As everyone in the baseball world knows, the Houston Astros and first round pick Brady Aiken failed, to, ah, come to terms today.
I've been keeping my powder dry on this one, waiting for developments since all we really had to go on before today were rumors and leaks. We still don't have the full story yet and we may never do so, but here are my initial reactions as we ponder what happens next.
***We won't know how this story ends for at least five years. The Astros could end up looking wise if Aiken's arm falls off, or foolish if he wins a Cy Young Award.
***What exactly was in the medical report? The Astros aren't saying and legally they can't say much more than they already have, with GM Jeff Luhnow pointing out that "I still have to abide by Federal HIPAA regulations." Keep that in mind as this story moves forward: what ever was in the medical report, we may only hear Aiken's side of it.
***I'm not a scout, but the attacks being made in some quarters against the scouts who studied Aiken strike me as unfair. To the best of my knowledge, there were no hints or rumors of arm trouble of any kind and almost every team would have picked him.
***I'm not a lawyer, but as near as I can tell, everyone acted within the rules of the CBA. I don't see what kind of legal case can be brought here.
***I'm not a business major, but it looks to me like both sides were acting within what they perceived to be their best interest and within the commonly accepted boundaries, such as they are, of hard-ball negotiating.
Aiken is taking a huge personal risk by passing up $5,000,000, and the Astros are taking a severe public relations hit and losing an opportunity to boost the farm system. But both sides have calculated that the benefits of their position outweighed those risks. I think I would have made a different calculation if I were in either sets of shoes, but that's why I'm not a GM or an agent. It's not a game that I would be comfortable playing personally.
***In the end, it could work out well for the Astros if they get a better player next year. Even under the best of circumstances (Aiken develops into Clayton Kershaw), fallout from this wouldn't show up in the win-loss column for another three years at the earliest, if it ever shows up at all. It is a setback, but it is not the end of the world for the rebuilding effort. That's why you diversify, so that everything isn't dependent on a single player being a success, particularly from a risky demographic like "high school pitcher."
The public relations hit is a bad one, but it is recoverable if the rebuilding effort works. This will be a footnote if the team starts winning games soon, and Aiken wasn't going to help them win games for awhile.
***In the end, it could work out well for Aiken, if he goes to junior college next year, stays healthy, gets drafted really early again and gets signed with a team he is more comfortable with. I think it is a higher risk than the one the Astros are running. It would have been better for everyone if Aiken had signed, but he didn't and that's his call.
The guy I do feel bad for is Jacob Nix, who got caught in the crossfire here. I don't think he has a legal case: even the loss of his verbal agreement is (as far as I understand) within the CBA limits given that no contract was signed. Nix has a case that he is the most injured party here if he gets hurt and never gets that kind of money offered again. Of course, Nix is hardly a risk-free guy himself, being a high school pitcher who didn't have a great senior year and was wanting more than slot money himself. That said, they did have a verbal deal, and while Nix may not have a legal case, he does have an ethical one.
The trouble here is that for the Astros to not sign Aiken and still honor the verbal agreement with Nix, they would lose their next two first round picks. Be honest, if you were the Astros, would you do that? From the point of view of the front office, it would be a disservice to the entire organization (and the fans too) to make that trade.
Unfortunately in baseball, ethics are worth exactly 0.0 WAR.