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.