Perhaps no player not named Pat Burrell has been in the news more since
December of 2002 than "ace in waiting" Kevin Millwood. Blessed with a wonderful right arm, and
represented by sometimes contentious agent, Scott Boras, it was always even
money at best that he would ever pitch at Citizens Bank Park with a Phillie cap
resting on his head.
As any casual follower of the Phillies is aware, the road to signing "free agent to be" Millwood was always paved with bumps and grinds.. This writer spent more than one column during the '03 season talking about the "line in the sand" between the Phils and their seemingly reluctant righty.
Indeed, when Millwood's final toss was thrown, not in anger at an Atlanta Brave batter, but at a fan seated in the box seats at Veterans Stadium [his glove and not a ball, no less!] many fans bid a sad adieu to him. Truth be told, the weeks immediately following the toss did not show promise of many happy returns either, as agent Boras made it clear that Millwood was ready, willing and able to bolt to greener pastures.
Given the rumors of an impending 5 year, 75 million dollar deal offered by Team X, most fans sadly took their pencils and, instead of drawing a line in the sand, drew a line through Millwood's name. Not so General Manager Ed Wade, who made a 3 year, 30 million dollar offer to Boras, and waited for an answer.
This off-season has been a personal triumph for Wade, and no triumph was greater than the patience he displayed with Millwood. In Rudyard Kipling's wonderfully prosaic poem, "If", he offers this verse, "if you can wait and not be tired by waiting," and Wade was nothing if not patient.
Although Boras took more than a week to respond, his eventual "no" to the
offer only strengthened Wade's resolve.
He quickly went out and acquired another solid starter in the last year
of his contract, lefty Eric Milton of the Minnesota Twins. Wade indicated that if he couldn't have
one Mill, he would settle for another.
This set in motion the most amazing of circumstances, which eventually gave Phillie fans the giddiest of truisms, that two Mills are better than one! Millwood said he might like to stay, Wade said he might like to pay, and arbitration was not only offered… but accepted!
The Phils offer of a 10 million dollar deal seemed an easy one to beat; after all Millwood made 9.9 million last year and hardly had the season of a pauper. Although his 14-12 record was hardly cause to put his picture on the cover of a cereal box, his other numbers still suggested he was eating the breakfast of champions.
Make no mistake, 222 innings pitched, 5 complete games, 169 strike outs
and a no-hitter tossed in made some highly compelling arguments for Boras at
arbitration time. Thus, Millwood's
request for 12.5 million seemed a forgone conclusion if [and there is that word
again!] Millwood and Boras chose to take this to the arbitration
Yet the art of compromise was at work here, with Wade hinting at a future long term deal, and Millwood pledging his love and loyalty to the team, the city, and the possibilities. With a newfound vigor for exercise and a workout program in place, Millwood lost 20 pounds over the winter and vowed to make amends for his forgettable September performance.
This was the art of compromise, Point A… that Millwood understood his responsibilities to both himself and his team. This lead to Point B… Wade's willingness to not only offer a raise to the 11 million dollar level, but to offer highly reachable incentives which might push the deal to 11.5 million.
Point C may very well have been the most difficult and probably the murkiest. In the world of Scott Boras, compromise is not acknowledged and very rarely accepted. Although we may never know the whole story, Boras's past may give us an indication of what could have taken place. It is highly likely that he encouraged Millwood to go to arbitration, that the 12.5 million was highly winnable.
In fact, if this is what Boras said, he was probably correct. However, in the art of compromise, contentious negotiations give way to respectful dialogue, both respect for the opponent, and a willingness to achieve longer- range goals.
Had Millwood rejected the Phils offer of 11 million and change, he would have been sending a not so subtle message that the "free agent" game was likely to be played again, and with different results next time. He would have been telling the Phils that he intended to win the 12.5 million in arbitration, pitch as well as an "ace-in waiting" can pitch, and then take his glove elsewhere next season.
Instead, Millwood quite possibly overruled Boras's recommendation and decided to split the difference at 11 million, with pocket change for good behavior, as in innings pitched, an All-Star appearance, and maybe post season play thrown in as an added incentive.
Phillie fans everywhere have reason to salute this signing. It not only sends a message that Millwood hopes to be here for the long haul, but it also indicates that he plans on having a stronger voice in future negotiations with the Phils. Scott Boras has won many victories in his years as a negotiator of big league contracts. His deft skill at getting teams to bid against themselves is legendary.
One need only study the deals with the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez and the Dodgers for Kevin Brown to understand that, unbeknownst to the teams, there were no other bidders at the auction. This paid off in historic contracts for Rodriguez and Brown, but they soon learned that money couldn't buy happiness.
Brown began to wince at the anemic run support he received in LaLa Land and, in true Wizard of Oz fashion, recited the phrase, "there's no place like home" often enough that Eastward bound he was. Although New York is hardly a stone's throw from Georgia, it's in the same time zone, and Brown is once again content.
As for A-Rod, his off-again, on-again Beantown trade talks are off-again… for now. Yet, in a division of heavy weights like Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle, money not only can't buy happiness, but it can't keep a weak team from finishing fourth. Watch for A-Rod to resume his wailings again in the fall.
These transpirings have set an ill wind blowing in the direction of Boras's clients. Pudge Rodriguez may have received his four-year deal, but he never envisioned it coming from Detroit, the not so proud holders of a 119-loss season in 2003. Realistically, Pudge may help the Bengals win 20 more games, which still adds up to a cool 99 defeats.
Even Millwood's pitching buddy, Greg Maddux, has felt the sting of baseball's new realities, and Boras can longer charm his former teams-in-arms like the Cards and Dodgers into signing a player for better than fair market value. When the dust settles, Maddux will be pitching for far less than the 10-11 million a year that Boras requested.
It is indicative of these circumstances that Millwood commented that he did not wish to follow in the footsteps of Maddux and venture into the now unchartered waters of " the new free agent marketplace." Again, this can only bode well for the Phils, always considered a fair club when it came to paying out salaries to worthy players.
Look for Millwood to eventually sign a new three-year deal for the "fair market" value of between 35-40 million dollars sometime before the end of 2004. He has clearly crossed over the line in the sand and joined fellow teammates Thome, Burrell, Wolf and Lieberthal in a quest for the gold in '04.
Partners rather than adversaries, the Philadelphia Phillies and their star righty, Kevin Millwood, have demonstrated than in sports, as in life, there are many art forms. The Art of Compromise always was and remains still, one of the most noble.
Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to email@example.com and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast