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Brady Aiken vs. the Astros: Legally, can the Astros be held accountable for Nix deal?

Looking at the law precedent for Jacob Nix's agreement with the Astros and whether it will have to be upheld.


One of the more contentious parts of the Brad Aiken saga, which continues to drag out as the deadline approaches, is the Jacob Nix situation.  People have continually weighed in on the situation, including both of the player's advisor Casey Close, union chief Tony Clark and baseball writers like Keith Law.

One of the advantages I have over them is that I'm actually a lawyer, which is perfect for examining the sticky situation around a possible agreement with Jacob Nix.

What do we know? On June 17, Brian McTaggart and Jim Callis of reported that the deal with Nix had been agreed upon.

WASHINGTON -- Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round Draft pick this year, who was considered to be a tough signing based on his commitment to UCLA, told on Tuesday that he had agreed to a deal to join the Astros. He said he would be in Houston next week to sign his contract, take a physical and have a news conference.'s Jim Callis reported that Nix agreed to a $1.5 million signing bonus, which is well above the assigned slot value of $370,500 for the 136th overall pick. The Astros had not announced the deal.

On June 23, Brady Aiken arrived in Houston, presumably to undergo his own physical and sign a deal. That tracks with the timeline laid down by Nix to McTaggart.

If the Astros were that close to reaching a deal with Nix, can they still be forced to sign him? Let's look at the facts from a legal perspective.

The Astros entered into a verbal agreement  subject to a physical for under slot bonus money. They then entered into a verbal agreement for over slot bonus money with Nix. I assume this was also subject to a physical.

It was also subject to Aiken signing his deal. If Aiken doesn't sign his deal, there's no money available under the cap to sign Nix, and Nix's offer is null and void, because it was contingent upon Aiken signing his deal. More on this in a second.

Now we all know what happens next. Aiken comes to Houston to sign his deal, the MRI apparently reveals the smallest UCL in the history of UCL's, and the Astros pull their offer. Which they can do because their 6.5 offer was contingent upon Aiken passing his physical. Which, according to the team doctor's opinion, he did not.

We have arrived at my area of expertise. I am a lawyer. Not a sports agent, not a contracts specialist, just a general practitioner.

But, this stuff is basic first year law school contracts law. If an offer is contingent upon an event occurring, and both parties know it's contingent upon an event occurring; if the event does not occur, the offer is null and void.

The issue is not whether it's an offer in writing, or a verbal agreement. Keith is right in saying verbal agreements can be enforceable, and the Statute of Frauds is the correct area of law to be examined in that regard.

But that is the red herring, because that is not at all what is important here. What is important here is that no one is disputing (at least to my current knowledge at 4:00 a.m. writing this piece), that the Nix offer was contingent upon Aiken signing a below slot deal.

Thus, it will be extremely hard for anyone to say that the Astros will be forced to sign Nix, even if they miss on Aiken.