For the third time in MLB draft history, the No. 1 overall pick has failed to come to terms with the team that selected him before the league's deadline to sign. Brady Aiken, the top high-school pitcher in the country, didn't sign with the Houston Astros, according to MLB.com's Jim Callis, after a contentious bout of negotiations.
At issue were Aiken's elbow, a disputed physical and, in the end, about $1.5 million, according to reports.
Friday's 5 p.m. deadline to sign draft picks came and went, and now Aiken, 17, is left to decide upon a new place to play baseball next season, while the Astros' high-profile rebuilding plan has hit a sizable snag. To make matters worse, the Astros didn't come to terms with two other draftees, whose deals were tied to Aiken's getting done.
The last No. 1 overall pick not to sign was Tim Belcher in 1983 (Minnesota Twins). Prior to that it was Danny Goodwin (Chicago White Sox) in 1971.
The beef between the Astros and Aiken goes back to his physical. The two sides had come to terms on a contract with a $6.5 million bonus quickly after the draft, but during the ensuing physical, the Astros saw a problem with his elbow that made them re-think their deal, no doubt concerned about Aiken needing Tommy John surgery in the near future. Aiken's camp, including adviser Casey Close (he's Derek Jeter's agent), insisted the 6-foot-4 pitcher was fine.
The result wasn't pretty. The MLB player's union came out and questioned whether the Astros were operating ethically. MLB said everything was OK. Meanwhile, Aiken and the Astros couldn't find middle ground. At one point, the Astros' offer reportedly fell to $3.16 million.
From the sound of things, there weren't even any serious talks Friday, even though it's being reported that the Astros upped their offer to $5 million. From the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich:
Source: The Astros’ final offer to Brady Aiken was $5 million.— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) July 18, 2014
“We tried to engage Casey Close three times today … there was no interest” — GM Jeff Luhnow tells the Chronicle— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) July 18, 2014
The other two players the Astros didn't sign were fifth-round selection Jacob Nix and 21st-rounder Mac Marshall, both of whom are pitchers coming out of high school. Nix was being advised by Casey Close, just as Aiken was.
The Astros had put together a plan to sign all three of them and stay within their league-determined budget to sign draft picks, $13,362,000. Everything hinged on Aiken's deal, however, and when that didn't get done, the Astros couldn't get the other two deals done either, according to Callis. Aiken and Nix having the same adviser couldn't have helped.
Tony Clark of the MLB Players Association issued this statement Friday about the Astros draft drama:
Today, two young men should be one step closer to realizing their dreams of becoming Major League ballplayers. Because of the actions of the Houston Astros, they are not. The MLBPA, the players and their advisers are exploring all legal options.”
What's next for the Astros and Aiken now that their deal fell apart?
• Aiken has two options. He can honor his pre-draft commitment to attend UCLA and be eligible for the MLB draft again in three years. Or, if he wants to get back in the draft pool quicker, he can play at a junior college or in an independent league and be eligible next season.
• The Astros now get the No. 2 overall pick in next year's draft because they couldn't sign Aiken. They're tied for the second-worst record in baseball at the moment, so Houston could have two very high picks again next season.
There are two ways of looking at how that impacts their rebuilding plan. First, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan:
There is no other way to put it: Without signing Brady Aiken or others, this draft was a complete and unequivocal disaster for the Astros.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 18, 2014
Between wasted years of development, tying two other players to Aiken's slot money, Houston whiffed on most important part of its rebuild.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 18, 2014
Next, Rob Neyer of FOX Sports:
I'm no expert, but if the #Astros use No. 2 pick on a college player next year, they get better faster, no?— robneyer (@robneyer) July 18, 2014
This Aiken mess isn't the Astros' only problem, though. Their 2013 No. 1 overall pick, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel, has been horrible so far in the minor leagues. And 2012 No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa is out for the rest of the season with a broken leg.
Those supposed 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros aren't looking so good at the moment.
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