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Nontraditional model pays off for CAA Baseball

Nontraditional model pays off for CAA Baseball

By Liz Mullen, Staff Writer

Published

When San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain signed his six-year, $127.5 million deal last week, CAA Baseball could lay claim to having secured more top-dollar MLB contracts over the past year than any other agency.

Cain’s deal with the Giants was a team negotiation effort, says CAA Baseball co-head Jeff Berry.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
In total, CAA has negotiated $646 million worth of deals for its clients since Opening Day 2011. In addition to Cain, CAA negotiated Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s $126 million deal (signed in February) and the $145 million deal for Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun (signed last spring).

Those three contracts give the agency stakes in three of the 10 nine-figure MLB player deals that have been signed in the last 12 months. No other agency has that many in the group. Dan Lozano’s Icon Sports Group is the only other agency with more than one such deal.

The $646 million amount includes arbitration contracts, such as Andre Ethier’s one-year, $10.95 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as guarantees for draft picks, such as the $8.5 million deal last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Danny Hultzen, signed with Seattle. All told, it stands as one of the largest sums, if not the largest, of any MLB player practice over the past year.

As one point of comparison, Lozano has negotiated $532 million worth of deals, including last week’s 10-year, $225 million contract extension for Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto and the 10-year, $254 million Albert Pujols contract signed with the Los Angeles Angels in December.

But the fact that CAA even represents Cain was part of the story when his contract — the largest ever for a right-handed pitcher — was announced last week. Cain quietly became a CAA client when NFL player agent and football coaches agent Jimmy Sexton joined the firm in November. Joining Sexton in making that move were MLB player agents Rick Landrum and Landon Williams, who represent Cain.

Berry
Urbon
The Giants negotiated Cain’s deal not only with Landrum and Williams, but also with CAA Baseball co-head Jeff Berry, with whom they had a prior relationship. Berry represents Giants catcher Buster Posey.

San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer said the club had a good relationship with Landrum and Williams prior to CAA. “Jeff’s relationship only helped,” he said.

Added Berry, “It was a total team effort.”
Balelo
Landry

For CAA Baseball, the signings come while rival agents privately question the structure of the division. Unlike many player representation practices that are run by one or two big-name agents, in the case of CAA Baseball, the agency is overseen by five MLB player agents: Berry, Joe Urbon, Brodie Van Wagenen, Nez Balelo and Greg Landry. Each reports to CAA Sports co-heads Howard Nuchow and Michael Levine.

Van Wagenen
Van Wagenen met the industry criticism head-on last week and called the traditional model outdated.

“In the baseball marketplace, there is a traditional hierarchical structure that defines most of the big baseball agencies,” he said, noting a structure in which there is one leader, or one well-known baseball agent. “The leader is inherently forced to prioritize clients to receive his or her attention. So, in that model, it makes scalability and sustainability incredibly difficult.”

While rivals agencies would surely dispute that line of thinking, Van Wagenen said the structure of CAA is not only good for the longevity of the agency, but also for its clients, as each player gets the undivided attention of one of the division co-heads.

Van Wagenen led the negotiations on Zimmerman’s deal, while Berry was engaged on Cain’s deal.

Both Cain and Zimmerman signed long-term extensions prior to hitting their free agent year. This year, CAA clients Carlos Quentin, Grady Sizemore, Joe Blanton, Jeremy Guthrie and Ethier are entering the last year of their contracts before they become free agents. “I would expect some of those players to reach free agency,” Van Wagenen said. He then added, as a suggestion of possible in-season extensions, “I am not sure all will.”