Phils get Appel for Giles in 7-player deal with Astros
Philadelphia also acquires promising righty Velasquez, three other arms
By Todd Zolecki
PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Klentak just made his first big trade as Phillies general manager.
He announced Saturday afternoon the Phillies dealt hard-throwing closer Ken Giles and Minor League infielder Jonathan Arauz to the Astros for five pitchers: right-handers Mark Appel, Vincent Velasquez, Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer.
"[Klentak] said it was really hard to let someone like me go," Giles said in a telephone interview with MLB.com. "He has to look out for what's best for the organization, and I understand that. He's looking out for me, as well. It's one of those things like, I wish the Phillies the best of luck. Sooner rather than later something special is going to happen in that organization."
The package headed to Philadelphia is different than the original one, which the Phillies and Astros agreed to Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Sources said the Phillies had an issue with one of the physicals. As a result, the teams spent the last couple days augmenting the deal. Outfielder Derek Fisher had been part of the original four-player return, but he is no longer headed to Philadelphia. Appel, Jonathan Arauz and Harold Arauz are additions.
Appel, 24, is the most notable addition. He is the No. 43 prospect in baseball and was the No. 2 prospect in Houston's system, according to MLBPipeline.com. The Pirates selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2012 Draft, but he returned to Stanford for his senior season and the Astros selected him first overall in 2013.
But Appel has a 5.12 ERA in 54 appearances (53 starts) in the Minor Leagues, including a 4.48 ERA in 12 starts last season with Triple-A Fresno. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s, hitting 98 mph. His changeup and slider are considered above-average secondary pitches.
That repertoire is why some still think Appel can be a front-line starter, despite the results.
"The more I look, the more I see pieces coming together for Philadelphia," Appel told MLB.com. "I think Philadelphia is in a place where maybe the Astros were a couple of years ago. We've seen what the Astros have done. I'm excited to be a part of that in Philadelphia, and I think my goal is to get that to happen as soon as possible."
Appel is the second No. 1 overall pick to be traded this week, after the D-backs sent Dansby Swanson to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal.
MLBPipeline.com ranked Velasquez, 23, as the No. 69 prospect in baseball and the No. 4 prospect in Houston's talented farm system in July. He went 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 appearances (seven starts) with the Astros last season. Velasquez has the talent to be a No. 3 starter or a dominant late-inning reliever, like Giles.
Oberholtzer, 26, went 2-2 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts in 2015. He is 11-20 with a 3.94 ERA in 45 appearances (42 starts) in his big league career.
Eshelman threw more strikes than any pitcher in the history of college baseball. He led NCAA Division I in walks per nine innings as a freshman (0.2), sophomore (0.6) and junior (0.5) at Cal State Fullerton, establishing new records for a single season and a career (0.4). He projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Harold Arauz, 20, is 11-8 with a 3.54 ERA in 53 appearances (34 starts) in the Minor Leagues.
The Phillies and Astros have been discussing a Giles trade for some time, but talks picked up this week and escalated Wednesday.
There are plenty of reasons the two teams struck a deal.
The Astros needed bullpen help, and Giles already can be considered one of the better closers in baseball, despite only handling the job for a couple months. He had a 1.80 ERA and 15 saves in 17 opportunities as the Phillies' closer last season. He will not become a free agent until after the 2020 season.
Flipping Giles, who might pitch 65 innings per season, for five pitchers who might pitch 180-200 innings in the future, made sense for the rebuilding Phillies. They are not expected to contend for the next couple of years, and closers are far less expensive than starters and much easier to replace. Consider J.A. Happ's three-year, $36 million contract and Jeff Samardzija's five-year, $90 million contract as evidence of the starting-pitching market for middle- to back-end starters.
In short, the Phillies believe there are plenty of ways to find a closer in the future once they are contenders again. But right now they're trying to build a rotation to put themselves in position to actually need a legitimate closer.
Houston certainly had young talent to offer Philadelphia. The Phillies were familiar with Houston's talent at the Major League and Minor League levels as a result of their work there last summer, when they agreed to a Cole Hamels trade. Hamels rejected it and went to Texas instead.
The trade gives the Phillies six prospects in MLBPipeline's Top 100: shortstop J.P. Crawford (fifth), Appel (43rd), right-hander Jake Thompson (51st), outfielder Nick Williams (55th), catcher Jorge Alfaro (59th) and outfielder Cornelius Randolph (85th). Velasquez ranked 69th in July before he joined the Astros.
The Phillies designated Dan Otero for assignment to make room for Velasquez and Oberholtzer on the 40-man roster. The Phillies claimed Otero off waivers from the Oakland A's on Nov. 3.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.