Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Astros and Brady Aiken

The San Diego Union-Tribune had an article a few days ago (I changed careers, and am studying for a test that I need to pass so as not to make the Changing of Careers a "mistake," so I'm woefully behind on Astros-related things) regarding the Astros and 1-1 overall pick Brady Aiken. The gist of the article? The Astros are screwing over Brady Aiken by trumping up a possible elbow ligament issue, offering him $5m (when the slot is around $7.9m).

Not to go all Oliver Stone here, but the $2.9 million Houston is trying to save on Aiken is almost the exact amount needed to sign two other high school pitchers - fifth-round pick Jacob Nix and 21st-round pick Mac Marshall.

The report is that the Astros had offered $5m to Aiken before selecting him, came up to $6.5m in the days following the draft, and then dropped it back to $5m while Aiken and his family were in town to take a physical and sign a deal. 

5th Round pick Jacob Nix had a deal in place with the Astros for $1.13m over slot, and Mac Marshall's demand was $1.4m over slot (for a 21st-Round pick, anyway). Add that up, the Astros would need to save just a shade over $2.5m in order to sign all three players. 

The U-T's Kirk Kenney succinctly sums it up (one-sentence paragraphs have been reduced to one three-sentence paragraph for sanity purposes): Has Houston so alienated Aiken that he now won't sign at any price? We'll find out. Even if the two sides do end up coming to terms, is this really the way to begin a relationship?

A few things about this piece...

1) This is coming from Aiken's hometown newspaper, so it's not as though it's Jon Heyman or Ken Rosenthal getting bored and deciding it's been a few weeks since they wrote about the Astros, so minus whale write about how disingenuous the Astros are. This can't be dismissed out of hand.

2) It obviously came from Aiken's side of the negotiations. The Law Offices of Jeff Luhnow aren't going to reach out to the San Diego Union-Tribune and plant a story (and if they did, then that's diabolical. Also a little genius, but mainly diabolical.)

3) I'm trying to get past the part of the story where someone would only want to give me $5m instead of $6.5m, but let's try to look at it from Aiken's side. The 3rd overall pick, Carlos Rodon, just signed a deal that was worth a little bit more than what the Astros offered Aiken two picks earlier for an "elbow ligament issue" that may or may not actually be there. If the article is correct, Aiken is still throwing - hardly the actions of a pitcher with an elbow ligament issue. Because if there was concern about his elbow, his camp would shut him down and not let his elbow burst like a jello water balloon before he signs any deal, even if they were upset about the Astros going after further savings. 

4) On the Astros' side, should we fault the Astros for trying to figure out a way to sign three of the top high school pitchers in the country? No. 

5) Do I feel a little turned off by even the possibility that the Astros are trying to game a 17-year old kid out of $1.5m? Yeah, I do. I said this on the Astros Boxes podcast last Wednesday, but if the Astros think Brady Aiken is good enough to be the 1-1 pick overall, and he has an elbow ligament issue, just give him the deal that was apparently in place for $1.4m under slot and be done with it. Don't screw up your draft and further harm the perception of yourself and your team over $1.5m. 

6) Nix and Marshall will take $2.5m to sign, right? Let's say Aiken will still take $6.5m (although with Rodon signing for about that, if there are any hurt feelings, $6.5m might not get it done). That's $9m the Astros need to come up with to sign all three. The Astros had signed their other picks in the top ten rounds for $4,890,500 total. They signed 14th-Round pick Nick Tanielu for $200,000, meaning that they lose $100,000 from their bonus pool, so the Astros are essentially at $4,990,500 in bonuses, leaving $8,371,700 to work with to sign Aiken, Nix, and Marshall. That's $628,300 short of deals for all three. Well, wouldn't you know it, the Astros can exceed their $13,362,200 bonus pool by 0.1-5.0% and not lose future draft picks. What's 5% of their pool? $668,100. They'd have to pay a 75% tax on the overage amount, but they wouldn't hurt their future drafts. Essentially, if the Astros were willing to come across and pay an extra $471,225 in an overage tax, they could feasibly sign all three players.

7) But if the Astros were willing to do that, they wouldn't be in this position in the first place.