Casey Close has become one of Major League Baseball’s heaviest hitters without swinging a bat.
Close, 50, had one of the most productive offseasons in the sport’s history as the agent who negotiated more than $700 million in contracts for players including Clayton Kershaw, Masahiro Tanaka, Freddie Freeman and Homer Bailey. His most prominent client, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, is retiring after this season, yet Close is more successful than ever.
While athlete representatives such as Scott Boras and entertainer-turned-agent Jay Z are more visible, Close, who’s married to a former Miss America and was voted college baseball’s national player of the year in 1986, landed Kershaw the richest deal for a pitcher in history at $215 million over seven years. Close got Tanaka the fifth-richest contract for a pitcher -- $155 million over seven seasons -- even though the 25-year-old hadn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues.
“At this point, Casey is a super agent and rightfully deserves the accolades,” Jeff Moorad, a former agent who was a co-owner of the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, said in an interview. “He played the game, he’s a terrific recruiter and obviously a formidable contract negotiator. If nothing else, this past offseason speaks to his skill and tenacity at eliciting top dollar for his clients.”
Factoring an agent’s standard 4 percent commission, Close, who got Freeman $135 million from the Atlanta Braves and Bailey $105 million from the Cincinnati Reds, hauled in about $28 million this offseason. Baseball’s regular season has its first full day of games today, with 13 on the schedule, including the World Series-champion Boston Red Sox at the Baltimore Orioles.
Close, who started New York-based Excel Sports Management in 2011 after leaving Creative Artists Agency LLC, said in an e-mail that while he’s sincerely appreciative of interest in his offseason accomplishments, he prefers not to comment on client matters or negotiating strategies.
“He’s generated a lot of dollars for the players, but he’s done it in a way where he hasn’t generated a lot of attention for himself,” Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, an ESPN analyst and Close’s former teammate at the University of Michigan, said by telephone. “That’s what Casey’s all about.”
Jay Z started his athlete representation firm a year ago and made a splash with his first baseball contract negotiation, getting former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal from the Seattle Mariners in December. The total value equaled the third-richest in baseball history.
Boras, who brokered Alex Rodriguez’s two 10-year contracts each worth more than $250 million, this offseason negotiated Jacoby Ellsbury’s seven-year, $153 million move to the Yankees from the Boston Red Sox and Shin-Soo Choo’s seven-year, $130 million contract to join the Texas Rangers from Cincinnati. Two of Boras’s other notable free-agent clients, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, remain unsigned as the regular season begins.
Fernando Cuza, the Cuban-born agent for players such as Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz and Alfonso Soriano, last week completed an eight-year extension for Cabrera, the two-time American League Most Valuable Player from the Detroit Tigers, that’s worth $248 million.
Close’s tactics are different than many other baseball agents, said Wayne McDonnell, an assistant professor of sports management at New York University, including his chief rivals to represent baseball’s top talent. Boras, 61, has been an agent since 1983 and over the years has negotiated baseball’s first $50 million, $100 million and $200 million deals. Jay Z, the 44-year-old rapper and record producer whose given name is Shawn Carter, last year branched off Roc Nation Sports in an effort to elevate athletes’ careers on a global scale the way he has with artists in the music industry.
“With Boras, it comes down to the analytics, the dollars,” said McDonnell, who created the “Business of Baseball” course at NYU. “Why a lot of players are attracted to Jay Z, beyond the hip-hop and the money, is the entrepreneurial spirit. Close has a good sense of his players’ character and level of comfort. What Close has been able to do with guys like Jeter and Kershaw is help them cultivate an identity and relationship with franchises.”
Representatives for Boras and Roc Nation Sports didn’t return e-mails seeking comment.
Close started representing Jeter in 1993, a year after joining IMG’s baseball division and seven years after the Yankees selected Close in the seventh round of the draft. Close, who still holds Michigan records with 46 career home runs and 190 runs scored, spent 4 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues. Jeter, 39, has made 13 All-Star Games and won five World Series titles over his 19 seasons as the Yankees’ shortstop.
Close, who has a communications degree, joined CAA in 2006 and five years later started the baseball division at Excel Sports Management, where he’s a partner of Mark Steinberg, the agent for golfer Tiger Woods.
“The last three years have been extremely gratifying for all of us at Excel,” Close said via e-mail. “We have an extremely talented and hard-working group and really enjoy each day we spend together. I’m very fortunate to be working with my two partners and long-time friends, Jeff Schwartz and Mark Steinberg, as we constantly push each other to deliver our very best.”
Married to Gretchen Carlson, the 1989 Miss America and anchor of “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson” on Fox News Channel, Close has a reputation as a likable yet tough negotiator who prefers to stay behind the scenes, according to those who have hammered out contracts with him.
“There is no agenda, you know very clearly it’s about getting the best deal for his players and putting them in the right spots,” said MLB Network analyst John Hart, who negotiated with Close as general manager of the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. “It’s not surprising that a lot of character guys are drawn to Casey because he can get them good deals, and he’s a guy who you like to be around.”
Larkin, 49, said Close at this point can pick who he wants to represent and that it’s no surprise that clients like Jeter, Kershaw and Freeman have spent their careers with one franchise in a sport where more than 300 players changed teams last season. The average salary in the majors was $3.39 million last season and the minimum salary this year is $500,000.
“He’s the kind of guy players like Derek want representing them,” said Larkin, who spent his 19-year playing career with the Cincinnati Reds and has Close as his agent. “It’s not about the pomp and circumstance. It’s about getting the job done.”
Close, Boras and Jay Z are among more than 300 certified baseball agents on record with the MLB Players Association. Close’s influence among that group continues to grow, even with Jeter’s plan to leave the game after this season.
“We’ve seen a changing of the guard in being the elite agent at the top of the mountain right now, that being Casey Close,” said NYU’s McDonnell. “He’s not the agent that’s going to make all the headlines with the ostentatious appearances at the winter meetings, the All-Star games. He’s the guy who will sneak in quickly and do what he has to do.”
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