Brady Aiken Rumors

West Notes: DeShields, Aiken, Lopez

Here are some notes out of the game’s western divisions:

  • Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. appears to have a place on the Rangers roster, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports. Taken from the Astros this winter, DeShields could be a force on the basepaths and would otherwise represent a backup center field and second base option.
  • The Astros-Brady Aiken fallout remains too clouded in uncertainty for final judgment, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes. While Aiken’s Tommy John procedure has led some to claim that Houston was justified in seeking to drop the price tag on the first overall pick last year, Drellich explains that it is more complicated than just looking at that result. There’s a lot of ground covered in the article, and it is worth a full read for those interested in understanding this complicated situation.
  • New Diamondbacks righty Yoan Lopez has shown steady improvement in spite of an unsightly ERA in his first professional action, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes. Rival scouts have raised some questions about his upside, but D’backs pitching coach Mike Harkey says that he fully expects the 22-year-old to become “a really good pitcher.” Lopez has not brought quite the level of velocity that led the team to sign him, but manager Chip Hale explains that velo isn’t everything: “I think the fastball hasn’t been quite the velocity that we thought, but 92 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you can make it move and control it, spot it,” said Hale. “The electricity has been in the breaking ball, especially, and the change-up. But I think we do expect a little tick up in the velocity eventually.”

Quick Hits: Forbes, Yankees, Alvarez, Kluber

“Overall, baseball has never been as big or as profitable” as it is now, Forbes’ Mike Ozanian writes in the magazine’s annual valuation of MLB franchises.  The average value of a Major League team is $1.2 billion, a massive increase from Forbes’ last calculation (of $811MM) just a year ago.  Fifteen teams were valued at least a billion dollars, with the Yankees leading the way at $3.2 billion.  Here’s some more from around baseball…

  • Despite the Yankees‘ incredible value, Hal Steinbrenner said the team is not for sale in an ESPN radio interview with Michael Kay and Don LaGreca (hat tip to Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News).  Selling the club is “not enticing in any way shape or form,” Steinbrenner said.  “It’s a family business. Many of us are involved from the family and we know this is what our dad would want, to carry on the tradition.”
  • Cuban right-hander Yadier Alvarez is drawing “serious interest” from the Nationals, The Washington Post’s James Wagner writes.  “The Nationals like Alvarez’s frame and stuff,” Wagner notes about the 18-year-old Alvarez, who is listed at 6’3″ and 175 pounds.  The Nats and Diamondbacks were cited as the top contenders for Alvarez by MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez last month, and if Alvarez will indeed be ineligible to sign until July 2, that will eliminate the D’Backs from contention due to penalties for going over slot in this signing period to land Yoan Lopez.  Even if Arizona is out of the running, however, the Nats will still have to bid against several other interested teams for Alvarez’s services.
  • The MLBPA has been encouraging players to look for other means of achieving guaranteed financial security rather than accept below-market extensions, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports.  One of those means is taking out a “loss-of-value” insurance policy to protect against injury (Max Scherzer took out such a policy last season) and Rosenthal suggests that Corey Kluber could explore doing the same this year to gain some leverage in contract talks with the Indians.  Kluber could cash in by signing an extension now, but waiting even one season to get into his arbitration-eligible years would greatly increase the value of a multi-year deal, Rosenthal argues.  With the loss-of-value policy backing him up, Kluber would have fewer worries about getting hurt this season and missing out on a chance at a big contract.
  • Brady Aiken‘s Tommy John surgery will lower his draft stock and potentially make him a risk for teams picking near the top of the first round, though Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal thinks the Red Sox could take a chance on Aiken with the seventh overall pick.  The addition of a first-round caliber talent in Yoan Moncada and an overall deep minor league system gives Boston the luxury to take a risk on Aiken and hopes that, if he recovers, they’ll have fallen into a future ace.
  • Jake Fox is trying to land a regular minor league job with the Blue Jays, and the veteran talks to Sportsnet.com’s Arden Zwelling about some of the ups and downs of being a baseball journeyman.

Brady Aiken Undergoes Tommy John Surgery

In a self-penned piece for The Players’ Tribune, left-hander Brady Aiken revealed that he underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.  While pitching at IMG Academy last week, Aiken said that “something felt a little wrong” and examination revealed that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

The Astros took Aiken with the first overall pick of the 2014 draft but failed to reach an agreement with the then-17-year-old.  Negotiations fell through due to Houston’s concerns over Aiken’s unusually small UCL, and the club wanted to reduce Aiken’s proposed bonus from $6.5MM to $5MM.  The Astros’ failure to sign Aiken caused a chain reaction that led to fifth-rounder Jacob Nix also going unsigned, which led to an MLBPA grievance since Nix had made a verbal agreement with the team.

Aiken was projected to be one of the top picks in the 2015 draft, and despite his surgery, it’s still possible (if even probable) that he could receive a high selection if his recovery proceeds as planned.  As Aiken noted himself, two pitchers — Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde — who underwent Tommy John surgery last year were taken ninth and 18th overall, respectively.  Aiken’s case could differ, however, due to his small UCL; one of the questions the Astros had about his health was that recovery from possible TJ surgery could be more difficult given his ligament’s size.

If all goes well for Aiken, undergoing the surgery now would mean he would be back throwing in 12-14 months and able to start his minor league career early in the 2016 season.


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Quick Hits: Kluber, Aiken, Clark

Most elbow issues that lead to Tommy John surgery appear to crop up in March, according to a review conducted by Ben Lindbergh of Grantland. That is the time that pitchers ramp up each spring, of course, and Lindbergh finds that other pitching injuries also trend northwards toward the end of the year’s third month. You’ll want to read the entire piece for details and thoughts on why this seems to be the case.

Here are some more stray notes from around the game:

  • Ace righty Corey Kluber and the Indians will continue talking about a new contract after recent in-person negotiations failed to result in a deal, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer reports. Those talks ended Thursday, says Hoynes, but it appears that there is enough mutual interest to keep a dialogue open.
  • The first outing for former Astros number one overall draft pick Brady Aiken at IMG Academy ended with concern, as John Manuel and Josh Norris of Baseball America report. Aiken had worked in the low-90s with his fastball, but left in the middle of the first inning after throwing a curveball. That pitch was clocked at about 7 mph lower than a prior hook thrown by the young lefty. One of the umpires tells BA that he overheard mention that the well-regarded amateur felt “a little bit of tightness.” Needless to say, it is still far too early to speculate on Aiken’s status, though it is worth noting that there has been chatter that he has not been fully healthy this winter. Per BA, scouts from every team but Houston were on hand to see watch Aiken, who figures to be one of the best prospects available again in this year’s draft.
  • MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said today that the subject of player rights being dealt for executives could be an issue to be addressed in the next CBA, as Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports. It is not clear what kinds of issues might be contemplated, but Clark said that the seemingly increasing prevalence of that sort of transaction — highlighted, most recently, by the apparent negotiations between the Orioles and Blue Jays regarding Dan Duquette — make it something that the league and union will “talk through … and see what may make some sense here going forward.”

Quick Hits: Walters, Kang, Aiken

Right-handed power hitters carried the day in 2014, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. By the numbers, 12 of the top 16 power hitters batted right-handed. Several clubs including the Padres, Astros, Diamondbacks, and Blue Jays have committed to a mostly right-handed lineup in a search for more power. Unfortunately, right-handed power extends to the mound, where an influx of relievers are throwing over 95 mph with nasty secondary pitches.

Here’s more from around the game:

  • Indians utility fielder Zach Walters has injured his oblique and will miss the next three to four weeks, reports Chuck Crow of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Walters was acquired last season in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera. The switch-hitter is a career .193/.253/.452 batter in 146 plate appearances, most of which came last season. He played five positions for the Nationals and Indians last season. Oblique injuries can be tricky to rehab, so expect the club to proceed slowly.
  • Pirates infielder Jung-ho Kang has the work ethic and bat speed to succeed in the majors, writes Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The South Korean star will make his major league debut this season. No former KBO hitter has succeeded in the majors, so Kang will aim to pave the road for future generations. He uses the exaggerated leg kick first popularized by Sadaharu Oh, but he quiets it with two strikes. FanGraphs swing expert Dan Farnsworth analyzed Kang’s swing earlier this winter (FG+ required), concluding “he has all the makings of an absolute monster.”
  • Former number one draft pick Brady Aiken is expected to make his season debut with IMG Post Grad on Thursday, tweets Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs. Aiken was selected by the Astros last June, but their agreement fell apart due to concerns about his pitching elbow. Aiken remains among the top prospects in the draft, although the Astros will presumably pass on selecting him with either of their top five picks.

International Notes: Draft, Alvarez, Moncada, Baldoquin

Speaking at the SABR Analytics Conference, Jim Callis of Baseball opined that an international draft would be included in the next CBA (tweet via Matt Eddy of BA). Callis expects the union to concede the issue in exchange for something else. Historically, the union has traded the rights of amateurs in exchange for veteran benefits, so a move like this is not unexpected. The current CBA expires December 1, 2016.

  • Right-handed Cuban hurler Yadier Alvarez will hold his next open workout on April 8th in the Dominican Republic, tweets Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs.com. The 18-year-old is currently restricted from signing until at least July 2nd due to MLB registration rules. Presently, Alvarez is trying secure an exemption from commissioner Rob Manfried so he may sign sooner. Several teams including the Yankees, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Angels will be ineligible to sign Alvarez in the next international spending period.
  • The Red Sox first stumbled upon Yoan Moncada in 2010, writes Alex Speier of the Boston Globe in the first of a three-part series. Speier describes the early scouting process used by the Red Sox as they tracked Moncada. It began with a 16-and-under showcase where Moncada appeared as just another line in a spreadsheet. Even then, his tools and physicality drew remarks. Boston’s best looks came in an 18-and-under tournament in Taiwan featuring names like Brady Aiken, Justus Sheffield, and Jacob Nix.
  • The Angels got their first looks at Roberto Baldoquin during a Yasmany Tomas showcase, reports Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times. Baldoquin showcased with Tomas due to personal connections. The Angels decided to take a shot on what they perceived to be a strong work ethic and fierce mentality. Said GM Jerry Dipoto, “I love the look in his eye, the way he interacts with people…he was a leader. He’ll likely be the youngest player on his team this year, but he will be one of the most mature.” The 20-year-old shortstop signed for $8MM in January. Dipoto expects to see him in Los Angeles this season.

Tony Clark On Astros, Nix, Draft, Springer, Singleton

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a host of interesting topics in an interview with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Drellich published two separate articles, both are worth a full read: one focusing on draft-related issues and the other on various recent contractual matters at the major league level.

Generally, Clark had positive words for Houston, crediting the team with a “tremendous stable of young talent,” which, along with some recent veteran signings, “suggests that there’s a plan in place and a light at the end of this rainbow.” He noted that the team’s relatively new ownership and management group is “continuing to acclimate.”

Here are some more key takeaways:

  • We’ll turn first to the well-publicized matter of the Astros failing to sign recent draftees Jacob Nix and Brady Aiken. Drellich reports that the settlement between the club Nix, which avoided a grievance proceeding, was actually for a value in the six-figure range, not the full $1.5MM he had originally agreed upon for a bonus (as had previously been reported). Aiken, meanwhile, has not taken any formal action — either through the grievance proceeding or otherwise. Clark says that the “entire situation was unfortunate,” but declined to criticize the club for manipulating the draft prrocess (as he had previously charged) and indicated that the focus was on ensuring that the players “land on their feet with an opportunity to get drafted again this year.”
  • Drellich explains that the settlement avoided a potentially tricky jurisdictional issue in the grievance matter. Even as the team (if not also the league) bore risk of an adverse judgment from an arbitrator, Nix himself could have won a hollow victory by having the better of the substantive argument but not receiving any actual monetary relief. This is because the draft is a subject of collective bargaining, but non-40-man players like Nix are not members of the union. Clark did not tip his hand on the union’s view regarding possible changes to the draft, but did say he has “a feeling it’ll be a topic of discussion when we sit down in ’16.”
  • Last year, the Astros (among other teams) came under scrutiny regarding service time considerations, in their case involving two of the team’s best prospects. Outfielder George Springer turned down an extension offer and started the season in the minors. Per the report, “steps that could have eventually led to a grievance hearing were taken on his behalf,” though that process was halted when Springer was ultimately promoted. Because he missed the first couple weeks of the season, Springer will be controlled for an additional season, though he is lined up to qualify for another arbitration year as a Super Two.
  • Meanwhile, first baseman Jon Singleton ultimately accepted a $10MM extension and was simultaneously promoted to the big leagues. That deal — the first of its kind — created quite a stir, though as I explained at the time there were certainly good reasons for the youngster to reach agreement. Clark’s comments were fascinating on this point, given the controversy surround the contract. “We are supportive of every opportunity a player has to sign a contract,” Clark said. “All we ever ask is that the player is as educated as he can be on all the different moving pieces that may enter that conversation. But no, we think it’s great, and we also think it’s a testament to how well the industry is doing that clubs are being willing more and more to make those commitments to guys who are younger and younger.” (If you’re interested in the subject, Singleton’s agent, Matt Sosnick, explained the deal from his perspective in a recent MLBTR Podcast episode, at the 10:33 mark.)

Brady Aiken Enrolls At IMG Academy

Last year’s top overall draft choice, young lefty Brady Aiken, has officially enrolled at IMG Academy, the institution announced. He joins fellow unsigned Astros selection Jacob Nix in heading to the Florida academy. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel first tweeted that he’d heard rumors Aiken would enroll there about a month ago.

By choosing the post-high school athletic training facility and prep school, Aiken will be eligible to re-enter the draft next year. He is expected to remain one of the most sought-after players available, though Houston’s pair of top-five draft choices will presumably represent slots that he will not land.

Aiken and Nix were part of a complex, still-somewhat unclear series of events that unfolded as last year’s amateur draft signing deadline approached. (See here and here for background.) The former had reached agreement on a significant bonus with Houston, but the team reportedly sought to re-negotiate the deal after an MRI showed that he had an abnormally small ulnar collateral ligament. As part of the fallout, a pre-existing agreement with Nix was not consummated, leading to a grievance and eventual settlement.


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AL West Notes: Manager Searches, Aiken, Astros

A pair of AL West teams are without permanent managers at the moment, following the Astros‘ firing of Bo Porter and Ron Washington’s abrupt an unexpected resignation from his post with the Rangers. Some new candidates are emerging for the positions, as Mike DiGiovanna tweets that Angels bench coach Dino Ebel is a candidate to fill the void in Houston. Meanwhile, the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher tweets that Rangers first base coach and former big league catcher Bengie Molina is a candidate for both managerial openings. Molina would continue a growing trend of recent big league backstops becoming managers, following in the footsteps of Mike Matheny (Cardinals), Mike Redmond (Marlins) and Brad Ausmus (Tigers).

Here’s more out of the AL West…

  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia spoke highly of Ebel and Molina as future managers to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. Of Ebel, he said, “He’s always been an incredible teacher, has a great passion … There’s no doubt that someday he’s going to be a terrific manager.” He offered similar praise for Molina, who served as Scioscia’s catcher when the Halos won the World Series in 2002: “…just has an incredible way of connecting with people, has a great understanding of the pitcher-catcher relationship, understands the offensive part, and I know he’ll eventually get an opportunity.”
  • Josh Hamilton spoke with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News regarding Washington’s resignation and had nothing but praise and well wishes for his former skipper. “He was always very enthusiastic, always on your side and encouraging, so you always want to play for a guy like that.”
  • Commissioner Bud Selig fielded a question on recent rumors that the Astros could still sign Brady Aiken when speaking to reporters, including the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich (Twitter links). Selig himself may have fueled some speculation with recent comments to the San Diego media, but that sounds inadvertent based on his response: “I didn’t mean to create confusion although I guess Ive been known to do that,” said Selig. Drellich notes that it remains “very, very unlikely” that Houston would be allowed to sign Aiken.
  • Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus examines the theory that the culture of losing could have long-term negative impacts on the talent the Astros have already promoted to the Major Leagues. Using an adapted Cox Regression model, Carleton concludes that a player is seven or eight percent more likely to flame out after spending three years in a losing environment. However, he concludes that while the end result may be one extra player flaming out, the Astros could likely recoup that value via the extra money they’ve been garnering in the draft and international signing arenas by the virtue of the poor records. While there could be negative effects, Carleton writes, fixing them likely isn’t worth it from a mathematical standpoint.

Latest On Astros And Brady Aiken, Jacob Nix

AUG. 27, 4:51pm: The Astros are highly unlikely to be afforded any chance to sign Aiken, a source tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The source also expressed the belief that Selig must have been referring to Nix.

Given the present state of confusion, it should be noted that Aiken could at least theoretically be seeking to receive some accommodation from the league that would not be directly tied to Houston’s own rights, obligations, and interests moving forward. That hypothetical possibility would potentially square reports that the club is not talking with the first overall choice with Selig’s comment that a “solution” of some kind is being pursued.

4:03pm: There are no current discussions between the Astros and Aiken, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. On the other hand, Houston is working to reach agreement on some sort of deal with Nix before his grievance hearing, Heyman says.

Heyman suggests that Selig may have misunderstood the question he was asked — which referred specifically to Aiken — when he said that some “solution” to the Aiken situation was in the works. On the other hand, it is worth noting that Selig said no grievance action had been filed, which is (so far as has been reported) true with respect to Aiken but not Nix.

2:35pm: Commissioner Bud Selig was in San Diego yesterday for the opening of the Padres’ Hall of Fame plaza — named Selig Plaza — and was asked by Jennifer Jensen of 10 News whether or not Aiken had been granted an extension on his signing window:

“We’re working on that right now. There are a lot of things in movement there so it would be inappropriate for me to comment, but I would say we are working towards a hopeful solution.”

Asked a second time, Selig again refused to confirm or deny that an extension had been granted, but he repeated that they are “working toward a solution.” Selig did reveal that no grievance has been filed yet by Aiken’s camp. While his comments are somewhat vague, the commissioner did not shoot down the possibility that Aiken could still reach a deal with the Astros. As Jim Callis of Baseball America points out (on Twitter), it seems fair to assume that the other 29 teams in the league would be none too pleased to see Aiken strike a deal with Houston well beyond the signing deadline.

AUG. 21, 11:46am: “There’s nothing to report, nothing going on there,” Astros owner Jim Crane tells Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link) in regards to a possible Aiken deal.

11:25am: The Astros could still end up signing first overall draft pick Brady Aiken, and “the expectation from those close to the negotiation” is that the two sides will reach an agreement around the time of Jacob Nix‘s grievance hearing, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel reports (Twitter links).  The MLBPA filed the grievance on Nix’s behalf last month, and the hearing will reportedly be held during the offseason.

As McDaniel puts it, the possibility of Aiken inking a deal beyond the July 18th deadline for signing draft picks is an “MLB’s discretion situation.”  It had been presumed that Houston had forfeited their right to sign Aiken (plus Nix and 21st-rounder Mac Marshall) when they couldn’t reach agreements with any of the players by July 18th.  In failing to sign Aiken, the Astros received the second overall pick in the 2015 draft as compensation.

Aiken had a verbal agreement in place with the Astros just a few days after he was selected as the #1 pick in the 2014 draft, but no official deal was finalized due to the team’s concerns over Aiken’s unusually small UCL, a detail discovered during a post-draft physical.  This led Houston to drop their offer from the agreed-upon $6.5MM bonus (which was already over $1.4MM below the assigned slot price of the first overall pick) to $5MM.  This set off a chain reaction that caused the Astros to pull their $1.5MM agreement with Nix off the table, as signing Nix at that price would’ve put the Astros over their draft pool limit and put them in danger of facing penalties such as the loss of two future first-round picks.

Needless to say, it would be surprising to see Aiken wind up wearing Astros orange given the harsh words that Casey Close (the agent for both Aiken and Nix) had for the organization and GM Jeff Luhnow in the wake of the controversy.  As it stands, Aiken would have to either attend a junior college and re-enter the draft next year or commit to a college and not be able to turn pro for three more years.  It’s possible the high schooler is simply eager to begin his professional career and/or wants some financial security now, given that anything could happen to lower his stock over the next 1-3 years.

For the Astros, signing Aiken would help the team save face after it was widely criticized for its handling of the situation.  Aiken has until September 1 to file a grievance himself, though that deadline could be extended.