It had proven abundantly clear that the trade market was going to be extremely expensive for buyers this year well before the rumor mill started to increase in rhythm and timbre with regards to a potential Astros trade for Phillies closer Ken Giles. It's easy to get sucked into a desire to avoid the trade market entirely based on the vaunted asking prices. That is not about disliking Giles - it's about the cost efficiency of trading a lot of value for a guy who will affect maybe seventy innings a season, no matter how good he is.
No, this post is not about liking Ken Giles. This post is about examining what Mr. Luhnow and his team just sent to Philadelphia to make Giles the newest member of the Houston Astros, and deciding if the price was worth the reward.
This writer has coveted Giles publicly for months, but recently withdrawn interest in the trade market in general due to the aforementioned conflated asking prices. It has certainly seemed a legitimate concern after watching the Andrelton Simmons trade, the Craig Kimbrel trade, the proposed asking price for Aroldis Chapman, the proposed asking price for Jose Fernandez, what the Phillies were purportedly asking for in return for Giles, and (last but by no means least) the Shelby Miller trade. In general, it seems like buyers are having to grossly overpay to add impact talent.
Such was this writer's mindset as the news broke that Vincent Velasquez - one of the most talented arms in the Astros system - was the focal point of the trade for Ken Giles. Ultimately, it ended up being a four-for-one swap (a breakdown of who the Astros lost in the trade is here, for more details) and my mood was grim as I prepared my response for our coming-soon Starting Nine article about the trade. A tepid, grudging acceptance of the trade was the overall tone of this writer's response...nowhere near as optimistic as the ones that followed it from most of the rest of the staff. Ultimately, I grumblingly felt that I would trust Jeff Luhnow and his team - who haven't steered us wrong yet - even if I was unhappy about giving up Velasquez and three more pieces...for a reliever.
But then, after I weighed in for the Starting Nine article, two points were made (which will both be a part of the Starting Nine article - definitely going to be a piece you don't want to miss, when it comes out) that finally got through my thick, stubborn skull.
Here's the first, from Chris Perry, which will be featured in more detail in our Starting Nine piece. After all, I can't spoil everything from an as-yet unpublished piece.
RE: LT: For those who think Phillies can "make another" Giles or that VV can be as good as Giles. 2nd best RP in last 55 years under 26 yo.— Chris Perry (@CRPerry13) December 10, 2015
Followed up with:
Players < 26yo; 1961-2015; K/9 > 10; min 50 IP: 1. Kimbrel 1.39 ERA 2. Giles 1.56 ERA 3. Percival 4. Venters 5. Dibble 6. Smith 7. Jansen— Chris Perry (@CRPerry13) December 10, 2015
So, let that sink in for a moment. Craig Kimbrel is the only reliever in the last fifty five years to post a better ERA as a relief pitcher under 26 years of age in at least 50 innings pitched with a K/9 of ten or greater.
Ken Giles is in nearly peerless company.
Pitchers who never did that:
The list goes on and on. It's too soon to anoint Giles as the second coming of anything, but he's had a pretty auspicious (jaw-dropping, even) start to his career.
And, speaking of Kimbrel, Josh Cookson made this point that really, really resonated with me, in my concern over the crazy trade market and being worried about overpaying for a relief pitcher:
Compare this to the Red Sox trade for Craig Kimbrel. I would argue the Red Sox traded better prospects for an older reliever with less years of control who makes 10X as much as Giles. If Kimbrel's deal set the market, the Astros just paid less than market price.
And, just like that, I'm convinced. I think Velasquez is going to go on to great things in Philadelphia, and it hurts losing him, but one thing the Astros have in their system is a plethora of starting pitching arms. Francis Martes, Joe Musgrove, Mark Appel, David Paulino, Akeem Bostick...none of these players were touched in this deal. Alex Bregman, A.J. Reed, Kyle Tucker, Daz Cameron, Colin Moran, Tyler White, Jon Singleton, Preston Tucker...none of those young hitters were touched either.
You have to give to get, and as it stands there's a very distinct possibility that Ken Giles ends up being the best player in this deal, even subjected to the brutal scrutiny of hindsight through the pall of years.
So, color this writer a reformed skeptic, at least in regards to this trade. Velasquez stings, and will continue to sting, but with the embarrassment of riches in the Astros' minor league stable of talented arms, even losing he and Thomas Eshelman isn't a devastating hit. Velasquez did not have a clearly defined role with the Major League team this year - though I personally would have made him the fifth starter - and Eshelman, despite his absurdly brilliant collegiate career, has still only pitched 10.1 professional innings after being shut down early following his stout 130 inning workload as a junior at Cal-State Fullerton. Derek Fisher might become a productive major league player, and he might not, but he's probably not a future star in any event. A solid add, graded out to a 50 (on the 20/80 scale) potential player. Definitely not a throw in, but hardly a focal point of the return. Oberholzer is exactly what he looks like - a bottom of the rotation left handed starter with a track record of good pitch control, and at least one documented instance of poor emotion control. He's a good fit for the 2016 Phillies, to be sure.
All told, Astros fans should be very, very happy about this trade.
Now...who's the closer in 2016?