One of the more challenging decisions Ross Atkins will have to make this winter is what to do with Ken Giles. The team tried to trade their ace closer at the trade deadline, but, thanks to a nagging injury, nothing worthwhile transpired. Now, just one year from free agency, the Jays will have to find a deal over the off-season or take the gamble again at next year’s trade deadline.
Trading Giles now is the lower-risk, likely lower-reward thing to do. Normally, relievers end up commanding larger returns at the trade deadline because bullpens are so notoriously enigmatic. Teams will often begin the season by throwing darts blindly at a board to see what works and then the contenders will pick up a hot hand mid-season.
Think back to the 2015 and 2016 Blue Jays. In 2015, the team rolled into the season with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ as their bullpen and ended up going into the playoffs with… Roberto Osuna, a rookie as their closer, Aaron Sanchez, a starter who transitioned back to the ‘pen mid-season as their eighth-inning guy, Liam Hendriks, a failed depth starter, Mark Lowe, a guy acquired at the trade deadline who pitched seven innings the year before, and LaTroy Hawkins, another veteran acquired at the deadline. Brett Cecil was really the only long-term bullpen guy who started and finished the season in the role you’d have expected. It was more of the same in 2016, as the Jays put together a ‘pen around Osuna and Cecil by finding Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit floating around. The point is, it’s pretty hard to predict next September’s bullpen in December.
But this winter might present a different case. The market for relievers is looking very thin this winter and Giles, who’s closer to a sure thing than most names out there, might be the right choice for a team looking to get out in front of trade deadline madness.
Aroldis Chapman could have been the marquee name on the free-agent market, but he and the Yankees worked out a deal that’ll keep him in New York for three more years. Kenley Jansen, unsurprisingly, took the player option on his deal, keeping him in L.A. for another couple of years. So here’s what this off-season free agent reliever market looks like…
With Aroldis Chapman staying in New York, the already-thin relief market this winter gets even more shallow. The top relievers now:
– Will Smith
– Will Harris
– Daniel Hudson
– Dellin Betances
– Drew Pomeranz
– Chris Martin
– Joe Smith
– Steve Cishek
– Brandon Kintzler
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 3, 2019
Will Smith and Will Harris have both been good for a while and will command pretty big contracts. Then it starts to get shaky. Daniel Hudson, who, despite having a good year and playoff run, barely managed to find a job last year. Dellin Betances has major upside but has pitched two-thirds of an inning last year. Pomeranz, Martin, Smith, Cishek, and Kintzler aren’t names you really want in lock-down late-inning roles.
So, with all that in mind, Giles could probably net a pretty good return right now. But do the Jays really need to trade him? I mean, they have an ace closer who’s expressed an interest in sticking around with the organization long-term. If the Jays go into the 2020 season with Giles as their closer, he could actually help the team be… you know, kind of good! Maybe! And if that doesn’t work, you can look for a deal at the deadline.
There’s no doubt that finding a trade for Giles this winter is the path of least resistance. The market for relievers is shallow and the team could likely get more for him this winter than usual. But still, the other path offers some worthwhile risks.