By Brent Warren: Former Aflac All-American and Draftee, Oakland Athletics
Let me set up this scenario for you. You are 18 years of age, obviously an age of mature wisdom, and you are offered 5 million to participate in major league baseball. To the reasonable person, this sounds like a pretty lucrative gig! But wait, there is the catch. Prior to being offered 5 million, you assumed 8.5 million was on the table. But due to some sly dealings by the team that drafted you, the 8.5 million is not going to be an option. So what is one to do? Bite the bullet and take the measly 5 million, or chance another year, the risk of injury, and prove yourself to be worthy of a number one draft pick, again? Apparently to Brady Aiken, and when I say Brady Aiken, I mean his “advisor,” Casey Close, 5 million for an 18 year old just isn’t enough, because, he was like, disrespected, ya know??
To give a very brief background for those who do not know, Brady Aiken was the number one pick in the draft in the 2014 Amateur baseball draft. Before the draft, He and the Astros apparently came to some oral agreement or understanding to an 8.5 million dollar signing bonus. However, post draft, the Astros pulled a quick one and told Aiken they saw a blip with something in his elbow and they were unable to offer him the 8.5 due to the potential injury. However, they will offer something less, apparently 5 million. Mr. Aiken was upset, and rightfully so. Mr. Aiken did not end up signing with the Astros and is now pitching for the IMG Post-graduated team (huh?) and left his first start with tightness in his elbow after 12 pitches. Let me tell you right now, not good. However, when I say Mr. Aiken, I really mean his “advisor,” Casey Close, was upset with the 5 million. Mr. Close, who, (don’t tell anyone because 18 year olds dealing with professional baseball teams are unable to have equal representation at a table, it is like taking candy from a baby for these teams), thinks giving the Houston Astros a verbal lashing via twitter or a public statement actually does something for his 18 year old client. To bring this to something more than a simple rant, there are 3 main issues with all of this that I have yet to see one professional adult writer discuss and is disgustingly obvious to me. First, Mr. Close’s failure as an advisor, second the Houston Astros and professional baseball teams extremely advantageous and unfair position in these negotiations, and finally, the NCAA continuing their course of holding strong the title No Clue At All (NCAA).
The only person who is hurt in this entire situation is an 18-year-old boy who is lost in the third party money-grabbing cyclone of young athletic success. Not the agent who absolutely screwed him over, not the professional baseball team who attempted to pull the rug out from underneath him, but a child who can throw extremely hard. Mr. Aiken’s not only was screwed out of a deal with the Astros but due to his loud mouth advisor who should know better than to go public, Mr. Aiken is unable to play Division 1 baseball for the UCLA Bruins, a powerhouse Division 1 program.
Mr. Close represents some prominent professional baseball players, such as Derek Jeter, and makes quite a “lucrative” salary. I recently read an article he pulled in a cucumber cool 700 million dollars in 2014. So to Mr. Close, 5 million is chump change! In the real world though, to a kid who just graduated high school and is preparing for the real world, 5 million dollars is a pretty damn good cushion to help a kid figure that world out. There is another factor as to Mr. Close’s relationship with Mr. Aiken. Amateur baseball players are not allowed to have legal representation or else their amateur status is destroyed and thus unable to play NCAA sports. (NCAA and legal representation discussed in part 3 of article). So, by Mr. Close publicly berating the Houston Astros after they were unable to come to a deal, he symbolically ripped Mr. Aiken’s scholarship and chance to pitch at UCLA from his hands, and threw it directly into the garbage. I genuinely would like a reasonable answer as to how and why 5 million is not good enough. The chances of being the first overall pick is slim in the first place, to do it two years in a row is next to impossible. Age might as well be counted in dog years for baseball prospects. Now Mr. Aiken is one year older, arm in no different condition, with a new crop of fresh 18-year-olds that I promise are going to be close to or equal to the talent potential as Mr. Aiken.
Mr. Close, I am no genius, however let me “advise” you on what you should have done. Tell your young client to sign the contract, become a millionaire over night, and after being successful in the big leagues and it comes to his first year of free agency, he can give the Astros a big middle finger and sign with someone else. Everyone wins, and hey maybe he can pay for a couple steaks of yours with that 200,000 dollars you make off of the 4% of Mr. Aiken’s 5 million signing bonus. (I know taxes 35% etc. but I’m trying to be dramatic).
Second, the Astros are to blame just as much. You see, being drafted in baseball is different than any other sport. One does not “declare” for the draft. It just kind of happens and you go along with playing. If you pay attention closely during the College World Series games a lot of those players have already been drafted by a team and are going through negotiations while playing! So part of the negotiation transpires pre-drafting. Mr. Aiken, going to UCLA, and being 18-years-old had some leverage. So the Astros, pre-draft, offer 8.5 million and a chance to be the number one pick for a promise of signing and not going to college by Mr. Aiken. Mr. Aiken is super exited to be number the 1 and make millions, and the Astros are assured because it is tough to walk away from being number 1. Happens every year, it is ridiculous but it is how it is done. So after the drafting, the Astros immediately “discovered” something wrong with Mr. Aiken’s arm that equates to half a signing bonus. I mean, come on, classic bait and switch. But can you blame them? They know they have all the advantage now and are attempting to save some money to offer more to later draft picks. It is sleazy, no doubt, but 5 million is still quite a lucrative offer and the system is tailored to the teams. So unless you expect a team to do anything different (they will not, it is a business) this will continue to happen.
Third and lastly, is the bizarre, non-sensical behavior of the NCAA and their unwillingness to let young athletes have fair representation at the negotiation table. As you well know if you have been reading this article, this is no small time game anymore. There are millions of dollars on the line for these 18-21 year old kids. How, in any sense of the matter, is it fair that these skilled professional baseball general managers, scouts, etc, adults, get to negotiate with a kid who might just be trying to figure out who to ask to his senior prom? The role of the NCAA and their master like role on the fate of young athletes is a topic in and of itself, however, in the modern day world of amateur baseball prospect kids are being used by these agents and teams on a yearly basis, and something needs to be done about it.
Who is left behind in this entire mess is an 18-year old kid who just wanted to play baseball, and be justly compensated for his rare talent. Mr. Aiken was caught up in the all too common whirlwind of third-party interveners offering gold and wisdom attempting to take advantage of a rare young talent. To Mr. Close, this was about hot-heated mafia style respect. To the Astros it was just business as usual. And to the NCAA, it is reminiscent of the great Dave Chappelle Pop Copy skit on The Chappelle Show, “well F*** ‘em, that’s why.”
An 18-year old’s ability in one day to sign a paper to be set for the rest of his life should not be played like a game of chicken. I am sorry Mr. Aiken, the system, and those who are supposed to look after your best interests failed you, I hope one day your example can change something for the better, and I hope and wish for your success and health.