Sunday, June 22, 2008

An Interview with Matt Sosnick

An interview with Matt Sosnick

I was recently privileged to spend some time with professional baseball agent Matt Sosnick of Sosnick-Cobbe Sports. Matt Sosnick was the subject of ESPN analyst/writer Jerry Crasnick’s bookLicense to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent” (published in 2005). Sosnick’s current roster of MLB players include Dontrelle Willis, Josh Willingham, Darrell Rasner, Freddy Sanchez and the hottest rookie on the planet, Jay Bruce. Sosnick’s name was in the news recently as he was Josh Hamilton’s agent until a few weeks back, a story which I covered here. Matt was kind enough to chat with me about the business of being an agent, the Hamilton situation, Mark Cuban, collusion, integrity and how his mom found my blog.

IIATMS: How did you decide to become an agent?
Matt Sosnick: I used to be a CEO of a hi-tech company, but I hated it. I was trying to decide if I should become an agent or if I should go back and get my Ph.D. in Psychology. Ultimately, I decided I was too lazy to go back to school so I became and agent.

IIATMS: Are you an attorney?
MS: No, I am not an attorney. I have them working at the Firm, though.

IIATMS: What do you think are the most important personal traits in being a successful agent?
MS: Charisma. Charisma, not deception. Agents try to spin things to their strengths. We’re not the only good agents out there, but we try to get closer to our clients than others. The “bottom line” is the only thing that matters at the larger firms and that drives other agents to do things that we would not want anyone from our Firm doing.

IIATMS: Besides the agents, how do you staff your firm? Do you have a stable of guys running stats and data?
MS: We’re a pretty small group. We’ve got former players, some of which were once clients, plus the expected support staff. We don’t have interns or a stable of guys crunching numbers. We’ve got one guy who coordinates all the Firm’s activities, a jack-of-all-trades.

IIATMS: How does a kid who loves baseball break into this side of the business, other than going to law school? What advice would you give the kids entering college? For those leaving college?
MS: It’s nearly impossible to just break into. The best way is to intern for a team as soon as you can. Keep following up, being persistent. Then go to law school.

It’s like wanting to be President. The odds on that are 1 million to one [for those who actually want to be President]. But if you wrangle an internship with a senator, you’ve reduced those odds significantly. Same goes for getting into baseball. So many people want in.

IIATMS: What’s your vision for your Firm? Remaining smaller, closer-knit? Or becoming larger like some of your peers?
MS: We’d like to remain about the same size, but deepening the number of clients.

IIATMS: Do you envision expanding into other sports?
MS: No. We don’t want to become a CAA (Creative Artists Agency); a factory.

IIATMS: What’s the standard fee for an agent?
MS: Standard fee is 5%.

IIATMS: What impact, if any, did Jerry Crasnick’s book “License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent” have on you, your firm?
MS: It helped with notoriety. Otherwise, it was largely neutral. Other agents have used it against us. One agent photocopied selected quotes from the book and sent them to every player in the Cape Cod League to make the Firm look bad.

Ironically, there was an agent in the book that I helped land a client, even though I had never met him before. Turns out he was the agent to Josh Hamilton left me for. It’s a rough business.

IIATMS: Which organizations are the best to work with? Why? What makes some organizations more difficult to work with?
MS: The difference in any organization is their levels of professionalism.

In terms of the best from ownership, to the GM, assistant GM, scouting director, etc., the best ones for us to deal with have been, in no particular order are: Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and the Cubs.

IIATMS: Speaking of the Cubs, does Mark Cuban stand a chance at buying the Cubs or will it land in the hands of a Friend of Bud?
MS: I’d be very surprised if Cuban ends up owning the Cubs, but that’s just speculation on my part, nothing more.

IIATMS: There’s been a recent trend of locking up rookies with longer term contracts to buy out their arbitration years. How do you advise your players?
MS: It’s completely a risk/reward discussion. Anything can happen to a player and we do encourage players to gain a sense of financial security who are concerned about that. And those that succeed will have a chance at a big contract again anyways. We just had Freddy Sanchez and Dontrelle (Willis) sign longer term deals so the money will be there again later if they perform. And if they don’t, they still have the benefit of the guaranteed money. Same goes for the younger guys.

Regarding Jay Bruce, we’re open to a discussion. But he’ll still have a chance at a big money contract down the road if he continues to progress, no matter if he signs a deal now or not.

IIATMS: What’s an arbitration hearing look and feel like?
MS: It’s an uncomfortable thing. No one likes going, which is why these things tend to be settled prior to a hearing. Teams don’t want to offend their players and players don’t like hearing the bad things that a team might say. But it’s looked at as a big negative if the player does not show.

Again, it’s all about perception. Boras was 0-11 in arbitration hearings but was selling himself on his skill in that environment.

IIATMS: What sort of things do you and the guys at your firm read? Asked differently, do you guys dive down into bowels of the internet/blogosphere for ideas, insight, opinion?
MS: Well, my mom actually found your blog, not me. She’s got a Google Alert set up.

We don’t really read that much; we just don’t have the time.

IIATMS: What rules would you like to see changed (with regards to labor, such as the Draft)?
MS: The Draft actually works to our strengths. Your agent is a big determining factor where you are actually drafted. Teams trust us to get the deal done. We have less signability issues and have had guys drafted ahead of their predicted spots as a result.

IIATMS: What rules would you like to see changed (on the field)?
MS: I’d like to see Instant Replay for home run calls. It’s more important to get it right. The umpires have such a difficult job and they do a great job at it, but with some of the configurations of the ballparks – such as a line determining a boundary – it’s just very difficult to make every call.

I’d like to see the manager be allowed to request a replay, though.

IIATMS: What’s draft day like for you? How does your firm cover all the draftees?
MS: We’ve got all of our employees together. It’s set up like a war room, with all the names on magnets. It’s an exciting day.

A few years ago, the draft was “it” for us since we didn’t have many guys in the majors yet. It’s how we built our business.

IIATMS: Losing a client is undoubtedly difficult and I know that losing a big client on the cusp of a big contract is especially painful. How did your peers react? What about your clients?
MS: Let me clarify an error: We have not had Josh Hamilton as a client since his draft day. He was a client of ours only since he was acquired by the Reds. He was introduced to us by a rather sketchy financial advisor. That bad link was a bad omen.

Let me also say, I like Josh Hamilton and I wish him nothing but the best. But once you use the Christian- or God-card, it’s impossible to take that back. In the days prior, Josh and his wife were very complimentary of us. They were very happy with the work we were doing for them. We were supposed to fly out and meet with them a few days later, but the next day, we were notified that we were fired.

IIATMS: Do you have a motto or mantra that guides you? I’m partial to “the essence of loyalty is reciprocity”, which, I think, describes your approach pretty well, too.
MS: Yes. “You have the decision whether karma will work for you or against you”. I place an unfair premium on loyalty. I give those loyal to me ten times that loyalty in return. That’s just how I am. I’m getting married in August and I’ve been friends with all of my groomsmen for at least 20 years.

There’s no coincidence that the clients we like the most are the most loyal. Guys like Josh Willingham, Josh Johnson, Darrell Rasner. These guys have become some of my best friends, not just clients of mine. I’d have it no other way.

That’s what differentiates us. Every year, before the season, we take all of our clients and their families on vacation. We want to build that relationship with not just the player, but those closest to him. We view it more like a fraternity mindset. It’s not for everyone but there is a reason these guys are with us.

Generally, we’ve got a stable of guys who share a similar philosophical mindset: They have limited expectations on what the world owes them and they are thankful for all they have. These are the guys who rarely get into incidents or embarrassing situations.

IIATMS: Do you think owners are united in their stand against guys like Sosa, Bonds, Gibbons and some of the other Mitchell Report guys? Or is it simply a matter of teams trying to get younger/cheaper?
MS: It’s a joke to think that there is a conspiracy. I have no doubt that Barry could be a productive hitter right now. But the risk doesn’t equal the reward. It’s not the on-the-field production for these guys, but the off-the-field distractions, headaches. There’s a lack of continuity as well and no GM will stick his ass out on the line for that risk.

IIATMS: How do you help guys handle disappointment? Dontrelle’s in Single A after struggling mightily this year. He’s been a long time client (with your firm logo tattooed on his throwing arm as a show of loyalty), so I’m curious how you help him.
MS: We’ve simply reminded him that he’s still got the stuff to be a successful major league pitcher. Everyone wants him to work it out. The Tigers are and have been reasonable and well within their rights to demote him. They invested in him and want to help him become a productive member of the club. We all want to see Dontrelle succeed and we’ll do anything we can to help him.

IIATMS: Can an agent drop a client as easily as a client dumping an agent? Why would this be done?
MS: Yes, you can. I think you have to be more established to do so. When I started, I was too insecure to consider doing that. But now we strive to represent a different kind of player. Better quality guys are less at risk.

We would drop a client for things like domestic abuse. We have no stomach for that.

IIATMS: How bitter can rivalries between agents get when competing over players, draft picks, etc.?
MS: Worse than you can ever imagine.

There are a ton of amoral guys out there, dying to make their numbers. With so many millions on the line, some guys would stop at nothing to steal a client or smear your name, guys with no barometer in their morality. Just look at the guy who sent excerpts from the book to every player in the Cape Cod League.

Players who want to be wow’d with hookers and strippers will go somewhere else, to the LA firms. That’s fine by me. We’re looking for a different player to represent.

IIATMS: Bonus question time! You're a huge Dave Matthews Band fan. What’s your favorite DMB album?
MS: The first Dave & Tim Reynolds acoustic album. With the whole band, either the live at Red Rocks or “Listener Supported”. I’m also as big a Counting Crows fan as I am of DMB.

IIATMS: I'd once again like to thank Matt Sosnick for being so generous with his time.

Other Sosnick/Hamilton-related postings:


Bill B. said...

Great interview. Sosnick comes off very well, even though I think that if he's serious about the "amoral" competitors, he's being naive. That's the business world... amoral.

Jason said...

Thanks, Bill. Much appreciate it. I don't think he's being naive. I just think he has a view that he expects the best out of people but that's not exactly the best place to look for the best people. We can discuss where to find those people but looking at the agents (and players) is digging for fool's gold.

themarksmith said...

I second the great interview. It's nice to see someone with the inside scoop be open about some of the things that go on. I guess this might mean that bloggers aren't so bad after all, getting an interview and all. Well done, sir.

Anonymous said...

I can see where Sosnick can get "cross-threaded" with other agents and agencies. Referring to CAA as a factory with other sports and implying LA agencies lure clients with hookers and strippers is totally irresponsible. Sounds a little like whining. I like his loyalty but the majority of MLB players are very loyal to their agents.

Jason said...

Mark: Thanks for the support and kind words.

Anon: I see your point about Matt's commenting about the other shops and I'm not here to defend him, but consider this: what if what he said was indeed true? He didn't name the LA-based firms specifically (though one can do some research and come up with a few guesses) and CAA "IS" a factory. They're huge. That doesn't necessarily imply that they do shoddy work or don't manage/help their clients, though. It just implies that it takes alot to feed the engine.

I've got friends at major Wall Street firms who have to fight the same sort of trench battles to win clients and their juicy investment banking revenues. It's cutthroat everywhere.

AAP said...

I wish you ha asked him how he really got into the field. He talks about his decision to get into it, his prior accomplishment in another field, and how difficult it is to break in, but he never explained the actual transition and how he made it happen.

Jason said...

AAP: That's a fair question but two things:
1) I had only a limited amount of time and I wanted to ask a lot of questions
2) IIRC, that was discussed in Crasnick's book, so no need to rehash it.

I could have spent an hour with him discussing any ONE of these questions, digging deeper, but I felt I was taking more time than I should.

Maybe I can have a follow up at some later point.

jay destro said...

great read, well done

e-5 said...

Good work as usual...E-5