Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Brady Aiken has TJ surgery, shakes up draft boards


Tough break for Aiken.  Photo via

Tough break for Aiken. Photo via

We got word today that 2014’s #1 overall pick Brady Aiken did indeed suffer an UCL injury in his first 2015 start and underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.

Awful break for Aiken, and a  huge shake-up for the top of the 2015 Rule-4/Amateur draft.

Quick oral history of the Aiken situation: Houston made him last  year’s #1 overall pick, then rescinded/altered their $6.5M bonus offer after having “concerns” about Aiken’s UCL when viewing his medicals.  Aiken’s representatives rejected the lowered offer (wanting Houston to honor their original offer), and in the end declined to sign the lower amount (reportedly $5M at the deadline), and Aiken became just the third #1 overall pick to fail to sign in the draft’s history.  Thanks to baseball’s convoluted draft bonus rules, the failure to sign Aiken led to a cascading effect, costing them enough “pool dollars” to have to also rescind offers to 5th round pick Jacob Nix and 21st round pick Mac Marshall (now at LSU).  Nix (rightly so) filed a grievance against the Astros for the situation and was awarded his full $1.5M promised bonus (which, in my opinion, should absolutely be coming out of the Astros’ bonus pool for what they did).  Nix and Aiken eventually enrolled at the IMG academy in Florida, a post-graduate prep school designed to be a place for budding athletes to play who may have lost their HS eligibility.  Both had planned on re-entering the 2015 draft.

My thoughts on this whole mess?

  • I have to re-evaluate my opinion of the Astros organization’s behavior; previously I thought they were just being penny pinchers and were screwing with the careers of multiple amateur players (both Nix and Aiken lost UCLA scholarships over the mess).  Clearly they were right to be concerned about Aiken’s elbow, given that it tore within about 20 pitches of last being on the mound.  And now they get two top-5 picks out of a draft that does have some talent in it … and should have the money to sign them.
  • That being said … what was the real difference between their initial $6.5M offer and the $5M final offer?  Think about it: why are teams so ridiculously obsessed with figures in the $1-$2M range during amateur signings, when teams are *routinely* giving out 8-figure deals to mediocre veterans?  The Astros gave Luke Gregerson 3yrs/$18.5M and Pat Neshek 2yrs/$12.5M deals this off-season; that’s a combined $30M for two middle relief right handers.  They’ve been the lowest payroll team despite a massive RSN deal and play in the nation’s 4th largest market.  You mean to tell me they couldn’t still pony up the $1.5M difference for the #1 overall pick in the draft?  They couldn’t have just gotten an insurance policy to cover their risk of moving forward with Aiken?
  • If you were the Astros today, wouldn’t you rather have Aiken (with insurance policy), Nix and Marshall in the fold?  Do you think maybe your professional staff could have managed/mitigated this injury?
  • Did Aiken cut off his nose to spite his face by rejecting $5M?  Even before this injury, he was already dropping on draft boards, no sure guarantee to go 1st overall in 2015.  And with Houston holding the #2 and #5 overall picks there was already a real possibility of Aiken dropping outside the top 5 (since clearly Aiken would have refused “re-draft” possibilities), which means he’d have a heck of a time getting anywhere close to even the $5M he turned down. At some point his adviser should have just accepted the deal, in my opinion.  The new rules just make it impossible to get anything close to the bonus he turned down unless you’re #1 overall.
  • The situation kind of reminds me of the Matt Harrington situation, who turned down multiple bonus offers (one as high as $4M) and kept seeing his draft stock fall until he finally signed as a run-of-the-mill 13th rounder and quickly flamed out of pro ball.  His wiki page details the whole mess of a story.

There does exist a possibility of a team picking Aiken despite this injury.  Both Jeff Hoffman and our own Erick Fedde were picked in the mid-to-upper 1st round despite being rehabbing TJ arms.  And Aiken was more heralded than either guy.  I could see a team with a longer term view taking a chance on Aiken in the top 10.  A quick look at the 2015 draft order reveals some “gambler” type teams/GMs in the top 10 who could make a deal.  Assuming that your top-end names under consideration include the likes of Mike Matuella, Brendan Rodgers, Kolby Allard, Dillon Tate and maybe even someone like UVA’s Nathan Kirby , that could put teams in the 6-10 spot right in line to pick Aiken.  And that 6-10 range includes both Chicago teams and Boston, rich teams that could afford to wait him out.

One thing for sure; the odds of the Nationals getting another shot to pick a TJ case are slim; we gave up our 1st rounder to sign Max Scherzer and won’t pick until the 58th overall spot (compensation for not signing Miami’s Andrew Suarez last year).  I don’t think Aiken lasts til the 10th pick; certainly he won’t be there in the mid 2nd round.

Tough break for Aiken; hope he can salvage some bonus money and start his career.

Other opinions/hot takes I’ve read of use:

  • Jeff Ellis at predicts the same that I do for Aiken’s draft status; top-10.
  • David Schoenfield at ESPN talks about Aiken and the “inequalities” between being born in the USA and elsewhere in the draft/signing markets (and the discrepancies are ridiculous).
  • Dave Cameron at fangraphs has some quotes from Aiken’s social media posting announcing his surgery and some critical analysis.

Post-posting update: presumed top-5 draft talent Kolby Allard is also out for the season with a back injury, further thinning the list of names in consideration for the #1 overall pick so far.

Another post-posting update: on 4/1/15, Duke ace (and NoVa native) Mike Matuella announced the he too has to have Tommy John surgery.  That’s three presumed top-5 picks in the upcoming draft now out with season-ending injuries.  Wow.

9 Responses to 'Brady Aiken has TJ surgery, shakes up draft boards'

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  1. My first reaction to this news, coming after all of the recent Cuban stuff, was the same as Schoenfeld. What a bad deal US amateur kids have, and that I wish there was a way for them to gain some leverage, maybe by having them included in the MLBPA (won’t happen) or unionize themselves. You can say whatever you want about the foolishness of paying an 18 yr old kid $20m, and I’d agree, but that is what the market is doing, and these kids are just being denied that market, while non Americans get to take part. Without a draft, Aiken would have signed with someone for that last year. I’d prefer both being able to access it, rather than limiting the international kids, precisely because of this kind of risk.

    As for Aiken, just based on money, it does seem like he should have signed for $5m. I expect that he gets something close to that, or at least $3m, so it shouldn’t be a total washout like Harrington, but there is risk there. And FWIW, I remember the Astros concern being described as his small UCL clouded their view of the successfulness of TJ. I don’t pretend to know the mechanics of that medical analysis.

    And even with this injury, I still think in hindsight that the Astros will regret their decision to not have both Aiken and Nix for $8m (I don’t think you can include Marshall, since his bonus was going to be funded by the reduction in Aiken’s bonus to $5m).


    27 Mar 15 at 1:18 pm

  2. Schoenfield’s argument is exactly right, and its been that way for years. I laughed even when people criticized the Strasburg bonus .. it was a fraction of what the Cubans get … and frankly its a fraction of what #1 draft picks in the NFL get but you never hear anyone whining about them.

    I’ve heard great suggestions for how to just get rid of the draft and have everyone be subject to an overall pool. But think of the 30-fold increase of communications that causes between clubs and agents. It’d be a complete logistical nightmare. Not to mention this logistical issue; how do prep kids show themselves off for 30 differnet clubs and handle medicals to 30 different clubs? The process now at least provides orderly solutions to these problems.

    I think Aiken should have signed. He intimates (as has his agent multiple times) that he wasn’t happy w/ the Houston organization, and perhaps no money in the end would have solved that.

    Completely agree; Astros came off looking bad … and have paid a $1.5M settlement to Nix … why didn’t Marshall also file a greivance? Odd.

    Todd Boss

    27 Mar 15 at 2:50 pm

  3. Well, it’s apples and oranges with the NFL, where players are expected to come in and play right away for the major-league club. Baseball players who make it to the big leagues generally do better over their careers than NFL guys do, though, as they play longer and the full amount of their contracts is guaranteed, unlike all the funny money in the NFL.

    Now that there are more than just a trickle of Cubans, yes, they have to go into the draft, or the international signing rules (which are Greek to me), or something. If you’re going to have a draft, I really think all players domestic and foreign should be in it, and under the same age rules and whatnot, a la the NBA and NHL. I can’t see the MLB draft being abolished, as the rich teams would sign all the top players.

    Speaking of which, am I the only one who finds it curious that the Dodgers are throwing so much cash at the Cubans but wouldn’t pony up more for the back end of their rotation? The Ryu injury makes that even more of a crapshoot.

    Aiken will get drafted, probably top 15. What would happen if the Nats take Suarez again at #58? They sure need lefty starters. Suarez, of course, is banking that he will move up, although he’s already missed several starts with a muscle strain.


    27 Mar 15 at 5:11 pm

  4. I read somewhere that Nix got several hundred thousand, not $1.5m? Can’t remember where, so maybe I got that wrong.

    You know, I find the LAD stuff very interesting. I think that these small market guys like Friedman and Beane actually enjoy a counterintuitive but real reputational advantage in the media- no one expects them to be able to succeed because of the budget, so when they win, they’re God-like, and when they lose, it’s ‘well, what did you expect? The odds are stacked against them’. Not to say that they don’t have a tough job, but there is a freedom to act there that doesn’t exist in the big market ‘I don’t care what your process is, spend the money and win now’ places. so I follow what they are doing more than any non-Nat team.

    Anyway, it sure did seem like they spent big on the back end of their rotation with McCarthy and Anderson, which seemed like major overpays. I think their Cuban spending is just a matter of them overspending where the market currently allows for it. I was surprised that they didn’t win on Moncada, but I assume it is because they are going to go truly crazy this July 2, and didn’t want to be locked out of that market. My guess for their next move is to trade for one of the premium upcoming FA starters somewhere during the season, and use their time with him as an exclusive negotiating window to extend him before FA.


    28 Mar 15 at 8:46 am

  5. Now Zim is hurt. Maybe its nothing, but this team sure does seem to have problems keeping position guys in the lineup, which is a stark contrast to their pitcher health.

    I wonder if they actually have more position player injuries than most, or if it just seems that way because we follow it more closely (and they have a philosophy to almost always say ‘not a big deal’ when something happens, which makes you really remember it when it is longer)


    28 Mar 15 at 12:00 pm

  6. Draft: I’m really sort of surprised that the MLBPA hasn’t forced a shrinking of the number of rounds a long time ago, as the NFL and NBA have done. Just have 10 rounds for MLB or so and then everyone else is a free agent . . . or back to college for another year.

    Dodgers: I agree that the Dodgers overpaid for a lot of uncertainty with McCarthy and Anderson. What I meant was that I thought they would be players for the higher-end pitching talent rather than settling for a couple of mediocre arms. Ryu is hurt, and Greinke could opt out after 2015. Where does that leave them? (Not that I’m crying for them!) Overall, I’m not nearly as impressed with what Friedman has done thus far as the national media seems to be. He did inherit some truly awful contracts (hello Stan?), but if the cash is really unlimited, I expected more.


    28 Mar 15 at 8:46 pm

  7. Aiken drafting position in 2015: you’d have to think he’ll go better than “top 15.” Hoffman last year was a projected top 5 pick and went 9th. Aiken was almost unanimously the #1 overall player on the board (thanks to Rodon’s curious junior year performance), so if TJ causes these guys to drop 5 spots, he’s looking at the 6-10 range.

    Players have to give permission to teams to “re-draft” them … hence I’d guess that Suarez would not give the Nats permission.

    Todd Boss

    30 Mar 15 at 9:25 am

  8. Nix’s $1.5M bonus was reported by Peter Gammons on twitter, as noted in mlbtraderumors. Question; why the hell isn’t this settlement being taken out of the Houston bonus pool for last year??

    So let me get this straight; teams can offer whatever bonuses they want to amateurs, but if the numbers of other cascading bonus offers don’t work out, they can just reneg on them and then, later on, settle with the player out of the process for the same original offer? What a great deal. Why not do this with every kid??

    Todd Boss

    30 Mar 15 at 9:32 am

  9. Draft length: Agree; 40 rounds is too much; look at the nats round 31-40 history; its almost entirely HS guys with strong committments or “favors” to someone or another.

    That being said … the lower number of rounds … the more phone calls have to be made by undrafted agents. Who wnats to add that burden onto teams?

    Todd Boss

    30 Mar 15 at 9:33 am

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