The Carter Stewart situation did not work out well for the Atlanta Braves or Stewart as the team is without a potential elite arm and the player is unable to go pro at this time. Things aren’t hopeless as the Braves will receive the ninth pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and Stewart will get the money he deserves eventually.
Below is an account of what I know about the situation, when I knew, how I found out. I had multiple conversations with multiple people, and am only going to fill in what I’m able to. Some of these sources were fine with being named while others may not wish to be, but I did speak to them prior to putting any information out here as I would never put information out that doesn’t belong.
I will say that we reached out to the representation for Stewart during the negotiation process and received no comment on their end and we were equally unsuccessful in trying to reach out to team officials. I respect those decisions as they did not want things to play out in public, and because of that chose not to talk about this publicly until another source broke the news.
The Braves and Stewart had a number in mind pre-draft that worked for both sides, but after the physical that number wasn’t the same.
The Start of Everything
6/25: Early on June 25th, about a week and a half before the deadline to sign draft picks, I received a DM on Twitter from a Braves fan named Dylan Jennings (Twitter handle @jennings_dylan who did want to be named in this report) telling me there was an issue with his wrist ligaments from the physical and that the offer was well under the slot value. He was the first person to tell me there was anything wrong. While a bit skeptical because I didn’t believe there to be any issues, we chose to dig in further along with some help from Eric Cole.
However, the information from Dylan was specific and the source of his information would have no reason to make anything up in this case. With a healthy grain of salt, we continue to pursue this line of thinking.
6/26: Fangraphs writer Kiley McDaniel made reference in his weekly Tuesday chat to there being rumors around the Stewart negotiations. McDaniel did not elaborate any further at this time, but this date is the first time anything went public about an issue.
6/27: We learned concretely that the wrist was, in fact, the issue. The exact injury and the full severity of the injury were not known. What was known is that prior to the draft Stewart had hurt his wrist swinging a bat. He missed a short amount of time and had his stuff tick down, but returned in plenty of time and looked as strong as ever pre-draft.
Summary: This was all of the information out there at this time. There was nothing public outside of Kiley McDaniel’s very generic statement, so I decided to wait on talking as I did not want to be the source of information to potentially make negotiations harder for both sides once this information became public.
It was decided to stick with a generic comment of he may not sign, but at this point we believed he would eventually. I did this because I expected Stewart to come in underslot and the information I received only said underslot. This is why my initial figure of $4.5M stood based on signing bonuses of Matthew Liberatore and Cole Winn - the two prep pitchers right there with Stewart as prospects who were selected a little later and received under $4M signing bonuses.
6/29: All of the other Braves draftees who signed, with the exception of Victor Vodnik, were completed at this time. This is the first time I had a full idea of how much money was left as the Tristan Beck amount was going to be a key, and he hit just under the $1M figure I was saying should be the most he got.
I had been hearing the name Zack Hess all along as a candidate to sign but didn’t believe there to be enough money to sign him, knowing he turned down $600k in the third round and that he had a chance to go in the first round in 2019. However now that I saw the full view of the money and had an idea what to expect from Stewart, I began to talk about the Hess signing as possible. If Stewart signed for $4.5M, there would be roughly $760k for Hess, and if Stewart took close to $4M then it would be over $1.2M for Hess. At this time I was believing Stewart was going to get done and could very well bring Hess into the fold as well.
The Week of the Deadline
7/2: MLB.com’s Jim Callis first references the wrist injury publicly and also first publicly talks about the Braves and Hess. This is the first point where we felt comfortable to publicly talk about the wrist as there is information out there.
Thoughts: At this point I still believe Stewart is going to sign. I know with the 4th of July coming up that we won’t be getting a deal done until Thursday or Friday with me thinking the Stewart side is trying to get a little more and the Braves side trying to stay lower to afford Hess as well.
7/5: Here is where I get approached by a different source with information. The source had contacts on the Stewart side of the negotiations and will be kept confidential.
I’m told at this point the money dropped to below $2M - the minimum needed to get the compensation pick and that Stewart would be heading to a smaller school in Melbourne, Florida so that he could re-enter the draft next year. My own research on this revealed the school is likely to be Eastern Florida State JUCO.
I was told that the family didn’t think the medical issue was all that serious, and we heard the term “buyers remorse” more than a few times when talking about that amount. It is pretty clear that such terminology is coming from Stewart’s side of the negotiations, but does seem to jive with reports of an initially agreed upon number changing pretty drastically once the results of the physical came in. One side can say buyer’s remorse, the other can say the circumstances changed.
Deadline Day 7/6: We came into the day feeling confident enough that Stewart doesn’t sign with very little hope of that changing. At this point, I was told the two sides didn’t negotiate further on Thursday after that lower offer came in. MLB’s Callis tweeted out that there was some reason for optimism in the morning, putting some new life into the negotiations.
At this point, information went silent which is not unexpected considering the two sides were trying to make something work.
Suddenly MLB.com’s Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman tweets out about the Braves getting a pick if they offered 40% of slot (which is the just under $2M figure I knew). A little while later Callis also tweets about the money being close to the 40% threshold. The rest is history as the money never came up on the Braves end and the demands on the Stewart end never dropped.
I believe had $4M been on the table, Stewart would have signed and we have heard as much throughout this situation. However, at this point it is hard to believe $4M or more was ever on the table once the team got a physical in. I think the Braves were right that there was a wrist issue...but the Stewart family didn’t see it as a major issue.
I’ve spoken with some medical professionals about this very generally considering the exact injury and severity aren’t known to me. The general consensus on the wrist is that based on it being a wrist and not an elbow or shoulder, and the injury occurring by swinging a bat is that it was more likely to be a minor injury. That is my belief, and only my belief instead of a fact. Medical issues are a funny thing with varying degrees of severity and we have not seen his physical nor gotten any confirmation on the specific issues that may have given the Braves pause.
It is worth noting that Alex Anthopoulos had a medical issue come up during his time in Toronto with Brady Singer’s physical in 2015 according to reports. The thing with Singer is that not only did he never miss any time at the University of Florida in three years, but he didn’t get flagged as an issue when he too his Kansas City Royals physical this month. In fact, Singer signed relatively quickly after the College World Series.
Could these two situations - Stewart and Singer - be similar and related? Maybe, maybe not. Anthopoulos did have a player in a similar situation in Toronto who hasn’t seen any long-term effects that we can point to with some interesting parallels. It would be great to see Anthopoulos explain in more detail why this happened as it really appears that if the Braves even offered Stewart 80% of his slot, him signing with the team was very much on the table according to some sources we spoke with.