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Boras Capable of Bridging Gap

March 13, 2001|ROSS NEWHAN

TAMPA, FLA. — The immediate reaction to the decision by Gary Sheffield to dump agent Jim Neader in favor of Scott Boras is to believe this nightmare situation has slipped deeper into the abyss.

After all, isn't Boras' reputation darker than Darth Vader's? Didn't he negotiate the $252-million deal between Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers that contributed to Sheffield's demand for a lifetime extension and spilled all over this spring of whining and greed? Hasn't Boras been accused of creating offers where there are none, taking clubs to the wall in pursuit of the last dollar, signing clients to contracts totaling more than $1 billion as the agent most often accused of destroying the game?

And now the aggressive and demanding Boras is teamed with a player who has changed directions more times this spring than a politician. A player whose dissatisfaction with the $41 million he is owed over the next four years has threatened to divide the Dodger clubhouse and destroy a season.

Well, as natural as it may be to think of the abyss, to conclude that the Dodgers--now more than ever--have to trade Sheffield, it is possible Boras can help salvage the unsalvageable, heal the internal wounds and turn Sheffield into a valued and contributing citizen for the Dodgers.

No one has ever mistaken the agent for a white knight, but his deep ties to the Dodger organization through his representation of eight other players, his influence on and close relationship with Chairman Bob Daly and his effective, behind-the-scenes work with Adrian Beltre and Chan Ho Park last year give credence to a belief that he can convince Daly--the target of Sheffield's most blistering attack--that it's in the club's best interest to retain him.

Make no mistake, I say all of that with trepidation. I have written three recent columns urging the Dodgers to trade Sheffield at any price, suggesting that what he has pulled this spring fits a longtime pattern of selfish behavior.

I am not now comfortable with the notion that on Sunday, even as he was rescinding his trade demand, he reportedly called Dwight Gooden of the New York Yankees and Deion Sanders of the Cincinnati Reds to tell them not to believe it and that he would still be interested in joining those teams.

Nor am I now comfortable with the notion that on Monday, while apologizing and announcing his change in agents, he seemed to suggest his former agent was responsible for the behavior of a 32-year-old man, as if he can't make up his own mind, choose right from wrong.

Clearly, Sheffield's behavior--

this spring and over the years--

doesn't inspire comfort or confidence. He forced a trade in Milwaukee by intentionally playing badly. He recently said that he didn't know if he could perform at 100% if he remained with the Dodgers.

I am merely making the point here that if any agent, any one person, can keep a handle on Sheffield, it may be Boras, and the emergence of the renowned agent could be a positive development for anyone interested strictly in a winning team or retaining his job.

That, of course, is an important bottom line for the besieged Daly and General Manager Kevin Malone. Both of their positions could be in jeopardy if a team with a $110-million payroll doesn't win.

Under duress, Malone has made a futile effort to trade Sheffield for comparable value--from Mike Piazza to Pokey Reese to Ichiro Suzuki--while apprehensive about putting the season and both his and Daly's jobs on the line by trading Sheffield for anything less than that.

Sheffield's mouth and monetary demands have contributed to the wary market and, in searching out Boras, he might have realized he was being swamped by his own wake--unwanted at Malone's price by the teams he most wanted to join and on treacherous ground in the Dodger clubhouse because of his criticism of teammates and their overpriced contracts.

Boras, whose high-salaried clients have a history of honoring contracts, insisted on two ground rules before accepting Sheffield's invitation. Sheffield would have to apologize and he would have to drop his renegotiation demands.

Malone, who had criticized Neader on Monday, was said to be giddy over the change, believing it opened the door to Sheffield's retention.

Daly, still angry over Sheffield's verbal attack on him, will have to be convinced of his left fielder's sudden good intentions. However, Daly knows the importance of a competitive season for the organization and himself. He also has a close and respectful relationship with Boras, a regular visitor to Dodger Stadium because of his representation of Beltre, Park, Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Eric Gagne, Chad Kreuter, Angel Pena and Mark Lewis.

Boras is at the stadium so often, and Daly leans on his opinion so regularly as he learns about a new industry, that there has been a perception Boras almost has a front-office role.

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