Somehow, some way the Astros will sign their No. 1 pick
Prediction, and it’s not even a very bold one:
The Astros will sign high-school left-hander Brady Aiken before the deadline at 5 p.m. ET Friday for teams to complete agreements with their draft picks.
I don’t know how it will get done. I don’t know what the final dollar amount will be. But I do know this: The Astros, in particular, stand to lose significantly if they do not reach a deal with Aiken, the player they selected with the first overall pick in baseball’s amateur draft last month.
The dispute between the two sides has raised questions about the pitcher’s health, the team’s integrity and a draft system that seemingly encourages nefarious behavior by clubs.
Well, now the nastiness must end.
The 2017 World Series champions — Sports Illustrated’s words, not mine – are on the verge of botching the first pick of the draft for the second straight year.
Seeing as how the Astros’ entire rebuilding strategy was based on "tanking" – losing enough games to secure multiple "1-1s" – that wouldn’t be a very good outcome, would it?
The Astros’ No. 1 pick last year, right-hander Mark Appel, is a mess at High A. The player chosen after him, third baseman Kris Bryant, has destroyed minor-league pitching at every level and could be a force for the Cubs as soon as next season.
The Astros’ failure to sign Aiken, at least, would come with compensation, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. But the gap between now-injured shortstop Carlos Correa in ’12 and the top choice in ’15 could disrupt the team’s rebuilding process, perhaps even forcing the Astros to select college players who are close to the majors to close the gap. Otherwise, what would we be talking about? Another bold SI cover, proclaiming the Astros as 2019 World Series champions?
Indeed, if the Astros botch this, their entire world might crumble.
Tension exists between the Astros’ old-school baseball types and general manager Jeff Luhnow, according to major-league sources. How long before owner Jim Crane starts to lose patience, if he hasn’t already?
Lest anyone forget, the Astros have averaged 108 losses the past three seasons, the last two under Luhnow. They’re on pace to lose a mere 94 games this season, yet many of their best and most promising players – Jason Castro, Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel; George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart – are holdovers from the Ed Wade regime.
Luhnow is a darling of the sabermetric crowd, but like any GM, he will get only so much time. The Aiken negotiations are a reflection of his tenure. Unconventional. Controversial. And impossible to judge.
If the Astros truly believe that Aiken’s elbow is a problem, then they should not even continue to negotiate with him. No, they should let Friday’s deadline pass without budging from their revised offer of $3,168,840 million — the minimum amount required to ensure that they would receive the second overall pick in ’15.
Likewise, if Aiken and his family adviser, Casey Close, truly believe that the pitcher’s arm is sound, then Aiken should reject the offer, attend junior college for a year and re-enter the draft in 2015 – all while seeking legal remedies for the Astros casting aspersions on his health and seeking to manipulate the draft.
Such a strategy, too, would be fraught with risk, which is why it would behoove Aiken to accept a number between the initially agreed upon $6.5 million and the Astros’ revised offer of just above $3.1 million.
Never mind that no figure can accurately reflect the supposed risk of the "significant abnormality" in Aiken’s elbow. If the pitcher got injured next season, he would not get close to $3.1 million. Heck, even if he stayed healthy, other clubs might view him as damaged goods.
His safest bet, then, is for Close to negotiate for him the best possible deal. Of course, Aiken then would be joining an organization that might view him as a candidate for surgery that he does not believe necessary, an organization that may have raised medical concerns about him in pursuit of other goals.
Indeed, the Aiken camp suspects that the Astros’ plan all along was to pressure Aiken into accepting a lower bonus so that they could sign their fifth-round choice, high-school righty Jacob Nix, and their 21st-round pick, high-school lefty Mac Marshall.
The flip side, if the Astros fail to sign Aiken, is that they will lose his assigned bonus value of $7,922,100. They then will be unable to sign Nix without exceeding the maximum they are allowed to spend in the first 10 rounds, triggering the loss of at least one future pick.
At that point, they also could face a grievance from Nix, who also uses Close as an adviser. Nix already has agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and passed his physical, sources say. If the Astros tried to honor that agreement and avoid a penalty, other teams would cry foul.
Thus, it’s all or nothing.
The Astros will sign Aiken and Nix, or they will sign neither. And for all parties involved, the latter alternative is not really an option.
The team does not want to lose Aiken and Nix. The players do not want to lose their respective bonuses. Close does not want to lose both deals.
Don’t ask me how it will all happen, but Brady Aiken will be fitted for an Astros jersey soon enough.