Nobody wins in the aftermath of a negotiation that ended when the Houston Astros failed to sign their first overall draft pick by Friday’s deadline.
The Astros lose the chance at obtaining one of the best high school left-handers in recent memory. Pitching prospects Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix miss out on the chance to start their professional careers. And MLB and the MLB Players Association must resolve a conflict that has the players and their advisors exploring all legal options, according to the union’s executive director, Tony Clark.
The drama began in June, after the Astros selected Aiken first overall and Nix in the fifth round. The Astros reportedly agreed to parameters of a deal with Aiken only to revise their offer upon reviewing the lefty’s physical and discovering an irregularity with his elbow ligament. Though the issue didn’t prevent Aiken from pitching — and dominating — this spring, it was enough for Houston to lower the initial offer. That gave them enough financial flexibility to aggressively pursue Nix, who happened to have the same college commitment (UCLA) and advisor (Casey Close of Excel Sports Management) as Aiken. Nix and the Astros reportedly agreed to a deal.
But when Aiken declined the Astros’ revised offers, Houston lost the pool money connected to the top pick, and could no longer afford to sign Nix or 21st-round pick Mac Marshall to fair deals without incurring severe penalties. So, for the first time since Tim Belcher declined to sign with the Minnesota Twins in 1983, the top pick went unsigned.
Two other potential deals fell through in the process, which leaves the Astros and the players’ union at odds. While Houston still stands to obtain the second overall pick in 2015, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow says he’s “disappointed” that the Astros didn’t sign Aiken.
“As an organization, we devoted a great deal of time and resources to these negotiations,” Luhnow said. “Despite our best efforts, a deal could not be reached.”
MLB supports the Astros’ actions, and Luhnow said Houston’s offer to Aiken was “extremely fair considering all the factors involved,” but that didn’t satisfy the players’ association.
“Today, two young men should be one step closer to realizing their dreams of becoming Major League ballplayers,” Clark said of Aiken and Nix. “Because of the actions of the Houston Astros, they are not.”
Both Aiken and Nix have reason to be frustrated with the Astros after offers they thought were on the table disappeared. Agents and the players they represent agree on this much. Close went further, criticizing the Astros and MLB for showing “a complete disregard for the rules governing the draft” in a conversation with FOX Sports.
Nix faced especially frustrating circumstances considering his situation was entirely dependent on Aiken. He had no apparent physical issue, yet the moment Aiken’s deal fell through, the Astros couldn’t sign Nix or Marshall to fair deals without incurring harsh penalties.
Yet, as one uninvolved agent remarked, the system encourages teams to prioritize balanced draft budgets over talent at times.
“It’s not teams taking the guys they want, it’s teams taking guys they can afford,” the agent said.
As a result Nix and Aiken lose out. Blame the Astros, the league or even the players if you like, but somehow the system in place isn’t serving its intended purpose. Rather, it’s now responsible for much of the frustration and disappointment being voiced publicly and privately around the game.