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20 Things: The Ken Giles conundrum

Welcome to Blue Jays Nation’s Season In Review. Instead of doing boring-ass, standard player-by-player reviews or handing out some arbitrary report cards, I’m going to talk about 20 things that are on my mind heading into 2020. Today, we have whether or not to trade Ken Giles. 

We all expected a blow-up at the 2019 trade deadline. Whether we wanted it or not, we all knew deep down that it was coming.

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The Blue Jays had three veteran pitchers with two years of control left who seemingly didn’t align with the team’s future contention window. There were two key pieces of the 2015 and 2016 playoff runs, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and a reclamation project from the Roberto Osuna trade, Ken Giles.

The trade deadline came and went and Stroman, who was enjoying a bounce-back season, was dealt to the New York Mets for a couple of pitching prospects, and Sanchez, who has statistically one of the worst starters in baseball was sent to the Houston Astros for reclamation project Derek Fisher. Giles was the only one who remained a Blue Jay after the deadline.

Make no mistake, the Blue Jays certainly wanted to trade Giles. Since getting a new opportunity in Toronto, Giles has returned to his previous status as one of the best closers in baseball. He’s back to pitching as he did in Philadelphia when he was good enough for the Astros to send a massive package of prospects that included former No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel to acquire him.

The plan was to cash in on Giles at the deadline, but, thanks to a mysterious, nagging arm issue, that didn’t happen. Now the Jays have a conundrum on their hands. Do they stick with the original plan of trading Giles? If so, when do they do it? Now? At the trade 2020 deadline? Do they even do it? Would keeping him around help the team take the next step forward?

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The off-season trade route is probably the easiest path for the Blue Jays. Giles finished the season on a positive note, posting a 2.50 ERA over 188 post-deadline appearances while striking out 25 batters and walking six. That said, you generally don’t get the biggest return for a player in the off-season. The biggest returns come when teams are desperate at the trade deadline.

For example, consider the two times Aroldis Chapman was traded in 2016. The Yankees acquired Chapman from the Reds in the winter following their wild-card game loss in 2015. They sent a package of players you’ve never heard of (Eric Jagielo, Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, and Tony Renda) for Chapman. They would eventually flip Chapman at the deadline to the Cubs, who desperately needed an elite closer to help them win a World Series for the first time in over 100 years. Chicago would send the Yankees Billy McKinney, Adam Warren, and, most importantly, Gleyber Torres. Chapman, right after winning the World Series, would end up signing in New York as a free agent.

I should note, this isn’t a perfect comparison for this situation given that Chapman was arrested for domestic violence in October of 2015. Much like the Blue Jays with the Osuna situation, the Reds felt pressure to trade Chapman, which effected their leverage in this situation. Ultimately, I’m trying to demonstrate that players, especially relief pitchers, see their trade value rise at the deadline when teams are more desperate to address their bullpen.

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Brian Cashman took a gamble here and it paid off. Chapman could have gotten injured during the regular season, diminishing his value in a mid-season trade. He could have simply just had a bad season in New York as he transitioned from the National League to the American League. That didn’t happen and the bet worked out for the Yankees. He pitched well, they found a team desperate for a closer, and now they’re reaping the benefits.

Can the Jays afford to take that risk with Giles? You don’t have to look very far in order to find a similar situation that completely backfired for this front office. Rather than trading Josh Donaldson after a huge finish to the 2017 season, the Jays hung on and ended up getting virtually nothing for him as his 2018 season was derailed due to injury.

The hanging on route also opens up another possible situation for the Blue Jays. What happens if the team plays well and Giles is a big part of it? If the Jays hit the ground running with Bo, Vlad, Gurriel, and Biggio playing well and are somewhat in the mix of the wild card come July, how do you rationalize trading Giles? It would be an awful look not just for the fans, but for the players on the team who want to win.

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There’s also the possibility of an extension this winter. We don’t need to spend much time on this because it isn’t going to happen. Relievers are extremely volatile and many mega contracts to closers like Mark Melancon in San Fransisco and Wade Davis in Colorado have blown up in the team’s faces. Knowing how conservative this front office is, signing a closer to an extension after a good season just isn’t going to happen.

With all that in mind, I figure the best course of action for the Blue Jays is to head into the 2020 season with Giles as their closer.

First and foremost, they’re a better team with an elite, lock-down guy like Giles than they are without him. He’s shown to be a good leader in the past and a team with a wealth of young arms needs exactly that. The last thing a young team needs is a shaky bullpen that constantly blows leads in the ninth inning. I know pitcher wins don’t matter in baseball analysis, but they matter to the pitchers themselves. Young guys we’ll see pitching next season like Ryan Borucki, Trent Thornton, T.J. Zeuch, Anthony Kay, and Nate Pearson don’t need to constantly lose their wins due to the lack of a closer.

The problem of the team being good and the ugly optics of trading him is a good problem to have. I doubt the Jays are in playoff contention next year, but, if they are, it’s an ideal problem. If the team isn’t good and Giles does pitch well, you have possibly the best-case-scenario, which is getting a haul for him at the deadline. Then, finally, you have the worst-case-scenario, which is holding on to Giles and him getting injured or struggling, like the Donaldson situation. That would suck, but it’s a risk worth taking. At the very least, unlike Donaldson, the team could likely bring Giles back on a cheap, show-me deal after a down season.

There’s a major risk with keeping Giles into 2020 but the potential payoff makes it worthwhile. Giles is a good veteran to have around. He can help the team get better right now. He could also most certainly net a massive return at the trade deadline if he pitches well. I’d be willing to take that risk given what would likely be an underwhelming return in a trade over the off-season.