I kept meaning to write a follow-up about the Houston Astros’ failure to sign top pick Brady Aiken – now one week ago today – and it kept getting bumped by other stuff. Well, now that the union, on behalf of the high school lefty, has filed a grievance against the Astros, who backed away from their previously-agreed-to deal with him because of something on his post-agreement MRI that spooked them, I have to say some words.
Together with Aiken, the Astros also failed to sign fifth round high school arm Jacob Nix, with whom they also had a deal and had no health beef (it’s just that, when Aiken failed to sign, the Astros couldn’t sign Nix to the agreed deal without blowing their bonus pool and losing a first round pick in each of the next two drafts). Nix appears to also be part of the grievance, and he seems to have the better case of the two. If somehow the Astros were now held to their $1.5 million deal with Nix, suddenly, the Astros are way over their bonus pool, and they lose one of their two first rounders next year (they got a second first rounder for failing to sign Aiken), and their first in 2016, as well. That would be devastating for them.
The argument in these grievances would be that the Astros unfairly manipulated the system, and burned these kids out of the chance to be pros – and the Astros would likely respond that they acted in good faith in response to things as they happened, all within the rules of the CBA. As far as a remedy goes, the union would likely seek free agency for both pitchers. I don’t see that happening, at least not for Aiken, but it sure would be interesting to see how many tens of millions he got in free agency (which is the primary reason MLB won’t let it happen, because it shines a light on just how suppressed draft bonuses are).
As for the draft implications of all of this, assuming the Astros don’t lose any picks because of the Nix grievance, they’ll have two in the top ten next year, including the number two overall. That bumps every team back a spot in 2015, which really hurts whichever teams wind up with the second/third/fourth worst records in baseball this year (because of the steep fall-off in talent early in the draft). That is likely to include the Cubs, which sucks.
The only saving for that would be if Aiken chooses to play independent ball or forego his UCLA commitment in favor of a juco, where he could pitch for a year and then re-enter the draft. Then, although the Cubs would be bumped back a pick, there would be an extra elite talent available to even things out (assuming they weren’t scared by whatever the elbow issue was (and the Astros did try to give Aiken $5 million after the MRI, so it couldn’t have been that bad)).
A final draft-related item: although the Astros get a compensatory pick that bumps everyone back a spot, Tim Dierkes has confirmed that the teams with the 10 worst records will have protected first round picks next year. That is to say, if the Cubs finished with the 10th worst record, and thus were picking 11th next year, that pick would still be protected when signing a qualified free agent. I don’t think the Cubs will finish quite that strongly, but it’s still comforting to know that the Astros’ failure isn’t going to screw some team out of the realistic ability to go after top tier free agents.