Have Major League Baseball clubs found yet another way of manipulating players’ pay? They have if the union is correct in its suspicions about the Houston Astros’ contract negotiations with three of their selections in last month’s draft.
The union filed a grievance against the Astros this week, contending the Astros tried to manipulate the signings of pitcher Brady Aiken, the No. 1 player picked in the June draft, and two players selected in lower rounds, pitchers Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall.
Tony Clark, the head of the union, declined to talk about the issue because a grievance had been filed. Dan Halem, MLB’s chief labor executive, and Jeff Luhnow, the Houston general manager, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. In the messages I left, I mentioned the reason why I was calling.
However, a person familiar with the dispute said of the Astros’ treatment of the players, “Everything they did reeked of desperation. It didn’t smell right from the start and as he continued to talk about it, it smelled worse.”
Last Friday, the day on which unsigned draft choices had to be signed by 5 p.m. Eastern time, Luhnow told reporters the Astros made three different offers to Aiken, the key player in the scenario, and that the San Diego high school left-hander rejected them.
Aiken’s adviser/agent, Casey Close, has not confirmed Luhnow’s version of developments, but the Astros needed to sign Aiken to be able to sign Nix, a fifth-round choice, and Marshall, whom the Astros took in the 21st round.
The signings, or non-signings, were tied to the relatively new draft rules. Under the system, which the union agreed to in the 2011 collective bargaining negotiations, the commissioner’s office assigns each club recommended figures as signing bonuses for players selected in the first 10 rounds of the draft.
Clubs can sign players for more or less than what is called the slot figure, but if a club’s total bonuses exceed its pool total, it incurs penalties in the form of a tax on the excessive amount or loss of future draft choices.
Shortly after the Astros made Aiken a rare No. 1 pick, a high school left-handed pitcher, they reached agreement on a …