The signing deadline for 2014 draft picks officially passed Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and the Houston Astros were not able to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken, according Jim Callis of MLB.com (via Twitter). He also reports that the Astros failed to sign fifth-rounder Jacob Nix and 21st-rounder Mac Marshall.
It wasn’t long after the draft, two days to be exact, that Aiken reportedly agreed to a $6.5 million bonus with the Astros. On June 23, the Cathedral Catholic High (San Diego) left-hander arrived in Houston to make his signing official, which obviously didn’t happen.
After two weeks of speculation as to why Aiken was yet to sign, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Astros saw something they didn’t like in a post-draft MRI of the 17-year-old’s left elbow. As a result, the team immediately reduced its offer to Aiken from $6.5 to $5 million, well below the $7.9 million slot value for the No. 1 overall pick.
However, it wasn’t until earlier this week that we learned the specifics of Aiken’s elbow issue. According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle:
A person with knowledge of the situation told the Chronicle on Tuesday that there is a ‘cut-and-dry’ issue with the anatomy of Aiken’s ulnar collateral ligament, even though he is currently able to pitch. Aiken has visited five doctors, the person said: two affiliated with the team and three who were not, including the renowned Dr. James Andrews.
‘He may have some (of the UCL), but not much,’ the person said, adding that Tommy John surgery, which has become common in baseball, would not be a straightforward solution in this instance.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports confirmed in a separate report that the Astros believe “Aiken’s physical revealed a ‘significant abnormality’ in the area of his elbow ligament,” and he also added the team once again had made a revised offer to the southpaw of $3,168,840.
However, Aiken’s adviser, Casey Close, has maintained throughout the ordeal that his client is fully healthy, despite reports of an elbow issue, via Rosenthal:
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.
Aiken’s personal trainer, Paul Flores, also said that the left-hander was healthy and ready to begin his professional career, via Drellich:
When it comes to throwing off a mound, that’s not my area of expertise. But I know he’s throwing, so. He’s not in pain. He comes to me after, and I always ask, as a trainer, the first question I ask any of my clients or athletes is, ‘How do you feel today?’ Just to make sure that whatever it is they’re feeling is going to dictate how the intensity is going to be. He always tells me he feels great — and not good, great.
He’s in incredible shape.
Furthermore, the Astros’ handling of the situation with the No. 1 overall pick was widely criticized by industry members, including MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, though technically it did not break any rules outlined in Major League Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement.
A $3,168,840 bonus (40 percent of his slot value) would have been the lowest figure the Astros could have offered Aiken in order to guarantee they receive the No. 2 overall pick in next year’s draft. Because Aiken chose not to sign, the Astros lost his slot value ($7,922,100) from their bonus pool, giving the team considerably less to spend on its other unsigned first-round picks, according to Rosenthal.
The uncertainty surrounding Aiken’s signing also affected contract negotiations with their remaining unsigned draft picks, including fifth-rounder Jacob Nix, who previously had agreed with the Astros on a well-above-slot bonus of $1.5 million and already passed his physical, and 21st-rounder Mac Marshall, who also was a candidate to sign an above-slot deal thanks to the money saved with Aiken.
Since the Astros failed to sign Aiken, it presumably left them unable to sign Nix without incurring a defined penalty in next year’s draft, let alone Nix and Marshall.
Based on Friday’s news that the team came up empty with all three pitchers, it would seem as though that’s precisely what happened.
Meanwhile, the Astros now face another public relations nightmare after failing to sign Aiken, whom general manager Jeff Luhnow claimed (in the above video) is “the most advanced high school pitcher he’s ever seen in his entire career,” before the deadline.
Needless to say, not signing Aiken is a major disappointment for the franchise, whom Sports Illustrated expects to win the World Series in 2017, and especially when considering the ongoing struggles this season of 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel at the High-A level.
But with the news that Aiken won’t be joining the Astros organization, at least not this year, the team will shift its focus to the 2015 draft, as it’ll now have the No. 2 overall pick after failing to sign the prep left-hander.
While they’ll still be able to land a top-flight amateur prospect next year, the Astros won’t find a player more talented than Aiken, argues Jim Callis of MLB.com:
If the Astros can’t land Aiken today, they’ll get the second choice in the 2015 Draft and be in position to grab a premium talent. That’s not a bad consolation prize, though it’s not optimal, because they’ll have to wait a year and won’t get someone quite as gifted as Aiken.
Former big league All-Star Mike Cameron’s son Dazron, an outfielder from Eagle’s Landing High in McDonough, Ga., is the consensus No. 1 talent for next year’s Draft. There’s no clear No. 2 prospect, especially not one who stands out like Aiken does.
Furthermore, after striking out with No. 1 picks Appel and Aiken in back-to-back years, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Astros alter their draft strategy in 2015.
While they obviously would benefit from adding more high-ceiling arms to their already-impressive farm system, their success in developing shortstop Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, could push the organization to target another impact hitter next year rather than a pitcher, even if he’s not perceived to be the best player available.
Unfortunately, the Astros’ 2014 draft now will forever be remembered as a complete and utter failure. That said, only time will determine how the organization’s inability to sign Aiken (as well as Nix and Marshall) will impact its long-term success.
One thing is certain, however: Failing to reach an agreement with the No. 1 overall pick is a crushing blow for an Astros franchise that’s in the midst of a rebuilding process and potentially a few years away from playoff relevancy.