May 04, 2016
In November 2007, the Phillies were the ones trading for a closer from the Houston Astros.
If you recall, that one ended up as a win-win. The Phillies, of course, rode Brad Lidge’s perfect 2008 season to a World F@#^#^& Championship. In terms of the trade, anything positive after that (not as much, Lidge’s 2009 season was a disaster) was gravy. In return, the Astros acquired speedy leadoff man Michael Bourn, who posted a couple of 5-plus WAR seasons in 2009 and 2010. Great trade.
This past offseason, the roles were reversed. It was the Astros who hoped that the Phillies closer with the nasty slider would put them over the top. Houston was picked by Sports Illustrated to win the 2017 World Series.
So far, Houston hasn’t come close to living up to the preseason expectations. The ‘Stros currently sit in last place in the American League West at 9-18. Part of the reason for that is Giles hasn’t looked anything like the guy we saw in Philly (0-2, 7.94 ERA).
On the other end of the deal, the Phillies look like they made out like bandits. Everybody knows what Vince Velasquez has done, so no need to excite you with too many of those details. OK, here's one:
National League WHIP leaders— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) May 4, 2016
1. Clayton Kershaw, 0.72
2. Jake Arrieta, 0.78
3. Aaron Nola, 0.83
4. Vince Velasquez, 0.89
Mark Appel came over in that trade as well, and while the former No. 1 overall pick is still a work in progress and walking too many batters, he’s 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Lower in the system, Thomas Eshelman has a 2.35 ERA for High-A Clearwater. Here is what a baseball executive told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Chen:
“I get it—Houston thinks that he’s the guy they need to push them over the edge to get to the World Series. To get that guy, they had to overpay. But at the time, they still just seemed to give up a lot—too much, maybe.”
Houston’s starting rotation ranks 26th in the majors with a 5.13 ERA, which is to say that they could probably use Velasquez. Scouts in the SI piece talked about the 23-year-old starter’s injury history (Tommy John surgery in 2011), but his upside is greater than that of Giles for one simple reason: He throws more innings. From a scout:
“But at the end of the day, [Giles] is still a 70-inning guy. And even if those are great 70 innings, if you look at the price for starting pitchers these days—Mike Leake getting $80 million, Jeff Samardzija getting $90 million—you wonder about giving up a guy like Velasquez, especially for a team that has some real issues in their rotation. Velasquez has top-shelf stuff. To me, he is a No. 2 starter, maybe better. And that is incredibly valuable in this market. And he’s 23.”
Those are the risks you take when trading a starting pitcher for a closer. Giles has the stuff and the Astros have the talent to bounce back in a big way, but the early returns from the trade are promising for the Phillies.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann