The deadline to sign 2014 draft picks is this coming Friday, and while it's common for several high-profile picks to go down to the wire, there is a very real issue holding up a deal between the Astros and high school lefty Brady Aiken, the first overall pick.
As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported earlier this month, a problem with Aiken's elbow ligament is the holdup. The two sides originally agreed to a $6.5 million bonus, but Houston has since dropped its offer to $5 million because of the elbow. Slot for the first overall pick is $7.4 million.
Now, with the deadline just a few days away, the usually reserved Casey Close has publicly expressed his displeasure with the process. Close, Aiken's adviser, spoke to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports about the situation.
"We are extremely disappointed that Major League Baseball is allowing the Astros to conduct business in this manner with a complete disregard for the rules governing the draft and the 29 other clubs who have followed those same rules," said Close, who serves as a family adviser to Aiken.
"Brady has been seen by some of the most experienced and respected orthopedic arm specialists in the country, and all of those doctors have acknowledged that he's not injured and that he's ready to start his professional career," Close said.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said "we have been in touch with MLB to ensure that we are adhering to the rules at every point" while a league spokesperson confirmed the team has "acted in complete accord" with the rules.
Close told Rosenthal that Houston has submitted one revised offer worth a touch more than $3.1 million, the minimum offer necessary to ensure a compensation pick next year should the two sides fail to reach an agreement. The Astros would get the second pick in the 2015 draft if they do not sign Aiken.
Further complicating matters is the team's agreement with fifth-round pick Jacob Nix, who is also advised by Close. They agreed to a $1.5 million bonus weeks ago, but the Astros built the deal around the savings from Aiken's contract. Houston may walk away from their deal with Nix if they can't sign Aiken and lose the draft pool money associated with his slot.
"We believe that it is a clear violation of the rules being attempted solely to avoid penalty," said MLBPA head Tony Clark. "The Astros made a deal with Jacob Nix and should honor that agreement."
"If every player was contingent on another player, we would have no draft, we would have no draft pool, we would have no signings," Close said. "We'd never be able to reach agreements. They'd either all be reached at the same time, or none of them would ever be reached."
The question now is whether the relationship between the team, the agent and the player(s) is beyond repair. It's clear Close is unhappy with the Astros and if the deals with Aiken and Nix fall through, I can't imagine the families will be happy either.
Only three days left for the two sides to work things out.