CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The agent for free agent Bryce Harper and many of baseball's top players claims rebuilding teams have become a "competitive cancer" that caused this season's 4 percent attendance drop.
As the sport's officials start to consider possible rules changes to spark offense and speed pace, Scott Boras acidly critiqued several clubs that were among the 17 to draw fewer fans this year than last.
Boras pointed out Louisiana State's baseball team had a higher average attendance for its 37 home games than the Miami Marlins did for their 81 -- 10,786 to 10,014.
"The fans of Florida have certainly brought the MIA to Miami," he said Wednesday in a courtyard outside the general managers' meetings.
He claimed when "the divisional clubs come to Minnesota, it's gotten so bad that only one of the Twins shows up."
Boras has self interest in encouraging spending, wanting fewer clubs jettisoning veterans in favor of youth and more handing out lucrative contracts -- especially to his clients.
Major League Baseball's average attendance dropped to 28,830, its lowest since 2003 after 14 consecutive seasons topping 30,000, and six ballparks set record lows. Boras connected the drop to non-competitive clubs: There were three 100-loss teams for the second time since 1985 and the first since a record four in 2002. And there were eight 95-loss teams for the first time in big league history.
"The reality of it is they're losing their fan base, and it costs millions and millions of dollars to rebuild the fan base," he said.
Boras is seeking a record contract for Harper, topping outfielder Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million, 13-year deal through 2027 reached with the Miami Marlins, who traded him to the New York Yankees last December.
Washington made a late-season offer before Harper became a free agent at the unusually young age of 26. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said Harper didn't respond.
While GMs meet with each other and agents, the formal sessions deal with the mechanics of the sport, and Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff are concerned about the drop in offense and rise in strikeouts. The big league batting average fell seven points to .248, its lowest since 1972 -- the last season before the American League adopted the designated hitter.
Strikeouts set a record for the 11th consecutive year and topped hits for the first time in big league history.
"I think fans like the ball in play a little bit more," Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "I embrace MLB's efforts to think about how to steer the game towards the most compelling product for the fans. If that involves the ball in play more, then you find some subtle ways to influence that."
Los Angeles Angels General Manager Billy Eppler doesn't think alterations are needed.
"I think we should embrace it. I don't think we should fight it," he said. "Why are people striking out more? Probably because pitchers are throwing about 3 1/2 miles an hour harder than they were seven years ago."
More discussion is likely when owners meet next week in Atlanta, and the players' association appears open to at least consider changes -- a stark change from their near-constant refusal in recent years. But first MLB must formulate what it wants to propose, a process likely to stretch through next month's winter meetings in Las Vegas and possibly into January.
"We live in a time where we expect answers very quickly, and I think we have to remember that in baseball history there have been many different eras, many styles of baseball that have been played," Philadelphia GM Matt Klentak said. "To some degree we need to have patience with the game and let it evolve naturally. It will."
Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, speaks to reporters during the Major League Baseball General Manager Meetings Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Carlsbad, Calif.
Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler speaks to reporters during the Major League Baseball General Manager Meetings Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Carlsbad, Calif.
Sports on 11/08/2018
Print Headline: Agent calls rebuilding teams a 'cancer'