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Starting Nine: Astros Ken Giles trade (redux)

The Crawfish Boxes reacts to the Astros' official trade sending Ken Giles from Philadelphia to Houston.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we had a Starting Nine article ready to go, in which most of the Crawfish Boxes writers blurbbed short* thoughts on the trade sending five staring pitchers to Phillies in exchange for reliever Ken Giles and a shortstop to the Houston Astros.

*except for Idrees, who wrote the blogging equivalent of War and Peace.

Originally, the trade reportedly comprised of Giles in return for four prospects: pitchers Brett Oberholtzer, Vincent Velasquez, Thomas Eshelman, and outfielder Derek Fisher.  As the days dragged by, we continued to collect responses for that Starting Nine article, waiting for the official trade announcment.

When that announcement finally came, it made all of our replies moot - the trade in fact was consummated as Giles and shortstop prospect Jonathan Arauz to Houston in return for Oberholtzer, Velasquez, Eshelman, plus starting pitchers Mark Appel and Hector Arauz.  Consternation ensued, leading to more articles analyzing the deal.

So we chucked our replies (sorry, Idrees!) and collected new responses.

Today's question:  "What do you think of the Giles trade now, especially considering former No. 1 overall draft pick Appel is part of the package?"

Here are the replies. Responses have been edited for grammar, to correct inherent laziness and ambiguity.


I feel the same about losing Oberholtzer as I do about Appel. It was two arms that were back-of-rotation depth and were no longer necessary. Appel is not good. Giles is very very good.

Plus, we get to keep Derek Fisher, who will probably be a more useful MLB player than Appel.


The luster on Appel had faded significantly for me over the past year. Giving up a guy whose ceiling is, at best, bottom of the rotation for a significant bullpen arm is a big deal for Houston. Despite an improvement in the 2015 bullpen versus the previous few years, it's still a weak spot. Starting pitching talent is something the Astros organization has in large supply. Based only on those two facts, a relief arm I exchange for a starting arm makes sense. Add the names to the roles and it still is appealing. Overall at second glance, I like the trade. As I always say though, we won't really know for a year or two at a minimum if it was as good as I think. 


I really, really hate overpaying via trade.

Especially for relievers, who did not suddenly become more valuable in my mind this year just because the Royals lucked into a 'pen full of really, really good relievers.  

I have been pretty vocally opposed to a trade like this for quite a while.

All that said, the Astros' front office - who are collectively much smarter than I am, and are probably collectively smarter than you, too, and who have a ton of data that we never see - made it clear that adding an arm like Ken Giles to the bullpen was a top priority this offseason, and they went out and made the trade happen through sheer force of will.  Considering the likely price that would have been required to land Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, and the front office's determination to make an addition like this, I can stomach the overpay.  It's better than those alternative packages/return would have been.

In Luhnow, I trust.


  1. Almost any way I look at this transaction, the Astros had to overpay to get their late inning relief pitcher target.  The Astros paid a high cost; Giles had better be really good.
  2. The way that the Astros were willing to add pieces like Appel to this trade convinces me that the Astros are relying upon some really high evaluations of Giles.  I don’t have those evaluations, but it’s possible my conclusion would change, if I did.  Perhaps it leads the Astros to believe Giles will be a true "difference-maker" like Lidge or Wagner (from the Astros’ past).
  3. I believe WAR undervalues elite relievers.  But, setting that aside, it’s possible (maybe probable) that the Astros will lose this trade in terms of pure WAR.  The Phillies lost the Lidge trade with the Astros (Bourne earned around 12 WAR with the Astros and Lidge had approximately 4 WAR with the Phillies).  But, given that Lidge was instrumental in World Series trips, I doubt that the Phillies regret the trade.  And the Astros are getting the early part of Giles’ career, while the Phillies’ got the latter part of Lidge’s career, which works in the Astros advantage.  (Lidge earned twice as much WAR with the Astros—at a cheaper cost—than he did with the Phillies, demonstrating the benefit of having an elite reliever’s early years.)
  4. I like what the Phillies are doing.  They received some terrific prospects, although each of them has his particular question marks.  Appel’s ceiling is not BOR; I think there is a reasonable chance he becomes a No. 2 starting pitcher.  It’s shortsighted to think otherwise.  We just don’t know the odds of it happening: I would say maybe 20% - 40%, but the value of this trade may depend on whether the Astros thought the odds were at the lower end, instead of the higher end.  The Phillies’ strategy is good, though, because the overall odds are pretty good that at least one of the pitchers they receive will have a good career as a starter.  Let’s just hope we don’t care, because the Astros have won a World Series or two.


The trade got better for me. I've lost faith in Appel. His velocity is inconsistent, his change-up has regressed, his mechanics offer no deception, and while I don't always put a great deal of stock into the evaluations of a player's mentality, let's just say that, compared to someone like Lance McCullers, Appel doesn't strike me as the type who can gut it out and push through adversity. I think there's still a decent chance that he ends up as a serviceable back-end starter, but I no longer believe it's realistic to hope he becomes some kind of stud. Derek Fisher has his warts, but I like his floor more, and I no longer believe Appel can hit his ceiling, or anything really close to it. I consider the Arauz for Arauz bit of the deal to basically be a wash. So I actually like the deal better now. 


While I believe it was still a good trade for the Astros to make, the subtraction of Derek Fisher and the addition of Mark Appel hurts the Astros. Of course, Appel lived up to the expectations of a No. 1 overall pick, but the talent is still there. After all, he was a top pick in 2014 after being the No. 8 overall pick in 2013. Furthermore, he remains in the Top 50 throughout the lists of prospects. Scouts and writers alike still see the talent of Appel, and I'm certainly not (can't speak for others) qualified enough to make a judgement on him from afar due to statistics that don't scream dominance. Does he need a change of scenery? Probably. But the Astros still gave up two big-time starting pitching prospects. The Phillies made a great deal. With that being said, the window is open for Houston to compete for a championship and the bullpen needed some dominance injected into it, and general manager Jeff Luhnow found it in Ken Giles with a bonus of five years team control. 


I like this trade for both clubs. The Phillies get two cost controlled starters with upside, rotation depth in the form of Oberholtzer, and two more prospects who are further away.

It's tough to lose Velasquez, who looked really solid this season, but the Astros have a ton of pitching prospect depth, many who have higher upsides than Velasquez. I personally liked the deal better when Fisher was included rather than Appel, but at this point that's all based on reputation rather than performance. Appel has struggled in the minors, and it now looks unlikely he'll hit his ceiling as a top of the rotation starter.  

It's a high cost for a reliever, but keep in mind the Astros get five years of control, and Giles makes very little salary at this point in his career. 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.

The comparison to Kimbrel makes even more sense because as Chris noted Giles has had the best start to a career for a reliever since... Craig Kimbrel.

If all goes well the Astros just got their closer for many years of contention.

David Coleman:

My only addition to this is to provide a look at the history of losing Mark Appel.

The Astros have drafted No. 1 overall five times now. They have now traded away three of the four picks they actually signed.

The first trade happened when Houston sent Floyd Bannister to Seattle for Craig Reynolds. That one worked out pretty well. 

The second trade happened when the Astros sent Phil Nevin to the Tigers for Mike Henneman. That one didn't work out as well.

The third is this trade, as Mark Appel is packaged in a deal for high velocity reliever Ken Giles. 

Reynolds played 11 years in Houston and totaled 10 bWAR. He's one of the five best shortstops the franchise ever had. 

Henneman pitched 21 games in Houston with a 3.00 ERA and totaled 0.5 bWAR before he was granted free agency and signed with the Rangers (traitor).

I think it's safe to say the Appel trade will go safely in the middle of those two. Giles has a chance to make an impact similar to Reynolds, staying in Houston for a long while and becoming a cornerstone of playoff teams. Even if he doesn't, it shouldn't be hard for him to top Henneman's contributions over the next five years. 

If Appel were picked third, as Danny Hultzen was by the Mariners, and performed the way he has, his inclusion in this deal wouldn't be nearly as remarkable. There is a good chance he never fulfills the potential that made him the first overall pick in the draft, though I hope he does pitch in the majors someday. It seems Appel is a very nice human and I don't wish ill on him. He just isn't as good at throwing baseballs as we may have hoped.

[ed note: that's your ONLY addition, David?]

Irish Pete:

This is a good trade for both teams. The return that the Phillies received seems like it would be quite similar to a return Luhnow would have gotten a few years ago. A former first rounder that has had mixed results and had fallen out of favor; a highly rated near MLB prospect with an injury history; a back of the rotation starter that has no spot and had angered the front office and/or management; and a lower level wild card. 

Relievers are volatile, but you reduce the chances of the volatility affecting the Astros over the long run since he is under control until 2021. The only thing I don't like about this trade is that it didn't happen in July of this past season. Giles would have increased the probability of this year's team making a deeper run than it did. Looking at win probability added, shutdowns, and meltdowns, Giles should be an instant impact in the bullpen.

rp chart 2015-12-16

This trade costs, but it's fair. Both teams are going to benefit. At least when or if Appel or Velasquez is in their rotation, Giles will still likely be closing down the 9th in big games for the Astros.

Dave S:

I just pulled off a Giles trade for Carter, Villar, and Qualls in my MLB '15 the Show franchise. Luhnow got fleeced.



This was the beginning of my reaction to the initial trade that we thought went down.  Luckily for me (and using the magic of copy and paste), I feel the exact same way:

This trade will be determined by Ken Giles' future performance.  If he continues to pitch like he has during the first 115 innings of his MLB career, then this trade is a great deal for the Astros, almost regardless of the how the players that we gave up do.  However, if he falters a little bit, and ends up pitching more like Kyle Farnsworth (who had a good-but-not-great career), then this trade probably does hurt for the Astros.  The good news is that I am sure that the front office has a much more advanced and accurate system in place that helps determine player projections and future performance.  There are no guarantees in sports, but I think they can at least mitigate the risk to the point where the Astros are comfortable with the cost/benefit analysis.  I am at least optimistic that Giles' can continue his dominance out of the bullpen, even if it really isn't based on anything (what can I say, I am an optimist at heart).

Every trade is a calculated risk.  We traded from an area of depth, which helps mitigate the risk, for what is hopefully several years of an elite arm in the bullpen.  This is a calculated risk that I am glad the front office took.


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