Brady Aiken Rumors

Draft Notes: Bonuses, Astros, Aiken

67 players in this year’s draft signed for at least $1MM, Clint Longenecker of Baseball America writes. Many teams signed two players to deals worth at least $1MM, although the Indians, Pirates and Royals, who all had extra Day 1 picks, signed four players each to deals worth that much. The Orioles, who didn’t have a selection until the No. 90 overall pick, were the only team without a $1MM signing. Here are notes on the draft.

  • The Astros‘ failure to sign Brady Aiken is baffling, MLB.com’s Richard Justice writes. The difference between the Astros’ final offer of $5MM and the $6.5MM to which the two parties initially agreed is tiny in terms of MLB talent. Meanwhile, another draft pick, Jacob Nix, saw his own deal disappear as the Astros lost the bonus pool allotment for the first overall pick. Justice also argues that it will take time for the Astros to repair the damage to their reputation the Aiken decision will cause.
  • Nobody wins” in the Aiken/Astros snafu, Ben Nicholson-Smith of SportsNet.ca writes. Nix, in particular, loses out through no fault of his own. Nicholson-Smith cites an agent who notes that the current system forces teams to prioritize balancing their draft budgets, even when that means they lose out on talent — because the Astros didn’t sign Aiken, they couldn’t sign Nix, even though Nix and the Astros had previously agreed to a deal.
  • Aiken advisor Casey Close ripped Astros GM Jeff Luhnow on the phone for leaking the results of Aiken’s physical, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. Close also reportedly suggested that other teams dislike dealing with the Astros because of their approach in negotiations.

Astros Fail To Sign Aiken, Nix, Marshall

The Astros did not sign first-round pick Brady Aiken or fifth-rounder Jacob Nix, reports MLB.com’s Jim Callis (on Twitter). Aiken becomes just the third No. 1 overall pick ever to not sign, per Callis (Twitter link). Nix had previously been reported to have agreed to terms, which Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports (on Twitter) was by way of a verbal agreement.

The two young pitchers are both reportedly advised by Casey Close. Houston also ultimately failed to reach terms with another well-regarded arm, 21st-rounder Mac Marshall, Callis adds. That confirms Marshall’s own announcement that he would instead attend LSU.

The Astros will receive the No. 2 pick in next year’s draft, Callis further notes, meaning that Houston did at least offer Aiken 40 percent of his slot value ($3,168,840), which Aiken did not accept. In fact, Houston ultimately upped its offer to $5MM, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter link). “We tried to engage Casey Close three times today,” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle (via Twitter), but “there was no interest.” Ultimately, the team made three offers today, Heyman tweets, the second of which came with 30 minutes left on the clock. The final, $5MM offer was made with just five minutes to go. Aiken did not counter any of the offers.

Aiken and the Astros had reportedly agreed upon a $6.5MM bonus, with Aiken heading to Houston for his physical and an introduction. But things took a turn when a dispute arose over the interpretation of MRI results regarding Aiken’s elbow.

In many ways, the news represents a disappointing result for both Houston and the two players who had been expected to sign. The club will of course have an opportunity to choose another top-end player next year (along with the team’s regular first-round choice, which should be a good one), but will have to wait to get that player started. And Houston will miss out on a pitcher who Luhnow himself called the “most advanced high school pitcher” he’s even seen. Not only that, but the team has now foregone the opportunity to sign Nix, and could even face some form of grievance proceeding as a result of the handling of Nix’s negotiations.

Meanwhile, Aiken will need to perform at rather a high level to beat the $5MM that he ultimately was offered, and will need to wait some time for a check to cash. It is not yet clear where he will go, though presumably he will either enroll at UCLA (where he was committed) or else choose the junior college route. Of course, the very public nature of the recent negotiations regarding Aiken and Nix might conceivably have some ramifications for those players’ future collegiate eligibility, which would obviously be an unfortunate byproduct of a difficult situation.

Needless to say, the situation has led to quite a bit of chatter around the game. As MLB.com’s Jim Callis explains, speculation arose that Houston was hoping to drive down Aiken’s price in a bid to make a last-minute run at Marshall, who had long before said he was going to college. Of course, it was never certain that such a possibility was realistic, let alone that the club would ultimately pass on the chance to add Aiken (and with him Nix) without some genuine concern.

Indeed, the apparent medical dispute regarding Aiken, and its impact on Nix, have led to indications that fallout may be yet to come. The Astros released a statement, saying that the club’s final offer was “extremely fair considering all the factors involved in this case” and insisting that the team “approached these negotiations in good faith and with the best interests of the Astros organization in mind, both short-term and long-term.”

But the MLB Player’s Association sees things somewhat differently, stating the view that Aiken and Nix were wronged. “Today, two young men should be one step closer to realizing their dreams of becoming Major League ballplayers,” said executive director Tony Clark. Because of the actions of the Houston Astros, they are not. The MLBPA, the players and their advisers are exploring all legal options.”

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.


Latest On Astros, Brady Aiken

JULY 15, 6:35pm: The concern regarding Aiken involves his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), a source tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle“He may have some [of the ligament], but not much,” the source said, apparently referring to the natural size — rather than any tearing — of Aiken’s UCL. A hypothetical Tommy John procedure would not be a straightforward solution in Aiken’s case, the source adds.

While the issue may be “cut-and-dry,” per Drellich’s source, it appears that its interpretation is the crux of the ongoing debate. The young lefty has seen two team doctors and three independent specialists (including Dr. James Andrews) to assess the situation, according to Drellich. Close, Aiken’s agent, told Rosenthal that his client “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.”

Drellich spoke with an expert orthopedist — Dr. Chris Geary of the Tufts Medical center, apparently not among those who have seen Aiken — who tells him that a congenitally small UCL would not necessarily indicate a greater risk of a UCL tear or lowered success rate if a TJ procedure became necessary. Geary indicated that further information would be necessary to assess Aiken’s overall susceptibility to elbow trouble, and said that other physical attributes could mean that he is perfectly capable of pitching without any particular concern.

9:54am: The Astros believe that Aiken’s MRI revealed a “significant abnormality,” Major League sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Aiken’s adviser, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management, tells Rosenthal that the team has made just one revised offer — a bonus of $3,168,840. That amount represents the minimum bonus Houston would need to offer in order to receive the second pick in next year’s draft as compensation.

Close, who insists that Aiken is asymptomatic and healthy, offered some harsh words for the Astros and the way they’ve handled negotiations:

“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.”

Meanwhile, GM Jeff Luhnow tells Rosenthal that he has been in contact with MLB throughout the entire process to ensure that their actions were within the rules. Pat Courtney, a spokesperson for MLB, said that “Major League Baseball is comfortable that the Houston Astros have acted in complete accord with Major League rules.”

Rosenthal reports that the team informed Nix’s family that the reported $1.5MM agreement between the two sides had to be rescinded because the team first needed to complete its deal with Aiken before finalizing that deal.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said the players’ association will weigh all options in support of the players. Specifically regarding Nix, he said: “We believe that it is a clear violation of the rules being attempted solely to avoid penalty. The Astros made a deal with Jacob Nix and should honor that agreement.”

This Friday is the deadline for teams to sign their draft picks.

JULY 7, 4:19pm: Drellich spoke with Aiken’s athletic trainer, Paul Flores, who says that to his knowledge, Aiken is “absolutely healthy.” Flores says that there is nothing Aiken is unable to do in their regular workouts, adding: “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, … ‘How do you feel today?’ … He always tells me he feels great — and not good — great.”

1:25pm: The ominous delay between No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken‘s arrival in Houston to sign his contract and the announcement of an official deal now has some clarity, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Aiken has an issue with a ligament in his left elbow. The Astros are now seeking to reduce his signing bonus from the previously agreed upon $6.5MM to $5MM, according to Heyman’s sources.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports speculated recently that there might be an issue with Aiken’s ligament, noting that the curiously long delay between his arrival to sign his contract and an announcement from the Astros was similar to the delay when a free agent fails his physical.

As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle explained in late June, Aiken would become a free agent if he failed his physical and the Astros did not make an offer of at least 40 percent of his slot value (roughly $3.17MM). Clearly, based on Heyman’s report, Houston is still comfortable enough with Aiken’s elbow that this scenario is unlikely.

However, the Astros would also lose the value of Aiken’s slot from their bonus pool should he elect not to sign, which would be problematic. The Astros were set to save about $1.4MM on Aiken’s original $6.5MM bonus, and a great deal of those savings were reserved for the $1.5MM bonus they’ve agreed to with fifth-rounder Jacob Nix – a bonus that is $1.13MM over slot. It is in Houston’s best interest to get some form of deal worked out, as losing Aiken’s slot would drop Houston’s overall pool to roughly $5.44MM, leaving them unable to officially sign Nix at that figure without incurring penalties in future drafts (the maximum penalty, which is enforced if a team exceeds its draft pool by more than 15 percent, is the forfeiture of a team’s next two first-round picks and a 100 percent luxury tax on the overage).

Obviously, the news is troubling for Astros fans, who had hoped Aiken would sign quickly and begin his progression from high school superstar to the mound Minute Maid Park. The Astros have until July 18 to finalize a deal with Aiken. The team would receive the No. 2 selection in next year’s draft, should it fail to come to terms with Aiken.



AL West Notes: Aiken, Altuve, Appel, Butler, Zobrist, Price

Earlier today, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports provided an update on the Astros’ talks with Brady Aiken after speaking to GM Jeff Luhnow, Casey Close of Excel Sports Management (Aiken’s adviser), a league official and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. Close feels that the the Astros are acting “with disregard” to the draft’s rules, while an MLB official noted that everything about the process has been within the CBA’s guidelines. Here are a few reactions to that story, and some other notes from around the AL West…

  • Jim Callis of Baseball America feels that there’s more than just gamesmanship going on with the Aiken situation (Twitter link). Medical reports are highly subjective, he notes, adding that he can’t see the Astros concocting the concern as part of some plan.
  • Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com tweets that the Astros are being demonized for doing something that is allowed within the rules laid out in the last CBA. He feels that Major League Baseball created this problem by leaving a loophole in the rules. McDaniel also notes that this is what more traditional organizations dislike about the Astos; while their moves can be perceived as smart or strategic, they come off as cold and calculating (All Twitter links). Interested parties should also note that McDaniel’s timeline is full of discussion with his followers regarding this very topic.
  • Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle looks at last year’s extension for Jose Altuve and provides some detail regarding the negotiations. Luhnow and Altuve’s representatives at Octagon had laid most of the groundwork, but there were some loose ends, so Luhnow had a one-on-one breakfast meeting with Altuve (conducted entirely in Spanish) to address the remaining issues. Drellich spoke to Altuve’s former agent, Scott Boras, who unsurprisingly said that he would’ve advised against taking the four-year, $12.5MM guarantee (which can be worth as much as $25MM if two club options are exercised).
  • The Astros’ No. 1 pick from 2013, Mark Appel, recently had a cortisone shot in his wrist, agent Scott Boras told Drellich at yesterday’s All-Star game festivities. While Boras characterized the wrist issue as minor (Twitter links), it’s hard not to wonder how much the wrist has bothered him in 2014. Appel has struggled tremendously, posting a 9.57 ERA in 36 2/3 innings.
  • The Mariners are casting a wide net in their search for a bat and have even contacted the Royals about underperforming DH Billy Butler, tweets ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Those talks are not new, however, according to a tweet from Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Over the weekend we learned that the M’s have had serious talks on Marlon Byrd, who would be willing to waive his no-trade clause.
  • Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, meanwhile hears that the Mariners have shown interest in Ben Zobrist of the Rays (Twitter link). Zobrist could fill a variety of roles for the Mariners (among many other teams), as Seattle could stand to improve its production at shortstop or in the outfield.
  • Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN feels that it would be a mistake for the Mariners to pursue David Price, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggested they should do last week. Drayer feels that parting with a package including Nick Franklin, D.J. Peterson and Taijuan Walker too closely resembles the Erik Bedard trade that cost Seattle Adam Jones and Chris Tillman. While trading prospects isn’t necessarily something to shy away from, such a trade would too greatly diminish the team’s hope for sustained success, she opines.

Quick Hits: Segura, Aiken, Cruz

Brewers shortstop Jean Segura has left the team after learning of the death of his nine-month-old son Janniel, Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. There are few details about what happened, although Brewers manager Ron Roenicke notes that Segura’s son had been sick. “It’s tough,” says Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez. “After I leave last night, I can’t wait to come home and hug my kid and sleep with my kid. It’s hard to imagine. It’s painful. It’s not my kid, but I feel like it.” We at MLBTR send our deepest condolences to Segura and his family after this tragedy.

  • Brady Aiken and the Astros still don’t see eye-to-eye over the pitcher’s injury status, Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes in a long feature. The Astros have dropped Aiken’s bonus offer from $6.5MM to $5MM over an issue with his elbow, but Kenney quotes Aiken’s high school coach and trainer, who both say he’s healthy. The issue, as Kenney points out, might be that interpreting an MRI is more art than science — a player can appear healthy and yet have abnormalities in his MRI, and yet it isn’t easy to tell which abnormalities are significant and which ones aren’t.
  • Despite the aftereffects of a PED suspension and a fall into the cracks of the qualifying offer system, the OriolesNelson Cruz didn’t spend the offseason worrying about where he would end up, Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun writes. Instead, he took comfort in spending the offseason in his home country of the Dominican Republic. “It feels natural,” Cruz says. “Everything is more calm [in the U.S.] You have more peace. But I miss my people.”

AL West Notes: Grilli, Angels, Aiken, Morales

In a video interview with ESPN’s Jim Bowden, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto discussed the recent trades his team has made. Regarding the team’s swap of Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli, Dipoto tells Bowden that he received a text message from Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington, and the discussions took “about seven minutes” from start to agreement. The Halos’ interest in Grilli dates all the way back to his most recent run as a free agent, says Dipoto, who adds that the team discussed similar deals to this trade before making the move.

More from Dipoto’s chat with Bowden and the rest of the AL West below…

  • Regarding his acquisition of lefty Joe Thatcher, Dipoto notes “that’s one we’d been looking at for quite a long time.” Dipoto adds that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers had made his interest in Zach Borenstein, who went to Arizona in the deal, known in the past. Perhaps most interestingly, Dipoto implies that the negotiations on the trade took place with Towers. Previous reports have indicated that some organizations weren’t sure about Arizona’s front office hierarchy now that Tony La Russa is in the mix.
  • Asked by Bowden if the Angels were done shopping, Dipoto replied, “We’ll continue to try to find ways to make the team better. Particularly, I’ve talked about the idea that if we can find one more piece for that bullpen.” Dipoto makes sure to qualify that he’s very pleased with the current mix of relievers but remains open to possible improvements at the back of the ‘pen.
  • Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle spoke with Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who said he’s hopeful the team can reach an agreement with top pick Brady Aiken, but he won’t handicap it either way (Twitter link). Earlier today, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that a ligament issue in Aiken’s elbow has held up negotiations and caused the Astros to drop their bonus offer from $6.5MM to $5MM. Drellich talked to Aiken’s trainer, who claims that the lefty is healthy.
  • With the Twins in Seattle, Kendrys Morales spoke through an interpreter to the Seattle media (including Bob Candotta of the Seattle Times) about his offseason discussions with his former club. Morales said there was a bit of discussion with the Mariners, but as his interpreter says: “…in his heart he just didn’t really want to come back here and be in the same spot. He was taking his chances to see maybe something would get better.”

Rosenthal On Aiken, Parra, Dodgers, Benoit, Cubs

In his latest column, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reminds everyone why experienced foreigners like Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu are considered eligible for Rookie of the Year awards.  Of course, players like Abreu and Tanaka come with years of professional experience, but they still have to make a significant transition when it comes to the move to MLB, both professionally and culturally.  Here’s more from Rosenthal..

  • High school left-hander (and first overall draft choice) Brady Aiken reportedly arrived in Houston last Monday, which would indicate that an agreement was close, but a week later nothing has been announced and neither side is saying why.  The holdup, Rosenthal says, bears a resemblance to the delays that occasionally occur in free agency when players fail physicals and teams try to rework deals.  If indeed Aiken failed his physical, the Astros would have the right to offer him 40 percent of his signing bonus value, according to the new draft rules that were negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement in 2011.  Of course, this is just speculation on Rosenthal’s part and only the parties involved know whether there is any kind of issue with Aiken’s physical.
  • D’Backs outfielder and fan favorite Gerardo Parra might be among the least likely in Arizona to be traded. With  A.J. Pollock and Mark Trumbo on the disabled list, a trade of the 27-year-old would leave the club short on experienced outfielders.  It’s also unclear how much Parra would bring back in a trade.  Parra is making $4.85MM in his third year of arbitration and amounts to little more than a platoon player, given his career .586 OPS against left-handers. Third baseman Martin Prado, earning $11MM per season through 2016, is another player the D’Backs might opt to keep, even though he has struggled at the plate as well.  Second baseman Aaron Hill, meanwhile, is expendable given their surplus of middle infielders.
  • It would be surprising if the Dodgers traded an outfielder considering the recent injury woes of Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Andre Ethier.
  • The Tigers didn’t re-sign Joaquin Benoit last winter because they didn’t want to pay him closer money, but he still makes sense for them as a mid-season pickup.  The Padres reliever, who turns 37 in July, is owed about $3MM this season and $8MM next season with an $8MM team option or $1.5MM buyout for 2016.
  • Jake Arrieta probably has the best stuff of any Cubs starter right now but, of course, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are more likely to be traded since Arrieta is under club control through 2017.  Lefty Travis Wood, meanwhile, could be an extension candidate once the Cubs complete their rotation selloff.

Brady Aiken In Houston To Sign Contract

JUNE 23: Aiken arrived in Houston today to sign his contract, reports Mark Berman of FOX 26 Sports. Aiken acknowledged to Berman that the deal is done, and he’s set to begin his pro career.

JUNE 7, 7:17pm: The sides are “on the same page” regarding the bonus, though the deal still has pieces left to be negotiated, tweets Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle.

5:24pm: The Astros are in agreement with top overall choice Brady Aiken on a $6.5MM bonus, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports on Twitter. As Callis notes, Aiken — who is advised by Excel Sports Management — ties Jameson Taillon (Pirates, 2010) for the largest-ever bonus agreed to by a high school pitcher.

More importantly for Houston, that number falls well shy of the pick’s allotment of just over $7.9MM, leaving the club with ample additional funds to apply to other draft choices. The rest of the team’s day one haul consisted of seven college juniors, one college senior, a JuCo choice (Brock Dykxhoorn, sixth round), and one high-schooler (Jacob Nix, fifth round). One player who could see some money dangled is Mac Marshall, who appears set to attend LSU but was taken by Houston in the 21st round.

Aiken established a clear consensus as the best overall player heading into the draft, though many have noted the shaky recent history of prep arms chosen at the very top of the draft. Of course, focusing only on the players that happened to go at the top of the draft would mean ignoring success stories like that of Clayton Kershaw, who Aiken seems reasonably comparable to at this (early) stage of  his development.

Certainly, draft observers agreed that Aiken was worth the top choice. He landed at the head of the final draft boards of Baseball AmericaESPN’s Keith Law, and Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis of MLB.com. Those experts credit him with a heater that ranges into the mid-90s, plus secondary offerings (curve and change), fluid mechanics, and outstanding command.


Astros Close To Deal With Brady Aiken

The Astros are close to a deal with top overall draft pick Brady Aiken, Mark Berman of FOX Houston reports. Aiken’s father Jim says his son will soon travel to Houston to make the deal official.

I would say we have a verbal agreement in place,” says Jim Aiken. “Next thing is to hammer out the details of the contract and hopefully that’ll be done in the next week or two.”

The pool value of Aiken’s pick is about $7.92MM. There has been some speculation about the possibility that Aiken will take less, which would allow the Astros to spread some of that money to later picks. Aiken, who hails from Cathedral Catholic High School in California,  is committed to UCLA.

Aiken’s stock rose this spring, and he gradually emerged as the top overall talent in the draft. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted when the Astros picked Aiken, Aiken already has good velocity for a lefty, and he has the potential to have a plus curveball and changeup to go along with a plus fastball. He also has outstanding command for a high school pitcher.


Post-Draft Links: Aiken, Schwarber, Davidson, Verdugo

The first day of the 2014 draft is complete, and as many expected, the Astros selected high school left-hander Brady Aiken with the No. 1 overall pick. The team is in no hurry to sign Aiken, however, the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich reports (Twitter links). Still,the Astros are understandably excited about the player they drafted. “This is the most advanced high school pitcher I’ve ever seen in my entire career,” says GM Jeff Luhnow. “He has command like I’ve never seen before.”

Here’s more from the draft’s first day…

  • The Cubs turned some heads by selecting Indiana catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick, but scouting director Jason McLeod told reporters that Schwarber was No. 2 on the team’s draft board all along. ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers quotes McLeod (on Twitter) as saying that Schwarber trailed only Aiken on their board, though as the Chicago Sun Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer tweets, McLeod did acknowledge that the pick will save them some money. The Cubs are expecting him to sign quickly.
  • Braves top pick Braxton Davidson says he will sign rather than attending UNC, tweets David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Davidson’s slot — No. 32 overall — carries a $1.7054MM value, per Baseball AmericaI spoke with Davidson as part of MLBTR’s Draft Prospect Q&A series.
  • Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish hears that the Dodgers and No. 62 overall pick Alex Verdugo already have an agreement in place, and the ASU commit will not be attending college (Twitter link). VP of amateur scouting Logan White tells MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick that Verdugo, a two-way prospect, will start as a center fielder and convert to pitching if he doesn’t hit well (Twitter link).
  • MLB.com’s Corey Brock spoke with Padres scouting director Billy Gasparino and got the impression that the team will shift its focus on jump on some arms tomorrow (Twitter link). San Diego drafted a pair of bats today in UNC shortstop Trea Turner and prep outfielder Michael Gettys.

Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post.