Agent Scott Boras can see the Detroit Tigers’ future: ‘It’s a monster’

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DETROIT — Sixteen winters ago, Scott Boras introduced himself to Detroit by first identifying its potential.

Boras, whose top clients in the early 2000s often went elsewhere — to play for teams that won, in more glamorous cities, for more money — had a superstar catcher in free agency on the wrong side of 30 with health concerns and few suitors.

Boras also had Mike Ilitch, the longtime Detroit Tigers owner with lots of money and lots of frustration over losing baseball games. In early conversations with Ilitch about that catcher — talks that helped to shape the next decade of Detroit baseball — Boras saw the city for what it is.

“It’s a monster,” he said recently. “It’s a big market.”


Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez signed on Feb. 6, 2004, 133 days after the Tigers had lost their American League-record 119th game. A year and a day after Rodriguez, another Boras client, Magglio Ordonez, signed in Detroit. The next year, Rodriguez was an All-Star, Ordonez hit a home run to send the Tigers to the World Series and the franchise was off on its most successful decade since World War II.

Boras saw that Tigers run start from the stage at Rodriguez’s big free agent reveal. Now, from a different perspective, he sees another potential run forming; in 2020, Boras signed two young players who rank among the most important in the team’s rebuild — No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson, who will arguably be the team’s top hitting prospect once he signs, and Matt Manning, the team’s top pick in 2016 who is arguably the Tigers’ top pitching prospect.

Boras is, as you would expect an agent to be, high on Torkelson’s future: “He’s a franchise player. You don’t normally get those with draft picks. You get good players, but you don’t normally get franchise players.”

(Torkelson is one of two unsigned draft picks for the Tigers. Daniel Cabrera, taken 62nd overall out of LSU, is the other and is also represented by Boras. The slot value for the top pick is $8,415,300; no serious complications are forecast for the negotiations.)

With Torkelson, the Tigers get a middle-of-the-order bat for years to come. In three seasons at Arizona State, he stood out as college baseball’s biggest impact hitter and is considered to be close to big-league ready, fitting almost perfectly into the team’s immediate future.

“Now you go in and put the bats in place and a guy like Torkelson, he just brings shade to a lineup because before and after is going to really, really benefit from this guy because he’s that extraordinary of a hitter,” Boras said.


Boras, 67, has seen several fruitful rebuilds up close and personal. The most recent was the Nationals, who capped off years of “close but no cigar” with a World Series win in 2019, led by the hitting of a Boras client, Anthony Rendon (taken No. 6 overall in 2011).

Perhaps Torkelson will be the Tigers’ Rendon, an early building block in an eventually potent big-league lineup. Then again, perhaps he will resemble, timing-wise, another Boras client: Kris Bryant. The Cubs slugger was taken No. 2 overall in 2013, the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015 and NL MVP for a World Series champion the year after that. Either way, the Tigers are getting one of the half-dozen or so elite players a franchise needs to complete for a championship.

“How can you define that with the Tigers and where can you see it coming,” Boras said, “You can definitely see three or four starters and now you can see those position players that you’re going to fit in there to be those elite guys.”

The Tigers’ path to glory, though, will be driven by a different catalyst than the Cubs’ or Nationals’ was; the Tigers are stocked with young starting pitching. Though betting on young pitchers’ health is risky, the reward can be sky high, resulting in powerhouse rotations like the Braves’ in the 1990s or the Athletics in the early 2000s. The Nationals, too, won with starting pitching, though their rotation was mostly built through free agency; Ace Stephen Strasburg (a Boras client) was Washington’s only postseason starter drafted by the franchise.

“You’ve really got three starters the Nationals didn’t have,” Boras said of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects — Manning, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal (another Boras client). “They got Strasburg, but they didn’t have the depth in starting that Detroit does. I think that when you’ve got a potential 1 and 1-A and 1-B with those three starters, you’ve really got a foundation and pitching in that division sets them up for six years.”


There is still the matter of hitting. Last year’s first round pick, high school outfielder Riley Greene, is still likely years away, as are most of the organization’s prized international players. That means the Tigers will need to find hitters in the free agent market. And with those pitchers on the cusp of the majors, and Torkelson potentially not far behind, the time may be coming to take big-market offseason swings like the Tigers did with Ilitch at the top.

“Remember, the economics of the Tigers are that they have the ability to draw 3 million fans,” Boras said. “The state of Illinois has 12 million people? Ohio, 11 million. Both states have two teams. Michigan has 10 million people and one team. Does that tell you how good of a market it is?”

Indeed, while the Tigers sold just over 1.5 million tickets in 2019, they’ve topped the 3 million mark four times (2007-08, 2012-13) in the past 15 seasons and came close in 2014.

Of course, there are other concerns, especially given the current climate of the sport and the nation. Even with their top pitchers likely to debut in 2021, it’s not likely the Tigers will spend during this offseason. But the next? The start of the 2022 season may see Comerica Park decorated in stars again.


Boras has a great fondness for Ilitch, who died in 2017, and thinks the organization is in good hands with his son, Christopher, as team president and CEO.

“Chris is understanding,” Boras said. “He’s understanding. He took over the Tigers at a time when they were in transition and now they’re passing through it.”

A franchise moving from father to son isn’t new to Boras, either. The Yankees transitioned from George Steinbrenner to his son Hal in 2008, two years before the elder Steinbrenner’s death. Despite a payroll that annually ranked among the highest in baseball, the Yankees under Hal preached “fiscal responsibility” and got their payroll below $200 million — for one season, at least. That was 2018, the year they traded for Giancarlo Stanton and his mega-contract. In December 2019, they signed righty Gerrit Cole — you guessed it, a Boras client — to a $324 million contract, the most ever committed to a pitcher.

That’s part of the natural cycle for a winning franchise, according to Boras.

“To make really, really good teams, you get core players and then you have a reason to spend because you know that you’re better than everybody,” Boras said. “But to reach that point, you have to make sure that you’re looking when you build the core, to always take advantage.”

That time appears soon for the Tigers, at least if Boras clients like Torkelson, Manning and Skubal develop like the team hopes they will.

The Tigers are still stocking, growing that core with an eye toward “building this the right way,” as Christopher Ilitch says often. But one day, Boras thinks, they will be shopping again.

Perhaps then, Boras will be in front of the cameras again at Comerica Park, just as he was in 2004 when the Tigers’ last rebuild shifted into overdrive.

“It’s like flowers and a vase,” Boras said. “The flowers are just going to fall on the ground if you don’t have the vase to put them in. That’s what free agency is — it’s the vase of championships.”


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