MLB Draft 2014: Brady Aiken, Astros situation just got uglier

Rich Schultz

Public sentiment has turned on the Astros. Hard.

Out of the four different scenarios for the end game here, only one of them could be considered a win for the Astros.

That's the takeaway point from Tuesday's news from Ken Rosenthal. Brady Aiken's agent, Casey Close, gave Rosenthal a doozy of a story. It follows up on much of what was written in the San Diego Union-Tribune story from last Friday, talking about the impasse negotiations have reached with the Astros and top overall pick Brady Aiken.

At issue is Houston's physical of the young phenom, which showed something in his left elbow. The extent of the injury isn't known. It didn't keep him from pitching. It hasn't kept him from hitting 97 mph in his last high school start. But, it was significant enough for the Astros to reduce their agreed-upon offer from $6.5 million to something less.

Close disputes exactly how much the Astros have discounted things. Previously, word was that the Astros had dropped their offer to $5 million. But, Close says they offered him only 40 percent of the slot bonus amount, the minimum they had to offer him to gain a pick if he didn't sign.

"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.

Rosenthal also gets comments from union officials and other agents which corroborate Close's take:

The difference with Aiken, in the opinion of some agents and union officials, is that the Astros know that the arm of every drafted pitcher has some imperfection, but are using a perceived flaw with Aiken's elbow as a way to manipulate the draft.

This has called a stir. Everyone from Buster Olney to Keith Law to Jim Callis and the Baseball America guys have weighed in. Everyone is taking the Aiken side, that the Astros are juking the system and being unfair to this 17-year-old kid.

Amid the stormy seas of unrest, we get one great point:

Houston isn't breaking the rules. In fact, if you read the story, Luhnow is quoted as saying he can't talk about the Aiken injury situation because of HIPAA rules. In essence, he's following baseball rules and federal rules, too.

Of course, the Astros did break something. They broke their agreement with Aiken, likely reached pre-draft. They had agreed to pay him $6.5 million, which was a significant discount on the slot amount for the first overall pick. But, it was also more than most of the rest of the draft would get.

Instead of honoring that agreement, Houston did a physical and told Aiken that he's hurt. That he'd now have to take less. Can you understand why this might upset the family a tiny bit?

On the podcast this week, I mentioned that Scott Boras wouldn't have handled this situation like it's being handled now. Boras seemed to agree with me.

In one sense, this is just business. it's not personal. The Astros found a problem with Aiken's elbow. it's not a problem now, but could be a problem soon. So, they're asking for a discount, just like you'd ask for a discount if there was a ding in the hood of a new car you're buying.

Aiken is not a car. He's a human being. I'm guessing he didn't take kindly to the notion that he's damaged goods. He's also a 17-year-old human being. In my experience, not all 17-year-old humans are entirely rational at times. They're prone to making rash decisions and generally blowing things up.

Add to that his parents, who have gone to great lengths to keep Aiken healthy. They've watched his pitch count. He hasn't pitched year-round. He wasn't overused in high school. Yet, the Astros are saying there is still a problem.

I don't know Brady Aiken or his parents. But, I bet there's a non-zero chance that all this upset them. That they saw the Astros actions as not just business. They took it personally.

So, they talked to the Union-Tribune. They got mad with agent Casey Close, forcing him to talk publicly about negotiations. They wanted to embarrass the Astros.

They did their job.

There are a few different ways this plays out now. One, Aiken doesn't sign and the Astros lose out on Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall. They get the No. 2 overall pick next season. Two, they sign Aiken for his full slot bonus and lose Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall. Three, the Astros enter into arbitration with Aiken, sign him, but lose out on Nix. Four, a deal with Aiken is reached, allowing Houston to sign Nix and possibly sign Marshall.

One of those is a positive outcome. The rest are different shades of failure. Even if the Astros agree to terms with Aiken, the relationship may be damaged. What if Aiken becomes uncoachable because of this? If he believes he won one battle, maybe he takes that mindset into the rest of his career.

But, at the end of all this, if Houston gets a deal done with Aiken and still signs Nix by Friday, no harm, no foul. All this rhetoric about Houston being incompetent or sleazy or two-faced will go away (until the next scandal breaks).

If they don't sign Aiken? If this thing gets worse? Someone will get fired. It won't be Luhnow. Not yet. But, it's going to cost someone their job.

No one wins when things get this ugly.

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