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Two hours after deadline

Whewww. Big exhale. It's been a crazy night. Below, I'll simply paste the story I just finished. It's too late for this thing to appear in the paper, but I think it'll make its way into the online edition. Either way - here you go: the facts and figures as best I know them, as of 1:53 a.m.

So Nats fan... what on earth are you thinking now?

---

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer

This morning, just minutes before 1 a.m., Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, face ashen, walked into a conference room on the executive level of Nationals Park to make an announcement. The first words from his mouth eulogized the failed union between a player and a team. Though the Nationals loved the player's potential, in the end, they couldn't validate his demands.

"We worked extremely hard," Bowden said, "and were unable to sign Aaron Crow, our first-round pick."

The Nationals had spent months scouting Crow, a right-handed pitcher from Missouri; team representatives had attended every one of his college games. Bowden and others then spent two months locked into negotiations with Crow, hoping to make the pitcher part of the team's future. Instead, unbridgeable differences drove the sides into a stalemate unprecedented in Washington's brief history here.

Crow's advisors, Alan and Randy Hendricks, according to Bowden, first expressed their desired signing bonus on August 12 -- just three days before the signing deadline. Crow wanted $9 million, Bowden said, a figure roughly quadrupling the number recommended by Major League Baseball's slotting system, which advises $2,150,000 for a ninth overall pick. Crow also wanted a major league contract, a stipulation made clear to the Nationals before they drafted him.

As negotiations reached the final hours yesterday, the two sides got within $700,000 to $900,000, depending on the source.

Randy Hendricks said in an e-mail early this morning that the Nationals offered $3.3 million, nothing higher. "We said no," Hendricks wrote. "We would have signed for $4.0 million, and made them that offer. They said no."

Bowden provided a different account: Just 20 minutes before the deadline, Crow dropped his demands to $4.4 million, more than the $3.2 million bonus Baltimore gave to the fourth pick, Brian Matusz, the first pitcher taken.

"At the end of the day," Bowden said, "we stepped up and went to $3.5 million in an attempt to sign him, and unfortunately we couldn't get it done."

The team also included a major league contract as part of its final offer.

This year, the Nationals often showed a willingness this year to exceed baseball's slotting recommendations, even though doing so can come with its own repercussions -- sometimes political dissatisfaction from the commissioner's office. The Nationals signed nine of their top 10 draft picks, issuing above-slot bonuses to the fourth players drafted between the second and fifth rounds. Only with Crow did they deem the asking price too high.

"I think we've demonstrated amply our willingness to be flexible -- but not much interest into being bullied into something unreasonable," team president Stan Kasten said earlier in the day.

Since relocating to Washington, the team had established a track record for quickly signing first-round picks. In 2005, Ryan Zimmerman agreed to terms just weeks after the draft. Top picks in 2006 and 2007, Chris Marrero and Ross Detwiler, both signed in early July. When the team selected Crow this year, Bowden hoped the latest draftee could follow suit. If he did, the team believed, Crow could be ready for the majors by 2009.

At the University of Missouri, as a junior, Crow had a 13-0 record and a streak of 43 consecutive scoreless innings. Signing Crow would have almost certainly turned him into the team's top-rated prospect.

The failure to sign Crow will make him eligible for next year's draft. And the Nationals will gain a compensatory first-round pick, a "9B" selection that will ensure them two picks in the top half of the first round.

On Wednesday, to secure a back-up option if talks with Washington fell through, Crow signed with the Fort Worth Cats, an independent minor league team. According to Hendricks, Crow will begin pitching in relief for the Cats this week, perhaps as soon as today.

Said Hendricks: "It looks to me like [the Nationals] wasted a lot of time for themselves and for Aaron."

By Chico Harlan  |  August 16, 2008; 1:48 AM ET
 
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Next: Looking back on a setback

Comments

I don;t always agree with everything Alan Hendricks has to say but I will give him that last line. It's true.

Posted by: Andrew Stebbins | August 16, 2008 2:07 AM | Report abuse

I'm tired of greasy agents playing poker with other people's lives. This agent was only looking out for himself and his bonus and reputation. Sounds like the Nationals were more than reasonable, he was the second pitcher taken in the draft and the agent asked for more money than the first pitcher chosen received. Whether it Hendricks or Boras (ie, leveraging Manny Ramirez's option years for his own payday), these guys are ruining the game. We all complain about how baseball player salaries are rediculous and that makes our ticket prices too high, let's point the finger in the right direction at the agents. This kid could blow his arm out before the next draft, then what for him?

Posted by: TomCat | August 16, 2008 2:32 AM | Report abuse

The plan is "over". Get rid of Bowden and move the train wreck off of the tracks.

This is not major league baseball, this is crap.

Posted by: Guy | August 16, 2008 2:44 AM | Report abuse

TomCat, agents always leave it up to their players. After all, it's their lives. The Hendricks' aren't desperate for $$$ or clients. Their repuation is good enough. Today the Nationals' reputation sunk.

Posted by: Andrew Stebbins | August 16, 2008 2:48 AM | Report abuse

good move, all of you out there who wanted to sign him for 9 mil also loved paul lo duca and rob macowiak. GREAT MOVE NATS KEEP BEING SMART WITH THE MONEY. the juice was not worth a 4.5 million dollar squeeze.

Posted by: love | August 16, 2008 3:02 AM | Report abuse

When a team refuses to sign good free agents, and publicly declares that their strategic plan is based on signing draft picks, of course good draft picks will demand more money. The draft picks know that they have (or ought to have) more leverage. When the team then fails to sign the draft picks that are an essential element of the strategic plan - the team becomes a complete joke. People (Kasten and Bowden) need to be fired over this. The current team is painful to watch, on pace for over 100 losses. And it just screwed up its strategic plan to get better. Unacceptable!!! Signing draft picks won't be any easier next year. Stephen Strasburg isn't going to sign for slot either.

Posted by: Nats Guy | August 16, 2008 3:08 AM | Report abuse

we arent talking above slot we are talking two or three times slot. and high douchebagery in negotiations from crow and his agent.

Posted by: love | August 16, 2008 3:33 AM | Report abuse

Its obvious at this point that Crow wanted nothing to do with our organization. We gave him a huge number and a 40-man slot ant he didn't take it. F him; let him languish in independent ball or his senior year or whatever he does and watch as he falls to 15th in the draft next year. I'll take 2 top 10 slots over his attitude and unwillingless to deal.

Posted by: Sec131 | August 16, 2008 5:42 AM | Report abuse

I think Chico's story makes one thing very clear: the difference between Aaron Crow and Ryan Zimmerman is that Zimmerman loves baseball and Crow loves $4 million. Both may get the money in the end, but Zimmerman's path is a lot more clear, and we (the fans) will like him a lot more for it.

As an aside, I greatly dislike the monopolistic nature of Major League Baseball, and the system that basically holds the various constituencies hostage, whether it be fans or players - it is the same system that kept DC without baseball for 34 years. But the draft is the only entry into the system, and it would be hard for Crow to make the argument that the Nats last best offer wasn't competitive.

Crow played chicken with the Nats and lost... and now he's bound for Fort Worth. Lets think about this... a month in Fort Worth, or $3.5 million. Doesn't seem like a difficult choice to me.

Posted by: Wigi | August 16, 2008 5:56 AM | Report abuse

This was another Bowden debacle combined with the Lerners' cheapness. The failure to sign Crow epitomizes what's wrong with this team.

Posted by: ohplease | August 16, 2008 6:25 AM | Report abuse

Chico,
I thanked Brian at nfa and I thank you for being here for us and sheparding us through this whole ordeal. We depend on you wtihout taking you for granted.

Second - ARRRRGH. The Nats have broken the covenant. We were patient with the rebuilding according to the Plan. They showed they can not be counted on to execute their own plan. I'm not sure if it is decption or incompetence or both.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | August 16, 2008 6:27 AM | Report abuse

I've been critical of Bowden in the past and still do not particularly like the guy or his job performance but I agree with this one.

Either Crew is selfish or did not want to play with the Nats.

I do think that this will make it easier in the future to sign draft picks.

Posted by: Expos Fan | August 16, 2008 7:15 AM | Report abuse

ain't no guarantees folks. signing him wouldn't make him a sure star. one way or the other i'm movin on. still signed a lot more guys overall than i thought we would. free agents?

Posted by: longterm | August 16, 2008 7:15 AM | Report abuse

For all you Bowden haters out there, take a deep breath and think about two things that were said last night. Crow's agents did not make a statement for how much money they actually wanted until TUESDAY! Once they opened their negotiation with a 9 MILLION DOLLAR figure they held that position until 11:40 pm last night. Do any of you really think that this is a negotiation? In their mind they caved at 11:40 and came down to half and thought that that was all it would take to get a signing. I am sure that they were aware that all around them other players were signing for far less well before the 11:40 mark, yet they still held to their ridiculous figure. To me, to level the charge of incompetence to anyone other than the Hendricks in this matter is just mind blowing. It will be interesting to see how much money the Hendricks have cost their client when the 09 draft takes place. I hope that they are good for the difference.

Posted by: Dale | August 16, 2008 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Holy crap. I think both sides played chicken and lost. How can you say that you "worked extremely hard" to get a deal done when you haven't spoken since Tuesday and when you didn't manage to start talking numbers until 20 minutes before the deadline? Both sides bet that the other would cave at the last moment, and neither did. Bowden blew it. I'm signing the petition.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | August 16, 2008 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like Crow was never going to sign. The fact he refused to come to Nationals Park when invited is evidence of that. So I won't lay that at Bowden's feet. But we knew his outrageous demands beforehand, didn't we? So my question is this: why did Bowden select him in the first place?

Posted by: Softball Girl | August 16, 2008 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I, too, am not a JimBow fan, BUT am of the opinion that he was correct in his dealings with Crow. When you ask for $9 million and do not change it till 20 min before the deadline, and then you still demand not only above slot, but above what Matusz received, it just would not make business sense to accept the Crow offer. Make no mistake, the client (Crow) calls the shots, and the agents only make recommendations. So, with only 20 minutes left, Crow comes down to a number that he knew was still absurdly high. $700,000 or $900,000 is a lot of money. As more comes out, and you look at Crow's posturing -- no changes in demand, signing with an Independent team, I have little respect for Crow. Still not thrilled with JimBow, and fans have lots to be angry about, but regarding Crow -- he was right.

Posted by: MiLBFan | August 16, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

I'm actually happy the nats didnt sign Crow. Several prospect websites have said Crow would not even be in the top 10, in 2009. Makes sense to me to have the #1 & #10 picks in next year's deep and talented 09' draft class!

Posted by: lipty | August 16, 2008 7:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a big Bowden fan, but I don't blame him for this. After spending a lot last year, the Nationals no doubt felt that they had to reestablish their willingness to say "no" or face a continuing series of unreasonable demands from other agents. Considering that they get a very similar pick in the next draft, the down-side of failing to sign Crow seems relatively minor.

While I'm here, a couple of unrelated points from having attended the last 3 games at Nationals Park:

1) I wish the Nationals would get more aggressive about discouraging people from walking around in the middle of AB's. They do post a "request" on the scoreboard before the game (when many fans are not yet in their seats and are not paying attention), but that's obviously not enough. Please add another scoreboard and PA announcement during the game -- and have the ushers hold people at a section's entrance until the end of an AB (or at least actively encourage waiting).

2) Another request re: the ushers...On Thursday night, a beer vendor basically hung out for most of the game at the entrance between Sections 404 and 405. The usher not only did nothing about it, but he spent a lot of time himself watching the game at the front of the landing. I don't begrudge a vendor or usher taking in some of the game, but management should make clear that they should stand back so that they don't block fans' views in the process.

Posted by: Sec. 404 | August 16, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

I'm not a Bowden apologist, but I agree with Wigi, Dale, MiLBFan, and others on this one. I wonder whether Crow was ever serious about signing with the Nats.

Posted by: natsfan1a | August 16, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Very strange. The kid never set foot in DC. What RATIONAL person would walk away from 3.3, 3.5 million (you pick the number) to play for free? What RATIONAL person wouldn't have named a number until Tuesday.

In the end, for whatever reason, I have to conclude Crow wanted no parts of the Nats. It seems clear he never told his agents 'get a deal done'. He could have been the highest paid pitcher taken in the draft, based on what both sides are saying. I love the Hendricks quote 'we wish the Nats hadn't taken him'. Would love to know who they 'wish' had taken him. Maybe he's holding out for the Cardinals or Royals. In any event, somebody on their side doesn't know how the game is played. Money isn't made in baseball from the signing bonuses, it is made from PLAYING. Ft. Worth doesn't get him any closer.

The Nats offered him a major league deal and the most money of any pitcher in the draft, according to HIS agent. It takes two sides to make a deal. It is hard to see where JimBow screwed this one up.

The Nats have the 10th pick in next year's draft. What does Crow have, a night on the town in Ft. Worth!

Posted by: Dick | August 16, 2008 8:13 AM | Report abuse

This whole slot system seems very broken.

I've mentioned before on this blog about how the NBA vets were sick of young, just drafted players getting big contracts. In the next collective bargaining agreement, they set strict salary ranges for each draft pick.

It protects the teams and saves $$$ for the vets who have already proven themselves.

Posted by: Expos Fan | August 16, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

A summary of the bad news is here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080816&content_id=3317894&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

Basically, everybody else got the job done and signed their first-round pick except Seattle at #20, and they own the rights to the guy until next year and can still sign him, and the Yankees, who picked 28th, and that guy is going to college, which happens.

Bottom line: The Nats, and The Plan, failed us yesterday.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | August 16, 2008 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Agree that there's more than enough blame to go around on the Crow negotiations -- a demand for a $9 mill signing bonus doesn't make sense when I look back at Zimmerman's history. IIRC, Zimmerman hasn't made that much yet in his entire career, *including* his signing bonus (which I think was something like $3 million).

Demanding a major league contract sounds very risky. If Crow is indeed major league ready, our pitching rotation is such that there would probably be a place to put him. But if he's not, it doesn't benefit anybody to make him occupy a roster spot.

But the Nationals scouted Crow, so they should have had some idea of whether they'd be dealing with someone who was willing to negotiate.

Posted by: 422 | August 16, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

I mentioned yesterday that I thought the Nats would be right in spending up to $6 mil for him. However, hearing some of the the other things that went on with the negotiations, I have to amend that. And simply because they did not sign their first pick does not mean that the plan is dead. They still signed 30 draft picks. And while that is fewer than last year, it is still an infusion of young talent into the farm system. Hopefully we will see a couple more international signings this offseason.

I look back at McGeary last year and have to believe that the Nats would have gotten this done had they been aware, from the agent and player, far before Tuesday of the ACTUAL demands. It would have allowed them to be a little more creative. However, it seems the Crow camp was just holding the Nats hostage for a ridiculous number.

Posted by: Cavalier | August 16, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I don't know - I just don't see this one as a referendum on "the PLAN" - I think it's a classic example of a failed negotiation - as somebody said up in the comments here, "both sides played chicken and lost." It sounds like Hendricks somehow thought suddenly, dramatically dropping the number would make the Nats so thankful that they'd come way up. They did come up, and they offered (by both sides admission) a better deal than given to any other pitcher in the draft, and that wasn't enough. At some point, somebody needed to say "Let's just split the difference"

The part that I'd want to know, that I don't know if we'll ever know is to what extent Bowden's personality complicated the negotiations - the difficult one that Rizzo handled (Nieto) got done. Bowden's didn't - the cases are different, but at the end of the day, Bowden bears some responsibility for not getting the deal done (even if I do think Crow's people were outrageous in their demands)

Posted by: Highway 295 Revisited | August 16, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I can't wait to see Crow become another Matt Harrington. It was clear from the beginning that he didn't want to come here.

We don't need a guy with that kind of attitude. With two great picks next year, in a hopefully deeper draft class, Rizzo will do just fine.

And really, enough with the Lerners are cheap comments. They went over slot on just about every player. They offered Crow more than Matusz got, and Matusz is regarded as a far better prospect. As an organization, you cannot be bullied. If Crow/Hendricks bullied the Nats into overpaying (not only over slot, but over the #4 overall pick), the Nats reputation would have been harmed. The Nats are not pushover - we should be applauding them for not being taken hostage by a greedy player and greedy agents.

Posted by: Osc | August 16, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

MLB should contract this team so that the city can convert the new stadium for soccer. As long as the Lerner family is involved this franchise will never be a contender.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

We won't be legitimately competitive for the next 5 years at least. No truly good hitting prospects and obviously no talent at the plate in the majors (except maybe Flores). If anyone thinks any worthwhile free agents are going to sign with us you're out of your mind. Have to take Strasburg at 1 then hope to get lucky at 10. Please stop speculating about free agents signing this offseason, it's a waste of time.

Posted by: Rick.Felt | August 16, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

sect 404 -- you read my mind on all accounts. At some point you have to draw a line and say no - or all of these young, unproven upstarts and their agents will think that you are the money tree. These things just escalate - let him play in Ft. Worth - maybe that will humble him a bit.
Also agree on the stadium situation with "tourist fans" and vendors blocking the view. If you put so much as a toe into one of the expensive, empty sections the ushers practically attack you - but if someone is blocking your view during an ab they ignore it. Can't tell you how much baseball I have missed because of yo-yo fans.

Posted by: masnstinks | August 16, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Congrats to Mets and Philly fans, enjoy our new ballpark.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Aaron Crow: "Show me the money."

Nats: "You are a paycheck player."

Posted by: Six word headlines | August 16, 2008 9:23 AM | Report abuse

There is a new post up.

Posted by: Six word comment | August 16, 2008 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Before we all jump off a ledge, here are the college pitchers taken in the top ten in the june drafts from 1993-2002 (I picked these years because it's a ten year period that is early enough so we can have a pretty good idea what each of this guys is going to be). I've lumped them in three groups:

Mark Mulder
Bary Zito
Ben Sheets
Jeff Francis


Dustin Hermanson
Kris Benson
Braden Looper
Mark Prior
Darren Dreifort


Brian Anderson
Wayne Gomes
Jeff Granger
Steve Soderstrom
Paul Wilson
C.J. Nitkowski
Jonathan Johnson
Billy Koch
Seth Greisinger
Matt Anderson
Jason Grilli
Dan Reichert
Jeff Austin
Ryan Mills
Kyle Snyder
Adam Johnson
Justin Wayne
Dewon Brazelton
Josh Karp
Chris Smith
John Van Benschoten
Brian Bullington

The point is, what the Nats have lost is a chance at a guy with a big future. They likely haven't lost a sure thing and we won't know which category Crow belongs in for several years.

Crow, for his part, passed up sure money (though less than he wanted) and, probably more important, delayed by a year when (if he's successful) he becomes arbitration eligible and free agent eligible. Which side regrets this in the end, we just can't know.

Posted by: John O. | August 16, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The Lerner's and Nats management are missing the BIG PICTURE. The failure to sign Crow, the only top-ten first round pick not to sign, is a sign that ownership is not willing to spend the money to put a decent team on the field. With the grossly inept team they fielded this season, the Nats owe the fans something to feel good about, to give us hope for 2009. The Lerner's are, as Kasten once prophesized, "cheap bastards".

Posted by: Jeb | August 16, 2008 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Interesting analysis, John O. Thanks for pulling that together.

Posted by: Ryan | August 16, 2008 9:57 AM | Report abuse

As with a lot of young players today its all about the money I don't fault him for looking out for his financial future but when does common sense come into the picture.Jimbo has made some serious blunders with contracts(LoDuca,Young) to name a few but the demands by Crow and his agents were just way off, Jimbo played this one right whew! never thought i'd be saying that.

Posted by: dargregmag@aol.com | August 16, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Jeb wrote:

"The Lerner's and Nats management are missing the BIG PICTURE. The failure to sign Crow, the only top-ten first round pick not to sign, is a sign that ownership is not willing to spend the money to put a decent team on the field. With the grossly inept team they fielded this season, the Nats owe the fans something to feel good about, to give us hope for 2009. The Lerner's are, as Kasten once prophesized, "cheap bastards"."


---

I think you have it exactly backwards. The outcome of one contract negotiation is not indicative of the 'big picture'. I think everyone can agree that Crow's demands were outliers among this year's (and every year's) first round draft choices. He wanted more than EVERYONE ELSE, yet he wasn't even the first chosen or the most highly regarded. He made no effort to show that he actually wanted to play in DC. The Nats made him a generous (probably too generous, by my standards, but as many have pointed out, the difference is chump change) offer. By your logic, the Nats should have just signed him, regardless of price.

Every other significant player with whom the Nats have negotiated was signed, many for above-slot money. The Nats made an above-slot offer to Crow. Seems to me that Crow's negotiations were so far out of the box that they wouldn't be in anyone's 'big picture'.

The real test of the Nats will be when they enter into negotiations for a "Must Have" free agent or draft pick. Finishing 30th this year will insure that event happens no later than next August.

Talk to me then about cheap.

Posted by: Wigi | August 16, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Did the Nationals sign Ramirez & Jones as a direct result of the failed Crow negotiations? Or were their signings ($1 mil to Ramirez, guessing $500K for Jones) part of the original Nationals draft budget?

Based on Bowden's comments regarding the $3.5 mil offered Crow, the Nats should have anywhere between $2-$3.5 mil available to acquire more young talent. Will the team use it now on international free agents? Or will the Nationals use the budgeted Crow money on next years compensation pick and choose not to adjust the 2009 draft budget?


I'm disheartened. Crow could have been the staff ace or he may well never reach the majors. Crow negotiations may have been fair or unfair. Doesn't really to matter to me either way. I don't really care if the Hendricks' or the Nats were to blame for Ft Worths newest player.

Signing Crow would have offered hope. Not on a grand scale, but still a small glimmer of future promise during a moribund season. Right now, future promise is all the Nationals have to offer. As the Nationals, for whatever reason, continue to fall short of realizing their future promise, I continue to lose hope in the team.

Posted by: Los Doce Ocho | August 16, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

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