Updates from Tuesday, July 15
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow was asked about top draft pick Brady Aiken on Tuesday (via Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle):
Jeff Luhnow on Brady Aiken: "I have nothing to say regarding that topic"— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) July 15, 2014
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports talked to Casey Close about Aiken's health and talks with the Astros:
“We are extremely disappointed that Major League Baseball is allowing the Astros to conduct business in this manner with a complete disregard for the rules governing the draft and the 29 other clubs who have followed those same rules,” said Close, who serves as a family advisor to Aiken.
“Brady has been seen by some of the most experienced and respected orthopedic arm specialists in the country, and all of those doctors have acknowledged that he’s not injured and that he’s ready to start his professional career,” Close said.
High school phenom Brady Aiken, whom the Houston Astros drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in June's MLB draft, reportedly has an elbow ligament injury that may wind up costing him a significant amount of money in his contract negotiations and could delay the start of his pro baseball career.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported the injury Monday, noting the Astros are using it as a negotiating tactic:
No. 1 pick brady aiken is said to have an elbow ligament issue. astros look to discount deal. story coming on @CBSSports— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 7, 2014
Will Carroll of Bleacher Report weighed in on Aiken's injury and the Astros' team physician:
Astros team physician Tom Mehlhoff is up and comer in world of sports med. Several teams sending to him for TJ on their pitchers. #aiken— Will Carroll (@injuryexpert) July 7, 2014
Paul Flores spoke to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle about Aiken's health following the reports:
“As far as I know, he’s absolutely healthy,” said Flores, who said he has no knowledge of any of Aiken’s dealings with the Astros. “He’s strong, he’s healthy — everything is just like before. But I don’t know the business aspect of baseball.”
Astros scouting director Mike Elias declined to comment.
A month ago, Aiken and the Astros saw eye-to-eye on the signing-bonus amount, and Aiken came to Houston for a physical in June with his family in tow and a press conference expected. It didn’t happen, and all along, a medical issue has been widely believed and whispered to be the barrier between Aiken getting the deal finalized.
Flores, who runs CrossFit East County in El Cajon, Calif., said he’s working with Aiken on a hybrid in-season, off-season workout regiment: using strength training a little more than might be normal for in-season workouts, but not to the same extent as would be done in a standard off-season program.
“There’s nothing that he’s unable to do,” Flores said. “He’s fit.”
Flores keeps Aiken in shape, but is not his pitching coach.
Houston's slotting value allotted by MLB for Aiken is $7.92 million, per Baseball America. Heyman reported last week that the two sides had a tentative agreement on a $6.5 million bonus—a surprisingly significant amount below the slotting value for the No. 1 pick—but word became mum when something amiss showed up in Aiken's physical.
Emboldened by its newfound leverage, Houston has dropped its offer to $5 million. That would be $1 million below what the Miami Marlins gave to Tyler Kolek, who was taken with the No. 2 overall selection. The Chicago White Sox have not come to terms with third pick Carlos Rodon, but they may wind up paying him more than the Astros are offering Aiken as well.
One of the more polished prep arms in recent memory, Aiken came out of Cathedral Catholic High School in California expecting to instantly make his mark in the minor leagues.
"I'm really excited to take this next step in my life," Aiken told Mark Berman of Fox 26 in June, when he traveled to Houston to sign a deal. "It means a lot. It means the Astros really invested in me and they're really looking forward to having me do what I can do for them."
The Astros' decision to play hardball with him because of the injury may make him rethink that stance. He is committed to play locally at UCLA and still has his scholarship available until he signs a professional contract. It's possible that he and his family will take the offer as a sign of disrespect and have him honor his commitment. If Aiken goes to college, he will not be eligible again until the 2017 draft, per MLB's collective bargaining agreement.
The Astros and Aiken have until July 18 to get this situation hammered out. Although there is no word on how significant the damage is to his elbow, it's enough to make Houston lop $1.5 million off an already below-market contract. As the two sides head into the stretch run and Aiken considers his next few years, this could be a tense negotiating process.
At the very least, the Astros seem to be having a little buyer's remorse just one month after making Aiken their next franchise arm.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.