The "worst came to pass" for the Astros' '14 MLB draft class Friday, as top pick P Brady Aiken did not sign by the 5:00pm ET deadline, another "misfortune in a series that has turned what was once baseball's most laughable franchise into its most divisive," according to Evan Drellich of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Even if the front office "played by the rules, the Astros have a long road back to credibility as questions linger for all parties in a drama that could eventually bring significant change to the draft and its medical information process." The Astros, who also failed to sign fifth-round pick P Jacob Nix, are "going to take a beating in their public and professional relations." MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark in a statement said, "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." Drellich noted the Astros "were not allowed to give Aiken a physical exam until after he was drafted" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/19). MLB.com's Jim Callis noted the Astros and Aiken last month "agreed to terms" on a $6.5M bonus, but what was "supposed to be a routine physical led to questions about Aiken's elbow." Multiple MLB officials "believe that the circumstances surrounding Aiken will lead to eventual changes in the way Draft physicals are conducted." The current CBA "overhauled the Draft rules and called for a pre-Draft medical combine, though MLB and the MLBPA have been unable to work out the logistics" (MLB.com, 7/18). ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote the "hope within the industry is that this debacle renews the push" for a pre-draft combine, but that "would require pushing the draft back into the beginning of July" (ESPN.com, 7/19).
ASTRO-NOMICAL PROBLEMS: ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote of the Astros, "The perception of their decisions -- in the eyes of some of their own players, players with other teams, agents and, most importantly, potential customers -- may take many years for them to overcome." The Astros have had an "incredible opportunity, having picked at the top of the draft for three straight seasons, but time and again, they have been penny-wise and pound-foolish and damaged their brand along the way." Among players and agents, they are "seen as a team that tried to strong-arm the best player in their organization," RF George Springer, into a "team-friendly extension, and then punished Springer when he didn’t agree to a new deal by sending him to the minors, again." If the Astros could have "navigated their way out of the Aiken mess somewhere along the way -- before their concerns about his medicals leaked out -- the savings in how they’re perceived, the protection of their brand, would’ve been worth a whole lot more" than $1.5M. Olney: "Fairly or not, the perception of them is shattered, and they will have to pay for its reconstruction, one way or another" (ESPN.com, 7/20). CBSSPORTS.com's Jon Heyman cited sources as saying that Aiken's agent Casey Close "berated" Astros GM Jeff Luhnow for "various perceived transgressions, accusing him of leaking the medical findings regarding Aiken." The sources added that Close suggested to Luhnow that "players don't or won't want to deal with them because of the way they handle things" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/18). NBCSPORTS.com's Craig Calcaterra wrote Close is "not a bomb-thrower, and his reaction to all of this was pretty sharp." That he is "as angry with the team as he has been suggests some seriously toxic dealings between the parties that many may read in his favor and negatively toward the Astros" (NBCSPORTS.com, 7/18).
POINTING FINGERS: SI.com's Jay Jaffe wrote the MLBPA "shares some fault in the matter, having agreed to the draft spending limits and the bonus pool system" in the most recent CBA. The failure to sign the picks "won’t make Luhnow’s job any easier, as this will likely hurt his standing with many agents" (SI.com, 7/18). ESPN’s Eduardo Perez, on Astros failing to sign first overall pick P Brady Aiken: “Teams do not get their medical records until they draft the kids. Then after they come to an agreement the physical tells you then if you sign him or not. So it’s not just on the Astros. They're going on the medicals and you have to give the Astros credit for sticking to their guns and you have to give Aiken also credit and his representation for sticking to their guns” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN2, 7/19). FS1’s C.J. Nitkowski: “There were rumors going around they tried to offer $5 million with about five minutes to go to the deadline. This kid is 17 years old. You don’t put a 17 year old kid in that position” (“MLB Whiparound,” FS1, 7/18). The HOUSTON CHRONICLE's Drellich wrote Luhnow's "family vacation to Mexico presumably had no effect on the Astros' inability to sign" Aiken, but it is "easy for someone to question why the GM didn't scrap his plans, fly to San Diego and court Aiken." It "looks bad, being out of the country" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 7/19). SPORTS ON EARTH's Matthew Kory wrote under the header, "Lose-Lose Situation" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 7/19).