Friday, March 27, 2015

Brady Aiken's TJS

I remember where I was when Brady Aiken was drafted by the Astros.  I was driving between two of my work sites listening to Robert Ford and Steve Sparks via Gameday at the exact moment the draft was happening.  Aiken was my preferred pick prior to the draft, mostly because there had been a bit of negative publicity about Carlos Rodon and his reliance on his slider, and partly because I could see him in the Bigs in 2016 or 2017.  Anyhow, after one joyous yell, one fist pump, and one near collision with a car driving the other way, I settled in to fantasise about Clayton Kershaw Mk II and what it would mean to the Astros for the rest of my travels.

Stuff, of course, started to go awry pretty much straight away.  Aiken visited Houston, no deals were announced, then whispers about there being a problem emerged.  The deadline for signing got closer, and the pundits seemed to say that perhaps there may be a problem, but that it would be highly unusual for something not to be worked out.  The deadline passed, Aiken stayed unsigned, and the Astros took a bath in the media, losing Mac Marshall and Jacob Nix in the process.

I wrote a little bit about Aiken and his situation in the aftermath of the whole cluster-fudge.  Re-reading the article, I think it holds up pretty well over time.  The details around what was said were clearly important: Close and Aiken claimed that he had no symptoms and therefore wasn't sick, the Astros obviously saw something else that they didn't like, and the available information seemed to point to an unusual situation that perhaps related to Aiken's ability to have effective rehabilitative interventions in the future.

I thought - at the time - that a fair amount of time would need to lapse to tell who was "the winner" in this situation.  (Disclaimer: there is no winner, but the issue really is whether the Astros actions were justified).   Regardless, I didn't expect this to shake down so quickly.  Aiken's recent start was - to the best of my tiny amount of knowledge - the first time that he threw in a game since the draft, and he lasted all of 13 or so pitches.

It would be tempting for an Astros fan to get all cock-a-hoop about Aiken's failed run-up to the 2015 draft, and declare the Astros "the winner" at this point.  But, not so fast.  This wasn't about currently being injured.  The information that we had appeared to be about his ability to successfully rehabilitate, and with pitchers, elbows are always worth looking at.

Now Aiken has already had TJS, so he is clearly able to have the procedure.  But there are a lot of recovery milestones between having the operation, and successfully throwing fastballs in the mid-90's and snapping breaking pitches for strikes.  So the next 12 months will be hugely important for Aiken and his rehabilitation, and the year-or-two after that will go a long way toward proving Aiken's ability or inability to stay healthy.

Regardless of the intensity of a fan's affiliation with the Astros, I would hope that no one is wishing for Aiken to have come to the end of his career.

I also need to point out that the Astros simply cannot afford to whiff on these number-one picks.  And in the middle of 2014, it certainly looked like they had screwed up the 2013 draft, with Appel throwing meatballs in Hi-A, and Kris Bryant mashing while he raced up the minor league ladder.  With Appel and Bryant, things look a little more even now, but with Dominguez posting an OBP of .260 in mid-2014, Bryant would have looked pretty darn good in getting a cup of coffee.

I have two other brickbats to throw.  This is the first time I have visited the Players' Tribune.  I am not  impressed, and won't be adding it to my compulsory reading list.  It looks like a fancy looking forum for athletes to post whatever unmitigated rubbish they want, with no filtering or capacity for anyone to question or present any counter-arguments.  Because athletes are always right, and journalists are horrible when they question what they say.  This is why the Players' Tribune exists.  Gah!

Of course, the second brickbat is directed toward the press.  Lots of cheap copy that vilified the Astros around the time of the whole debacle was printed, painting them as a ruthless or incompetent organisation that blackmailed a poor, innocent high-schooler whose only crime was to have dreams of greatness.  Bad, evil Astros!!  Crushing dreams since Luhnow employed a phalanx of robot number-crunchers to rid baseball of the human side.

I plan to count the number of articles in the press that acknowledge their previous missteps, or thoughtfully revisit their articles from July and August of last year.  I am confident that nothing like that will occur - because that is not how most of the press works.  They need to fill columns and sell copy - and it doesn't matter who gets in the way, but up-playing the drama of the story often gets to sell more.  Every story needs a villain, the Astros fitted the bill nicely, and the narrative about the Astros and their incompetency / ruthlessness / whatever gets to gain traction.

If you haven't already visited Constable's Rage-venture post, please do so now.