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. 


Anonymous said...

I have no idea where the truth is in this story, but as an Astros fan, it pisses me off.

Anonymous said...

Most intelligent analysis of the situation I have seen.

JoeinAlaska said...

I think there is more to the story. The Astros FO isn't stupid and is very aware of public perception. Maybe the ligament problem is worse than many suspect? If Aiken agreed to the $5million before the ligament damage was known, why would still pay the same amount for KNOWN damaged goods?

Anonymous said...

Really great article. The fact that, if Aiken signs for the original 6.5 million, we can afford all three pitchers and still not lose a future pick makes me think the elbow issue is legit. If we lose Aiken, we then lose the other two. Why take that risk if the injury isn't a real issue? Even if it is an issue, i believe it would be in our best interest in keeping him willing to sign, especially with the high success rate for TJ surgery.
Adam Bishea

Anonymous said...

IIRC Mac Marshall's number was $2 million.

CLOrnelas said...

The Astros are right to proceed with caution. I am astounded to see how many ‘well-regarded experts’ are willing to come out and take anyone’s side. Assuming that there is truth in the report that there is ‘something’ wrong or abnormal with Aiken’s elbow, the only way to determine the appropriate course of action is to know exactly what the defect is. Assuming doctor-patient confidentiality, I’m not sure how Rosenthal, Olney, etc could have any basis for that knowledge other than what Aiken’s agent (the guy who gets paid a percentage of Aiken’s bonus) tells them. At this point, the only failure or wrongdoing that has been done is that of the reporters and possibly Close, who has either broken the confidentiality of his client’s health by informing the press or is flat out lying to the press to create negative buzz on the Astros and force them to make a potentially bad deal.

Think of it this way. There are 6 outcomes based on 2 factors: Aiken getting paid and Aiken getting injured or just flaming out as many prospects do.
1- Aiken gets paid, then has TJ surgery and never reaches his 1-1 potential- Luhnow and co will be seen as colossal failures.
2- Aiken gets paid and he reaches his potential- Everybody wins
3- Aiken takes the lower amount, and the elbow problems never culminate in anything, and he reaches the big leagues in 2017, he’ll start getting paid in 2020 at the LATEST.
4- Aiken takes the lower amount, has elbow problems, and the Astros have minimal losses, while still whiffing on the consensus 1-1 pick- Hard to blame the FO tooooo much
5- Aiken goes to school, gets no compensation (not officially anyway) for three years, after which he has to be a top-5 pick at a minimum to come close to the money he could be getting now, and his road to the MLB will be longer, postponing his debut until 2018 or 2019, meaning he’ll be arb eligible in 2021 or 2022 a year or two older.
6- Aiken goes to school, the Astros were right to be cautious about his elbow, he suffers injury, he almost definitely isn’t picked in the top-5, and he went to school for 3 or even 4 years so he could take less money and reach the majors (and arbitration/new contract) much later.

On his own, Aiken is a risk and wouldn’t be much of a loss, as we would get the 1-2 pick next year. However, losing Nix and Marshal in the process makes it a much tougher pill to swallow, especially with the low minors (QC, TC, Gville, GC Astros) struggling to fill out. What should the Astros do? I don’t know. And neither do you or anyone else who doesn’t have a detailed knowledge of Aiken’s prognosis (presumably, his family, himself, his agent, his doctor, and some Astros officials). That’s it.

If I had to guess, I’d say that I can’t see a 1-1 pick not getting signed, and I’ve never heard of it happening before. The cumulative value of Nix, Marshall, and a possibly-damaged-but-still-high-ceiling Aiken is worth the combined bonuses including $6.5 to Aiken. Still, it’s easy to see why the Astros want to minimize their already substantial risk as much as possible. 5 years from now, this unpleasantness will all be barely more than any other memory. Aiken’s not likely to hold a grudge against the organization who will be working tirelessly to turn him into an elite major league pitcher over the coming years.

Anonymous said...

Everybody needs to read the post on MLBtraderumors today from Ken Rosenthal about the situation. It's changed and not good for either side. BUT... Let's give the Astros the benefit of the doubt in my opinion. If I were them and knew there was an issue, I'm not sure I wouldn't take the same route they are.

JoeinAlaska said...

I enjoyed reading your comments CL Ornelas, thanks. So what's the deal with Marshall? I've been doing some research and trying to figure out how a 21rst round pick could be worth $1.5 million. Nix I understand, but Marshall?

Anonymous said...


The reason why Marshall fell to the 21st round was that he filed a personel letter with each team expressing his personal desire to fulfill his committment to LSU and advised each team not to draft him. He was too good of a pitcher NOT to get drafted. But this is why some high school pitchers who are seemingly very good fall all the way down to the later rounds of the draft, go to college, and see their draft stock rise with the experience they receive in college.

IMO, had Marshall given ANY indication that he would be willing to sign, he would have been between a 2-4 round pick, thus autometically getting slot value near 1M if close to 2nd round and 400K if closer to 4th round. He was always going to be regarded as a long-shot to get signed.

I think the Astros are going to negotiate with Aiken only...not worried too much about Nix, or even Marshall, becasue they need to get Aiken signed. But they see an opportunity, with a "medical issue" that they could have their cake and eat it too.

- Chris

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts....

- as several have noted, the narrative is totally being driven from the camp of Aiken and his agents. The Astros cannot and will not comment due to privacy requirements; as such, it's about as one-sided a discussion as can be imagined.

- much is made of the fact that Aiken is throwing 97 mph with no problem, proving that he is not injured. NOT THE POINT. Apparently his physical revealed something of concern regarding the long term prospects for his arm; this is not uncommon for baseball draft picks. RA Dickey was once a 1st round draft pick, but a post-draft physical found that he was missing an entire ligament from his arm, and his bonus offer dropped to the minimum.....it happens.

- Don't blame Casey Close for forcing the issue; his job is to get his client (and himself) top dollar, and if that means saying anything and everything about the Astros, so be it. But I tend to agree with Scott Boros that had this been his client, it would not have played out this way.

- Jacob Nix & Mack Marshall are interesting pitching prospects, but do we really believe that they are so enticing that the team will alienate their top pick to try and get both signed ? Sure, the Astros contacted Marshall again once the original Aiken deal, but that's merely due diligence in running your business. The idea that this whole scenario was an Houston plot to screw this kid and sign an extra pitching process seems a bizarre agebt/blogger conspiracy theory....

Finally - while my comments would probably be construed as a defense of the Houston FO, they are as much to blame for this fiasco as anyone; and while we do not have their side of the story (and probably never completely will), this could have been handled better. For an organization that is supposedly bringing insight and intelligence to their work, they seem to make a lot of simple mistakes.

JoeinAlaska said...

Maybe this incident will make the MLB consider having prospects complete detailed physicals BEFORE the draft? I understand other sports such as NFL and NBA already have such requirements.