," said Crede , who looked fit after rehabbing his back since January at Phoenix-based physical therapist Brett Fischer's facility. "Whatever happens, happens. You deal with it. You have to deal with a lot of adversity in baseball, anyway. It's just another part of the game."

Later on in the story, Crede said that he stayed out of extension talks, saying about Boras, "That's what I pay him for."

Two months later, Boras offered an account that varies some without fully negating Williams' version. According to a Daily Herald story from April 9, 2008.

"What Kenny said to me was if the Sox don't have a player signed going into the last year of a deal, he's usually not going to be a White Sox player,'' Boras said. "I can understand that point of view.

"I said that I couldn't negotiate while a player was injured, when I know he's not going to be injured next year. I said the Sox can't pay him while he's injured as if he weren't injured, so it would have to be at a discount.

"That's smart on Kenny's part, and I don't mind Kenny making that suggestion. There was no contract offer and we didn't talk about one. I just told him that I needed to be upfront with him and that my advice to Joe would be that he's a special player and when he's healthy a lot of teams are going to need a third baseman.''

Comparing these two accounts, it's easy to see why Boras would reject it. The Sox took a shot at buying low, as Crede was coming off a miserable, injury-marred 2007 season, and hadn't shown that he had fully overcome the herniated disc in his back. With Crede apparently offering no special input, Boras probably abided by his m.o. of gunning for the open market.

For at least three months, Boras' gamble looked great. Crede carried an OPS in the high .800's into mid-June with excellent defense, putting him prime position for a big payday. In fact, he boosted his OPS over .900 after a pair of two-homer games against Minnesota on June 6-7.

However, he soon began to fade. He hit .180/.252/.280 over his next 100 at-bats, during which reports of back problems resurfaced. Smoke led to fire. Crede hit the disabled list on July 21, played for a couple weeks in late August, and emptied his locker with a couple weeks to go in the regular season.

Based on Williams' and Boras' accounts, and the way the season played out, I'd wager on this series of events being pretty close to the truth:

  1. The Sox wanted to extend Crede for at least one year of free agency while he rehabbed from injury.
  2. Boras was not open to talking about a contract while the player was still considered "injured."
  3. Crede came out of spring training looking like his fully healthy self.
  4. Knowing the third baseman market and Boras' negotiation habits, they never revisited the idea.

That's my guess, anyway. Reinsdorf's right that Crede lost money by not working on an extension in late 2007. Assuming he wouldn't have taken a pay cut, Crede could have received somewhere around $5.5 million to $6 million for 2009. Instead, Crede signed with Minnesota for $2.5 million, and fell 33 plate appearances short of earning any incentives.

But Reinsdorf comes off a little too glib in saying so, because Boras had his reasons beyond a pure money/power play. If Boras was optimistic about Crede's health (and he had gone against the Sox's staff's recommendation by opting for treatment over surgery before succumbing to the knife, so the most effective measure was finally taken), it's reasonable that he would want more leverage before talking about a contract.

That said, Boras is misrepresenting Reinsdorf's argument to fit his side, saying the Sox avoided a "commitment" that would have required no commitment from Crede's camp.

So really, it's business as usual between the two parties. Boras has always said he has a good relationship with Williams, and Williams responds with standard courtesy to any questions about Boras. Whether or not Boras and Reinsdorf get along is immaterial, because unless arb-eligible players (Crede, Pena) or desperate veterans (Andruw Jones) are involved, chances are they'll never do business, anyway.


Mandatory plug: Want to learn more about the Sox's history with Scott Boras? Pick up White Sox Outsider 2011! He plays a big part in my retrospective on Kenny Williams' first year as White Sox GM.