Phillies Willing to Trade Ken Giles

Yesterday, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Phillies have made closer Ken Giles available in a trade. GM Matt Klentak confirmed Heyman’s report, per Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Giles is 25 years old, under team control through 2020, and has put up back-to-back stellar seasons. That teams might be interested, and that the Phillies would make him available, should come as no surprise. As Heyman points out, the free agent market for relievers is notoriously weak, which has prompted the trade market to perk up. The Reds are expected to make Aroldis Chapman available, as are the Padres with Craig Kimbrel, the Nationals with Jonathan Papelbon, and others.

Relievers who can throw 100 MPH, strike out close to 100 batters in a full season, and post sub-2.00 ERA’s don’t come around often. Giles does all of the above. Why would the Phillies want to trade him?

A Google search suggests I’ve used the word “volatile” to refer to bullpens in general or specific relievers no fewer than 10 times. There’s a reason for that. Most relievers are tough to predict on a year-to-year basis. Only a handful of relievers — Papelbon and Kimbrel among them — have a track record of uninterrupted greatness. (Well, if you ignore Papelbon’s 2010.) The average closer will toss between 60 and 75 innings in a full season, which is the equivalent of roughly two months for a starting pitcher.

Even if we extend the threshold to the first half, there are a lot of names on the ERA leaders list for this past season who wound up finishing the season with a much higher ERA. That’s mostly due to simple statistical variation. For starters, maybe those pitchers faced a friendly slate of opponents, pitched in colder weather (which suppresses offense), and/or were simply lucky. Relievers’ fortunes are even more volatile since most samples are one-inning performances in which the reliever faces between three and five batters. Multi-inning performances allow for in-game mean-regression, though that effect is comparatively small in scale to that of a seasonal performance.

That being said, one would still be making a smart bet expecting Giles to perform at an elite level in 2016. Unfortunately for the Phillies, his 2016 performance won’t matter all that much since they’re still very likely going to be a sub-.500 team. The decision to keep Giles hinges on projecting him to be an elite reliever at least two years from now and beyond. If we have difficulty accurately predicting relievers from one season to the next, imagine how difficult it is to project two, three, or four years from now.

Keeping Giles is a gamble, not just in terms of performance, but in terms of health. Pitchers have a much higher susceptibility to injuries compared to their position player counterparts because throwing a baseball requires such a naturally unhealthy contortion of the body. Even if one projects Giles to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA in each of the next four seasons, one must also feel fairly confident he’ll stay off of the disabled list.

Giles’ value is at its highest now and will slowly degrade for a multitude of reasons. He’ll become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season. If he puts up two more terrific seasons, he will become exponentially more expensive. This could hamper the Phillies’ future payroll flexibility and it would also serve as a deterrent, eschewing out some teams from the trade market. Additionally, Giles will be getting older and will have depleted another 2,000 of a not-unlimited total of pitches from his arm. His injury risk will have increased by a non-zero amount. Teams won’t have him under control for as long as they would now. Giles’ value could also bottom out if he suffers a catastrophic injury or just falls apart.

Furthermore, despite the Royals’ winning the World Series in no small part due to their elite bullpen (closer Wade Davis in particular), it’s tough for a reliever to accrue more value than a position player or a starting pitcher. According to Baseball Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement (which uses real results rather than the expected — FIP-based — results of FanGraphs), Giles compiled 1.9 WAR. That tied him with Aaron Nola, who made 13 starts, and ranked behind Cole Hamels‘ 2.7 in 20 starts prior to the trade with the Rangers. Ben Revere racked up 2.0 WAR before the Phillies shipped him to the Blue Jays, and Rule-5 rookie Odubel Herrera led the team at 3.8 WAR.

Finding another Giles will be difficult, but replacing his production won’t. If the Phillies can find the right deal and turn Giles into an everyday outfielder, a mid-rotation starter, or even a utility player, they will have made an upgrade.

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26 comments

  1. Seems Hard

    November 11, 2015 01:38 PM

    I’m all for trading Giles if a deal is to be had, but bet its going to be extraordinarily difficult to make one. Can you really trade a young player for a young player – would that make sense? Can’t really think of any scenarios that would make sense when the rubber hits the road…

    • Shane

      November 17, 2015 10:45 AM

      You just have to find a contending team that is in need of a closer that offer some decent prospects you like. May not happen this winter, but could at the trade deadline. Other closers could get injured; it happens.

  2. Nik

    November 11, 2015 01:47 PM

    Utility player for an elite closer? That’s going a little far, WAR be damned.

  3. Michael C Lorah

    November 11, 2015 02:31 PM

    As I said (more or less) on another thread – I’m all for listening on Giles. If there’s good package there, absolutely, make the trade for all the reasons listed above. I personally wouldn’t make the move for a utility player – I agree with Klentak’s statement that for the next year or two, for morale alone, having a good bullpen to protect the leads that do exist is very valuable and will keep the young players from getting too discouraged – but I’m all for it if the Phillies net a solid starting pitcher or a decent/good everyday player.

    • Yo

      November 11, 2015 03:13 PM

      is it easier to find a 2 WAR (young) closer or a 2 WAR everyday OF? I suspect the former. Utility player? no.

      • Brian S

        November 11, 2015 04:18 PM

        There were 9 RPs with 2+ WAR last year compared to 38 2+ WAR OFs, so it’s a lot easier to find the latter.

      • Pete

        November 11, 2015 10:32 PM

        I wish I could “like” this a thousand times.

      • Pete

        November 11, 2015 10:43 PM

        A relief pitcher who puts up 2 WAR in 60 to 75 innings seems much more valuable than a positional player who puts up 2 WAR in 600 to 1200 innings.

      • Pete

        November 11, 2015 10:45 PM

        I meant that I wish I could “like” Brian S’s comment a thousand times of course.

  4. Romus

    November 11, 2015 03:54 PM

    Truthfully, if Klentak wanted to really shake up the Phillie phandom, try trading, at their current peak value, both Giles and Herrera.
    D-backs could be a player for Giles and Dipoto already has said he wants a CFer for the Mariners.
    D-Backs have six quality pitchers…Bradley, Shipley, Blair, Reed , Lopez and Young… IMO two of those six could be obtainable and a lesser pos. prospect or just more money for the international allocation bonus. Giles is an attractive asset for the D-Backs.
    With the Mariners Klentak could try to possibly get an RHP Edwin Diaz in exchange for CFer Herrera….if the thought is Quinn will be knocking on the door later in 2016 and ’17 for sure, then Tocci in ’18.

    • Shawn

      November 11, 2015 05:37 PM

      Giles is also from New Mexico, so I’m sure he’d be comfortable pitching in Arizona. Could be a good move for all parties involved.

  5. Bill

    November 11, 2015 04:18 PM

    Extra, extra quality in return for a quality relief pitcher needed by a contending team makes sense to me. Say the Dodgers for Andy Van Slyke, and 2 upper level prospects may be compatible for both teams.

  6. 100Bucks

    November 11, 2015 06:14 PM

    This kind of move makes me nervous. I don’t accept that we should be dealing good players who are in their 20’s. Keep building, but when you find a valuable piece, hold on to him. The likelihood of Giles getting hurt is EXACTLY the same as the likelihood of the guy you trade him for getting hurt.

    • ITM

      November 11, 2015 06:36 PM

      Not true at all, especially if it is a position player.

      • Seems Hard

        November 11, 2015 07:58 PM

        Somewhat moderated by the higher bust factor for hitters. A 98 mph is a 98 mph fastball, but hitters its much harder to say. No one is going to give us an upper level, can’t miss hitter for Giles.

  7. jake

    November 12, 2015 05:53 AM

    I think the Phillies have to look to acquire as much talent and assets as possible. If that means swapping one “ready-now” asset for several “ready-soon” assets, then so be it. The team isn’t going to be playoff ready until 2018 at very the earliest. Holding to “ready-now” players at premium positions – esp. positions that will see significantly less use given the poor performance (Giles isn’t coming in when the Ps are losing 6-1) – doesn’t make sense.

    • Tim

      November 12, 2015 12:12 PM

      I dunno, I think 2017 is still an outside possibility. Would I bet money on it? Not more than a few bucks for kicks, but given the current state of the division, some of the pieces (and available $$) the team has in place or in the pipeline, and the nature of various recent playoff runs by recently bad teams, I’d peg 2017 as the very earliest instead of 2018. I still agree with your overall point though of swapping assets like Giles that make sense.

      • Romus

        November 12, 2015 02:22 PM

        Tim…..in the NL East, have to take into account the Mets and their staff and the Nats. Their decline would facilitate a Phillies rise, but I do not see them declining for another 3 to 5 years. Factor also in a Braves team in a similar rebuild mode as the Phillies. The Marlins…your guess is as good as mine.
        So , no matter how well the young corps progresses they will need to get over the hump with the Mets and Nats. By then a RP like Giles , who is 25 now , could be on the decline.

      • Tim

        November 13, 2015 11:04 AM

        True about the Mets and Nats, though both teams I think have flaws that could lead them to underachieve. And there are still two wild card slots out there. And I’m not saying they’re likely to contend in 2017, I just think saying 2018 at the very earliest rules out a low but not insignificant chance that they could pull it together by then. And not using that as an argument not to trade Giles either – especially if a quality outfielder is involved.

  8. Major Malfunction

    November 12, 2015 01:10 PM

    I’m on the fence with this one. On one hand, as many have said, his value will probably never be higher since hes elite and under salary control, so its VERY attractive to other teams. Assuming the Phils are on the winning end of a trade for “almost ready” talent that matches their current roster plan, I’m all for it.

    But then I look back over the years and say, so how many lights out closers with his stuff come along that often? Uh, apparently about once a decade if not longer. His 1st 2 years are pretty much historic in terms of the numbers he put up, so you wonder if he’s somebody you want to try and keep in a Phils uniform for a long time.

    But on a 100 loss team, he’s nothing more than a golden urinal inside a Central American prison.

    • Seems Hard

      November 12, 2015 01:22 PM

      I personally don’t like Jackie Bradley, but hear Dombroski has him on the block & also wants a younger, harder throwing bullpen. Giles, Ruiz, some other prospect + cash for Bradley?

      • Romus

        November 12, 2015 02:29 PM

        Sox do have a little OF surplus that may require moving at some point, with Margot ETA 2017. IMO, Giles alone, could bring back a Bradley.

      • Seems Hard

        November 12, 2015 06:06 PM

        Yeah Giles for Bradley straight up sounds fair to me too, but guess I’m brainwashed by all the Redsox fan invaders to all the Philly sites touting how superior all their players are – LoL.

  9. Bob S

    November 12, 2015 01:26 PM

    My opinion, and it is just that, is to hold on to Giles. He needs another year to become familiar with the big league talent he is facing so 2016 would be a great learning year. Yes he will have more pitches on his arm-o-meter but the same could be said for Nola. Should we use the same argument on him and look to trade him before he gets hurt? They could do that and become the summertime 76ers and just keep pushing any revival on down Infinity Road. If 2017 all of a sudden looks like a competitive season, I believe it would be advantageous to have a somewhat veteran presence at closer, that being Giles. If you want to make a run at some FA bigtime pitcher who you want to keep as more than a half year rental, a good selling point would be that there is a lockdown closer who will preserve the win for that bigtime starter when he leaves after 7 0r 8 innings holding a 3-2 lead. The starter gets his stat that the team is obviously going to pay heavily for and the team gets the win, which as I said, in 2017, may be big , given the anticipated blow up of the aging Nats and the annual futility of the Marlins, not to mention the real possibility of some of the Mets arms going away due to more injury and FA

  10. Boomerbubba

    November 15, 2015 02:38 AM

    You don’t want to trade Giles. Especially if the team is expecting to pull above .500. Having a solid bullpen closer is just as important has having someone solid at every other position. Makes no sense to give that up, then have to scramble for the next year or two trying to find someone else in that key role. I cannot imagine a trade involving Giles that would be worth the Phillies’ while.
    Sure they team is rebuilding, but they have that part of the block set. Don’t mess with it.

  11. Sean f

    November 23, 2015 07:52 PM

    I think if chapman doesn’t go to Houston, there’s a solid chance Giles does. They still have a deep prospect pool to draw from, and lord knows the two teams have done enough deals with each other recently. Two to three prime prospects for Giles, I’d pull the trigger without hesitation.

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