By now, you've no doubt heard that the Houston Astros failed to sign the first-overall pick in the 2014 draft, left-handed prep pitcher Brady Aiken. The domino effect caused the Astros to miss out on two other high-profile high school players: Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall.
There are a lot of losers in this scenario, and I'm going to make an unpopular case for who's the biggest loser of them all in this situation:
Yes, Close. The evil, reptilian agent. See, as an agent/advisor, Close works on commission. The MLBPA doesn't put a limit on how much commission an agent can charge, but let's assume that Close charges 10%. That means that he was in line to earn a $650,000 paycheck before Aiken failed the Astros' physical.
What did you spend your last $650,000 paycheck on? Yeah, me too.
In the leadup to the draft, Close and his staff no doubt spent lots of time, effort, and money for a year, two years, or longer on Aiken and Nix. In so doing, he ended up earning his two clients a combined zero dollars. In addition to incurring his own PR nightmare by wildly flailing in the press, he possibly cost himself a handful of future clients as the guy with the most high-profile case in recent memory of having two clients not make any money.
But what about his antics in the press? There are a few possible explanations for this, and there's probably a bit of truth in all of them.
First, Close may have legitimately been miffed at the Astros' behavior during contract negotiations with Aiken and Nix. He may have become so frustrated that he felt his only recourse was to turn to the press, spreading bile and hatred at the Astros' front office. Casey Close is not a third-rate agent. This isn't his first rodeo. After all, Close is the agent who negotiated Clayton Kershaw's mega-deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's well-respected in the game, and for him to get to this point could be viewed as an absolute failing of the Astros.
Another possible explanation is Aiken himself. As Aiken's advisor, Close can only take actions on behalf of his client. He can advise his client; but he can't make a decision for him. Ultimately, he's at his client's whim, and when his client wants to engage in a pouting session, Close is stuck with that. Perhaps his reaching out to the media was a desperate attempt to force the Astros' hand, as possibly the only thing that could get the Astros to pay Aiken.
No matter the reason, Close was looking at sunken costs, time, and energy. He basically had no recourse but to try desperate measures to get the Astros to pay Aiken the dollar amount to which the young man thought he was entitled.
You won't see many defenses of agents, but Close was up against a wall in this situation. His clients were two-thirds of a trio of seventeen-year-olds who tried to band together to bring the Houston Astros baseball team to their knees.
The Houston Astros didn't blink.
What about that? Should the Astros have ponied up the money for Aiken? Possibly. Is Jeff Luhnow at fault for handling the negotiations so poorly that the young men and their representatives felt that their only recourse was to make things as ugly as possible? Maybe.
Certainly, the PR fallout for the Astros is bad. With Mark Appel struggling in High-A ball after being the first-overall pick in 2013, the timing couldn't have been worse for botching the Aiken negotiations. Of all the skills that Luhnow has exhibited over the course of his baseball career, high-profile, contentious contract negotiations aren't among them. I don't think it would be a bad idea for the Astros to have an Assistant General Manager who's well-regarded in the game - by the MLBPA and by players' agents - who can serve as the point man in these types of negotiations.
Part of Luhnow's job - assembling a baseball team that is a perennial contender - involves player evaluation. An advanced understanding of metrics. The ability to scout and to develop talent. Part of his job, though, involves negotiations. We have yet to see strong evidence that he can excel at this part of the job. That's not to say that he can't. But having someone on staff with a track record would probably be a very good idea (if there already isn't one, which there may be.)
Believe it or not, the Astros probably lose the least in this scenario. They saved money on a risky investment, they'll be compensated for their first-round pick with an additional pick in 2015, and the PR nightmare will fade with a news cycle or two. Meanwhile, Close is out time, energy, and money with no payday. The odds are strong that at least one - if not more - of Aiken, Nix, and Marshall will never recover financially from this gambit. The MLBPA... well, I don't even really understand what the MLBPA is doing here.
Oh, there is damage done to the Astros here. The Astros could face legal action. Someone could lose his job. It won't be Luhnow, but there could very well be a fall guy. They aren't entirely without fault, either. I strongly believe that - though there was no way they could have foreseen this issue - their perceived unwillingness to bend from their position hasn't earned them any goodwill, and the negotiations surely could have been handled better. They never should have been allowed to get to this point.
But they'll be fine, whether it's fair or not.
Other Random Thoughts:
- Jacob Nix. Nix basically admitted to coming to a financial agreement with a professional baseball team. That actually should render him ineligible for amateur status, under NCAA regulations (and for those imagining a Junior College route, the NJCAA holds basically the same amateur standards as the NCAA.)
- Brady Aiken received a well-publicized physical examination, not only from the Houston Astros, but from five or so other doctors. I don't know who paid for those, but presumably at least Lintner's exam was free to Aiken. He received that exam because he's a baseball player; it's not something available to him outside of being a baseball player. Therefore, again, under NCAA rules, technically he's ineligible for amateur status.
- All of that even ignores Close's involvement in the negotiations for these two players, which - as I've said - if I was the Astros, I would burn them on that alone, if he took or made one phone call from the Astros front office. The Astros could make life really uncomfortable for the young UCLA recruiting class if they chose to, but they may not even need to. Aiken and his team chose to make this a very public issue, and the NCAA is going to be forced to respond.
- What's with Marshall removing LSU from his Twitter profile on signing day? Is he thinking about changing his commit to UCLA? Are the three of them thinking of going the junior college route or independent baseball route together? Is it just him messing with everyone? Who knows.
- These three young men, who traveled to Taiwan and won gold for their country together, have stepped down a very difficult road together. Nix and Marshall, in particular, could end up losing a lot by standing by their friend, who the three of them believed to have been wronged by the Astros. I don't agree with their decision, but they've entered into it willfully, and on some level, it's a brave move and they should be commended for it. Sometimes, there are more important things in life than money, even if it's millions of dollars' worth of it.
These observations are, of course, purely my own opinions. I was tempted to write absolutely nothing about the entire debacle, but in the course of the writers' email conversations - which were much more contentious than usual - I began to organize my thoughts and emotions, and felt like this Fan Post would be a good place to present them.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.