Astros are playing with fire

 * The Players Association, advisor Casey Close and a few other people are upset with the Houston Astros as the July 18 deadline for signing drafted players approaches. ....  

2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent


By Bob Elliott

MINNEAPOLIS _ All is fair in love, war and contract negotiations.

Except that lefty Brady Aiken, No. 1 over-all pick of the June draft by the Houston Astros, remains unsigned heading into Friday’s deadline and so does fifth rounder Jacob Nix.

New Players Association boss Tony Clark, who took over after the death of Michael Weiner last year, fielded questions Tuesday afternoon at a Baseball Writers of America Association luncheon and was calm, cool and as smooth as if it was his 15th year on the job.

Until someone asked about the Astros negotiations with Aiken ...

There was a long pause before Clark answered:

“It is disappointing on any number of levels to think what has happened in that situation,” said Clark whose voice rose as he said, “the manipulation that we think happened in this case is going to lead us to have some conversations.

“There appear to be some challenges in what we believe is the process being manipulated that will need to be addressed.”

While Aiken, any other drafted players or minor leaguers are not part of the union, the Players Association and the commissioner’s office negotiated slot bonuses assigned for each pick in the first 10 rounds.

The Astros and Aiken agreed to a $6.5 Million US bonus, below the assigned slot $7,922,100 Million. Under the rules the Astros could then spend the savings on other players.

Earlier this month when Aiken, a San Diego high schooler, showed in Houston for his physical, Astro doctors noticed problems with a ligament in his left elbow, according to Astro club doctors.

Aiken’s advisor Casey Close told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that Aiken is healthy and has been examined by orthopedic specialists.

It’s a he-said, he-said, my doctor vs. your doctor expensive argument with a lot at stake. The union is upset at total reliance on the team doctor’s opinion.

Close was upset in the way that the Astros have handled negotiations:

“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,” Close told Rosenthal.

Close said that the team has made one revised offer — $3,168,840, which represents the minimum bonus Houston needs to offer in order to receive the second pick in next year’s draft as compensation.

The catch with the assigned slots is that you only get the extra cash to spend on others IF a player is signed.

So if Aiken is not signed the Astros can’t go over budget to sign fifth-round choice right-hander Jacob Nix, a Los Alamitos Calif. high schooler. Houston has agreed to give Nix a $1.5 million bonus, $1.13 million over slot. Nix is also represented by Close.

While it was possible to re-open the terms of the drug agreement -- both sides did, creating stiffer penalties -- a Basic Agreement can’t be opened until it expires

In the spring the most pressing issue was why teams refused to sign free agents like Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales or Ervin Santana who were all coming off good years, because teams were reluctant to give up draft picks as compensation.

This draft issue is the hot button right now.

This current labour contract is more than two years away from expiring but new issues could be forming unless the Astros agree with one or both players.

Dan Halem, MLB’s executive vice-president, labor relations said Tuesday that he backs the Astros, who say they have followed the rules.

“We believe that they have conducted themselves appropriately,” Halem said. “Given that there’s still a few days until the signing deadline, we’re not going to say anything else at this time, and hopefully all the parties will be able to resolve this without our assistance.”

The deadline to sign drafted players is July 18.

Briefly: Major League players, through the Players Trust, are creating a scholarship program to honour their late former executive director. The Michael Weiner scholarship for Labour Studies will award up to five $10,000 scholarships annually.