ITW: How did you get into being a sports agent?
Mark Pieper: I went to the University of Muchigan as an ungraduate. I was an economics and finance major. It was something that I was interested in and I thought I would be decent at, but it was extremely difficult to get into. I went knocking on doors, only to get turned away. Eventually, I decided I was going to do it on my own and I started my own football sports agency. It was just me and another guy and we had some mild success. Then, I met some people who were doing baseball and I actually knew a guy who had a very successful firm in Chicago. I sort of latched on with them and now I do baseball exclusively and I don't do football anymore.
ITW: Is a law degree necessary for aspiring agents?
Mark Pieper: In my personal opinion, there are two groups of people that have had the most successin this field, especially in baseball. The first is attorneys and the second is guys who played in the big leagues, who have an advantage because they have lived through the experience that these kids are going to be going through. Some of these kids look for a more legal and business type and some look for a guy they will be able to bond with and who knows what they are going through. In our agency, in particular, we offer that blend. Half of the agents are lawyers and half are former big leaguers.
ITW: At what point do you approach a top amateur player?
Mark Pieper: It depends. If you're talking about a high school senior, it's before his senior year. If you're talking about a college junior, it's before his junior year.
ITW: Is there a round in the draft after which players drafted usually don't have an advisor?
Mark Pieper: It seems to me that only the top few rounds used to have advisors. Now, it's more like the top ten rounds have advisors.
ITW: How do you identify prospects worth representing? Do you have a network of scouts?
Mark Pieper: Our company, we have a couple scouts. We have scouts, just like teams have scouts, that go out there and watch players. We have a lot of friends that are out there on the team side coaching and maybe on the front office side that we have conversations with. We can have conversations about a guy and whether or not he is talented and what his pros and cons are. We also have, as I told you, at least six guys on our staff who played in the big leagues and they are at least as good, or better, at identifying who they think is good. What I would say the answer is that we have a lot of cross-referencing between the agents and the scouts and connections we have on the team side.
ITW: What are some techniques for recruiting a potential client to SFX?
Mark Pieper: Typically, what we do is just go out there and talk to a player about who we are and our culture as a firm, the experience we've had and the success we've had in the business. And we have a good story to tell because we've been doing this for thirty years.
But, there's a lot of different techniques that different firms employ. Some make grandiose promises or just being there every day, sitting on the player, or squatting, as we call it, where you're around a player every day and, ulimately, the player might sign with you because he's comfortable with you, even though that agent might have no experience or ability to do anything for you, but he showed the most interest. I would call that a technique; it's just not one that we employ.
ITW: How do you believe the new August 15th signing deadline and the re-working of compensation picks has affected the negotiating process for the draft?
Mark Pieper: I think that, and I think the teams and the commisioner's office think that, it didn't work that well. The teams, thy have to sign the players that are quality, top-end players and the players that were that got their money. They had to wait and they had to do it in the eleventh hour on August 14th. The deadline just forces a lot of those deals to happen at the last minute. Last year, teams were just waiting to see what everyone else was doing and once they realized that everyone else was going outside of the box, they all did it. they just did it at the last minute. Next year, we'll have to see what everyone else does again, whether they wait until the last minute or not. My guess is everyone waits again.
I think teams are trying to decide whether to pay these guys on the free agent market or if they can have these guys cheaply within their organization, if they're ready. Even if they have to sign these guys to a couple million in the draft, it's still cheaper then to try and sign these guys on the open market. So, if there's a really quality player on the amateur market, a lot of teams have said that this is where they have to spend their money because they just can't afford to do it at the free agent level. You see some teams like Cleveland, the Rockies, Arizona; a lot of these teams, especially on the National League side, they were successful with homegrown talent.
ITW: What services do you offer that a casual fan might not associate with a player agent?
Mark Pieper: I think most people associate agents with negotiating contracts and doing their marketing, maybe. The reality is, once you live the life of an agent and can see it behind the scenes, we are involved in just about every detail of their personal lives. I mean, you name it, from legal services to helping them with apartments, cars, insurance, to house purchases, everything that these guys do, we are in some way involved. We aren't necessarily doing the work, but we may be required to find the people that can do the work.
ITW: Can you describe the process of going through arbitration against a major league team?
Mark Pieper: First off, the process is called Final Offer Arbitration. What that means is the team chooses a number, the player chooses a number and they do what is called a blind exchange, meaning the commisioner's office and the Player's Association give each other the number at the same time. So, we don't know their number and they don't know our number when we do it. You have the ability to negotiate up until the hearings, which are usually between February 1st and February 20th every year, and you can settle on any amount that both sides feel is appropriate. If you actually go to trial, it's an all-or-nothing prosposition, meaning that it's either the team's number or the player's number. The arbitrator can't decide on a number in between.
The process is really designed to not be used. It's just too risky, since the arbitrator's can't just split the difference and say let's just call it even in the middle. It really works that way; there's usually around 100 cases and 6 to 10 actually go to trial.
When you go to trial, the agent typically lays down a case for why the player is worth the number they proposed and the team spends an hour making a case for why the player is worth what they prosposed and there is a half hour for rebuttal. And that's it; it's a half day trial, and it's a lot more complicated than I just proposed but, in simple terms, that's what it is. If you actually sit through a trial, you understand that it actually gets pretty complicated and caught up in the details of how to properly evaluate contracts and the roles that different players are used in. Two players that look very similar on paper, people that are good at this can show how maybe they aren't as similar as they might look.
ITW: In regards to that, in the last few decades, there has been a boom in stat analysis with the advent of a lot of new metrics. Would you say that they are employed a lot during arbitration cases?
Mark Pieper: I would say this- years ago, there were stats that were never talked about during arbitration cases, stats like range factor and OPS even, for that matter. They were stats that just were never talked about. They were what we call the baseball card statistics, the statistics you see on th back of a baseball card. There is no question that those statistics that were not customary have worked themselves into arbitration cases more. However, at the end of the day, you only have so much time. If a stat is so complicated that you have to explain how you came up with it, you don't really have that time to explain to an arbitrator how you came up with it and how good your player is at it. So, I think there are some that worked themselves into the process more, like OPS, but many sabermetrics still haven't found themselves in the process fully quite yet.
ITW: How are the arbitrators selected?
Mark Pieper: The arbitrators are from the American Association of Arbitrators, or AAA. They are people that are certified, like lawyers, former judges, and those types of people. The commisioner's office and the LRD, Labor Relations, and the Player's Association work together to pick those arbitrators. There are certain rules where each side has the ability to veto arbitrators for a certain reason and they may choose to do that.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehouse.com