Sometimes finding a winner in a situation is like trying to rope a tornado. It just is not possible. Last summer’s #1 pick overall in MLB’s Rule 4 Draft, who went unsigned by the Houston Astros, recently had Tommy John Surgery. His decision not to take a reduced offer was his own. Unfortunately Jacob Nix, another pick of the Astros in 2014, got screwed in starting his professional career. Aiken’s professional career is going to start later, albeit that might not be an issue. The Astros also took a bunch of critical hits through various accusations by the media and other fans of the game.
After reading a piece by Aiken himself on The Players’ Tribune, there is clearly no winner at this stage. Some Astros fans on Twitter expressed their disappointment that Carlos Rodon was not taken. Some return to the “I’m right, you’re wrong” game.
My opinion? It’s still too early to tell. Tommy John Surgery usually has a return period of 12-18 months. With the operation being performed in late March, it’s possible that Aiken can start pitching at the beginning of the season in 2016. That means he’s highly likely to be drafted again this June.
“Since last summer, a lot of people have wondered how I could have turned down a multi-million-dollar signing bonus after being picked first in the Draft.”
Deciding to try again next year
Ordinary people wonder how someone can reject $5 million. Aiken comes from a wealthy family. But their treasures do not stop with dollars and cents. This is a guy who spent the months leading up to the 2014 draft preparing to be number one overall. He was at the level where a goal that lofty was attainable.
"It was a very difficult decision, but it also was an informed decision based on circumstances only a few people know the truth about. My family and I planned for all the possible outcomes. We weighed the pros and cons, talked with friends and mentors and doctors whose opinions we value and discussed it over a number of family dinners. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly."
There was talk of the Astros strong arming a kid to a cheaper deal due to a reported weakness. Though the truth has now been let out that Aiken was indeed at risk, baseball is a game of risk. Many pitchers have had Tommy John Surgery in the last few years. Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, Mets’ pitchers Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey, Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright a long time ago. A torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament is sadly as common in the game as a called third strike.
Were the Astros wrong in reducing their original offer? A difference of $1.5 million is pretty small in the long run. If Aiken does turn out to be a superstar pitcher, then he could be looking at excesses of $300 million in guaranteed salary. And that’s just modern figures. But comparing him to Clayton Kershaw dollars in 2015 is premature. At the same time, however, Aiken could be as good as other quality left-handed pitchers like Jon Lester, Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale.
Projecting the future
What if Aiken turns out to be similar to Brian Matusz? Matusz’ career ERA is just under 5 (4.95) through 470 2/3 innings at the MLB level. Brian was drafted 4th overall in the 2008 draft. To be fair Brian has done better since transitioning full-time from the rotation to the bullpen.
Or could it be that Aiken explodes through the system using a lethal combination of three major league offerings? Aiken possessed some of the best stuff Jeff Luhnow had ever seen, period. Being a kid who grew up with Cubs and Astros matchups, the sad story of Mark Prior comes to mind. Aiken could thrive once he heals from his surgery and then, out of nowhere, get hit repeatedly with injuries.
My family was smart, and we accounted for all of the possible risks.
Everything at this point is pure speculation of what could be in the future. But please, stop with the biases. There is equal liability across the board. Sure, people are free to take the side of Aiken, or Casey Close, or Jeff Luhnow. The MLBPA is also liable. What about the careers of Mac Marshall and Jacob Nix? Just as Aiken’s camp calculated their options, the Astros had calculated their options pre-draft. With each player selected came a number – their signing bonus. With Aiken’s rejection of a lesser contract, Marshall and Nix were hung out to dry as the Astros would have been eligible for penalties.
As the deadline ticked closer, the Astros reportedly made a pair of last-minute offers. Casey Close, Aiken’s adviser as well as Nix’, was all but uninterested in resolving the tension between the team and the players. In this article by Jon Heyman, it appears that Close initiated the mudslinging. Even the MLB Player’s Association criticized the Astros.
"“Today, two young men should be one step closer to realizing their dreams of becoming Major League ballplayers. Because of the actions of the Houston Astros, they are not. The MLBPA, the players and their advisers are exploring all legal options.” – Tony Clark"
Even Aiken after prolonging his start to be a professional baseball pitcher believes that the Astros organization is not the place to be.
"“I wanted to play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career. Making sure I had that in place was worth the frustration of not being able to get on with my career sooner.”"
And I cannot close without final remarks courtesy of Jeff Luhnow. Last summer, in an interview with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, Jeff did not back down with his word choice.
"“Very disappointed. I think this is a player we wanted obviously we took him 1-1. You know we would have liked to have signed him and (Jacob) Nix and (Mac) Marshall, all three of ‘em. But you can’t do that without the other side wanting to be a part of it, so we move on.”"
So that is what everyone is going to do. Moving on is the only option we have. Disappointment is shared by everyone involved. The Astros acted in their best interest; Aiken acted in his. Unfortunately two other prospects got caught up in the confusion regarding his risk.
I wish Brady Aiken the best of luck in his rehab. I hope that Mac Marshall and Jacob Nix get drafted and become quality major league ballplayers. It seems that most of the bad press may be off of the Astros organization. Finally there is some certainty in claiming equality liability.
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