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The Effect of the Agent on an Athlete’s Happiness

Money can’t buy you happiness, or so the saying goes. Count Hiroki Kuroda as a proponent of the mantra, as a report was released this week informing the public that the Japanese Starting Pitcher left money on the table in signing a one-year $15 Million contract to return to the Yankees. Kuroda had longer and richer offers from other teams, but preferred to go with the team that he felt comfortable with and that gave him the flexibility to re-decide after the year. It is not often that you hear of athletes leaving money on the table, whatever the reason.

Everyone of course wants to make as much money as possible, but if you think about all of the other factors that can play into a player’s decision, it’s a bit surprising that players don’t leave at least a little bit of money on the table more often. Many fans think that players shouldn’t be so concerned with the money, asking: “What is a couple million more to a player already making sometimes tens of millions of dollars a year already?” While I think it is foolish to think that a few million dollars shouldn’t mean something just because you already make a lot, I do think that athletes would be wise to acknowledge that they are allowed to care about other factors when making a decision. Kuroda’s decision is refreshing, especially to Yankees fans that were burnt by the same principal when prized free agent Cliff Lee spurned them a few years ago and took less money to play for the Phillies.

The question to me is not why Kuroda or Lee made the decisions they did, but why more athletes don’t make similar decisions. It is of course impossible to ask every athlete why they made the decision they made, and even if we could, we most likely would not get fully correct answers. The way to examine this is to put yourself in the shoes of a player. You care about a lot of things: where your family will live, the quality of the team you will play for, and of course, the number on that check. In order to maximize that last part, you hire an agent.

This is where things can get tricky. The agent’s true agenda should be to get the athlete exactly what he wants. However, what the agent really wants is the richest deal possible, because that of course makes him the most money. Furthermore, getting contracts that are decidedly above market-value for their clients is the best recruiting method agents have to bring on more athletes to be represented by them. It is a much better sell to potential clients to show them the great contracts you have gotten your players than to explain that your athletes wanted to play in a certain place so they got less than maximal contracts.

In no way am I accusing any individual agent, or even agents on the whole. I think that they are a vital part of the sports world and bring great value to the table in ensuring that athletes receive fair compensation. However, there is reason to think that there are situations in which agents push athletes towards richer contracts, when really the player would be happier with less money on a different team. Congrats to Hiroki Kuroda on showing that it doesn’t have to be that way.

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