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Selling high on Giles, Phillies to build with depth

PHOTO: (AP/Chris Szagola)

PHOTO: (AP/Chris Szagola)

Though the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings started slow for the Phillies, business picked up as the week progressed in Nashville. Here’s what General Manager Matt Klentak did:

I’ll break up my breakdown into two parts; first, Hernandez and the Giles trade.


Hernandez is a good signing. Coming back from 2014 Tommy John surgery, Hernandez put up a 4.28 ERA (33K, 11BB) in 33 innings last season. He’s a candidate to improve on those numbers in 2016. If he does, he’s a trade chip. At the very least, he’s solid depth, a late-game reliever to start, and a usable replacement for Giles.

Most importantly, he’s on a one-year contract. That’s great.

Meanwhile Klentak jettisoned the team’s most valuable trade chip, a 25-year-old reliever who over two seasons and 115 major league innings proved to be outrageously proficient at getting outs, primarily strikeouts (151 of 464 batters faced). He only walked 36. He surrendered 84 hits, just 20 of them extra-base knocks. However you slice it, Ken Giles was a great reliever for the Phillies.

To play devil’s advocate, Giles showed slightly diminished fastball velocity with more work in 2015 (fastball averaged 97.2 in 2014, 96.5 in 2015), as did his slider (86.7 in 2014, 86 in 2015). His strikeout ratios dipped slightly, too, and on all pitches. He seemed to peak in July, starting slow and ending strong, but not as strong as midseason.

Now, that said, Giles’ 2015 drop basically took him from elite to just-about-elite. His work is still outstanding – a flame-throwing reliever who regularly hits 96-97 with the fastball and slings a slider that’s nearly as effective as Brad Lidge’s.

But Giles’ 70 innings would be wasted on a team like the Phillies, who may lose 90 games in 2016, and another 85 in 2017. The Phillies don’t need a high-leverage, high-reward major league reliever right now in the majors. And considering the recent trade for Craig Kimbrel, and solid-market signings for Darren O’Day (4yrs/$31M), Mark Lowe (2yrs/$11M) and Ryan Madson (3yrs/$22M), the time was ripe to sell high on Giles.

Klentak did well. A Giles trade had to bring back either an everyday player or a solid top- to middle-rotation arm. Enter Velasquez, a top-100 prospect who put up a 1.91 ERA, struck out 45 and walked 13 in 33 innings for AA Corpus Christi last season. Velasquez looks like a No. 3 starter, very similar to Jake Thompson, who the Phillies nabbed in the Cole Hamels trade. There’s room to be a No. 2 there, but also room to be a back-end starter. Velasquez pitched 55 innings in Houston last season, and fared marginally at best, so it’s likely he starts 2016 in Lehigh Valley before a sure callup, if healthy.

But Velasquez isn’t all. Oberholtzer can slot into the rotation on opening day, but hopefully will have to battle with Adam Morgan, Alec Asher, David Buchanan, Severino Gonzalez and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez for at least one rotation spot. The 26-year-old is a warm arm without heavy strikeout stuff. Like Buchanan, he can fill a hole.

Esehelman, 21, is a second-round pick in the 2015 draft. He threw just 10 innings between the Gulf Coast League and A ball, putting up a 4.35 ERA with eight strikeouts and five walks. Short-sample numbers aside, Eshelman is said to have pinpoint control. He could quickly move through the system, maybe even starting 2016 in Clearwater. He was a top-15 Astros prospect.

Fisher, the No. 7 Astros prospect, is the key to this trade. Without him the Phillies made a good trade. With him it’s an outstanding deal. Fisher has consistently hit for average with emerging power through four levels in two seasons (2015: .275/.364/.483, 22 HR, 51 XBH, 569 PA). A corner outfielder with good speed (31 steals in 2015), he still needs to develop the bat further, but he’s on his way. Fisher joins a crowded group of outfielders in the Phillies’ pipeline.

In just two years, the Phillies have turned a woeful farm system with paltry prospect options into an amazing wealth of talent. There’s tons of starting pitching depth, high-reward relievers sprinkled throughout, a flood of talented outfielders, great high-level catching prospects, and emerging, surprising infielders in the middle levels.

People may have wanted an ace pitcher. People may have wanted a Jason Heyward (there’s still hope). These things are hard to develop and acquire (Giles probably wouldn’t have brought back a potential ace). But what the Phillies have done is collect plenty of assets. They’ll play a ton of them. Others, they’ll probably deal at some point. And when these young players start playing well in the majors, the Phillies will look to acquire that ace pitcher and that big bat. Because they have the money.

This isn’t the 76ers, who are attempting to develop a dynasty by breaking from the expected method of franchise building. The Phillies have stocked up with loads of young talent; now, the goal is to develop that talent into major league value.

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