Tom Little of SFX Baseball Group has a familiar last name. His brothers are Grady Little, a former manager in Major League Baseball, and Bryan Little, advance scout and special instructor with the Chicago White Sox. The Little family seems to be born for baseball. Recently, Tom graciously took some of my questions regarding his practice as a baseball agent and provided me with his answers, which are published below.
Darren Heitner: Why did you decide to become a baseball agent?
Tom Little: I’ve been around baseball my entire life. I played pro ball. My brothers played pro ball. My father played pro ball. I thought about going into coaching, but realized I didn’t want to move around my family and someday wanted raise my grandchildren down in Texas. It’s extremely difficult to stay in one place on that side. I knew a lot of people that were agents and always admired that side of the business and helping players realize their dreams.
In 2003, I reached out to some of the folks at SFX Baseball and they invited me out to a party they hosted in Scottsdale. I met some of the agents, staff and clients and realized it’s the right place for me to start my career as an agent.
Darren Heitner: What do you believe separates yourself, and SFX, from the competition?
Tom Little: The first is probably experience. We have been in business since 1976 and have a lot of people on staff who have been doing this for a long time. Second, we have great people specializing in various areas of the business…agents, legal, tax, marketing, etc. Our agents don’t try to be all things to all clients. We let the people who specialize in each department contribute in those things that they do best.
Darren Heitner: Recently, San Fransisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner signed what is reported as a $35.56 million, 6-year deal with the club. Why did you and Bumgarner come to the conclusion that the deal was better than what Bumgarner would have received in arbitration and his first year of free agency?
Tom Little: With any multi-year deal done prior to arbitration, it’s always a balancing act. The player is weighing the upside of what he can make in arbitration and free agency with the guarantee and security that comes with a long-term deal. These are never easy deals to negotiate and Madison was originally reluctant to do it. Eventually he decided that it was the right thing for him and his family. Our job is to lay out the options for the player, explain to him his worth if he continues on the path he is currently on, and explain all of the pros and cons of doing a deal or not doing a deal. In the end, it’s the player who makes the determination of what he prefers.
Darren Heitner: What are your thoughts on baseball’s final offer arbitration system? Do you have any memorable past arbitration experiences?
Tom Little: We have a great team of lawyers who handle a lot of this work for our company. They do a great job and dedicate the entire off-season to the process. They start preparing cases the instant the season ends. The process itself has its flaws and it doesn’t appear that the results always come out the way that you may expect, but it is the perfect compromise between the club having the unilateral rights to determine the player’s salary and the player’s right to leave via free agency.
I don’t have any real noteworthy experiences in particular to discuss, but last years case for David Ortiz was interesting because it was a historic case and we settled on the day of the hearing.
Darren Heitner: Have you benefited at all from your relation to former MLB manager Grady Little and Chicago White Sox MLB Scouting Director Bryan Little?
Tom Little: The only benefit is the ability to discuss players and the game on a daily basis with my brothers. They know a lot about the game and about player evaluations and it’s always fun to debate and project players with them.
Darren Heitner: How involved are you in advising high school and college baseball players for the Draft? What is your strategy in recruiting said players?
Tom Little: Don’t have a comment on that. Sorry.
Darren Heitner: Are you at all involved in representing foreign free agents in signing their first MLB contracts, and what are your thoughts on an international Draft?
Tom Little: I am not involved in much on the international side so I defer that question to my co-workers who work with International Players.
Darren Heitner: Recently, agent Josh Yates left SFX to join competitor ACES. What type of effect does such a move have on your practice? How difficult is it to rebound from the loss of a colleague to a competitor?
Tom Little: The most difficult part about that is to lose clients who are good people and who we enjoyed working with. Sometimes, if an agent is not on the same page with the rest of the group, the departure can make everyone stronger. We are a like a pro team, everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction or the business doesn’t work. In some cases, an agent leaving can be addition by subtraction for the group overall.
Darren Heitner: What advice would you give to readers who are interested in becoming certified with the MLBPA?
Tom Little: The most important thing is to talk to people who do this for a living and find out exactly what you are getting into. It’s not anywhere near as glamorous as it may seem. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. It’s just different than what most people may think the job is.