Blue Jays: What Will Smith’s Braves Deal Says About Ken Giles’ value

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 01: Pitcher Ken Giles #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on June 01, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 01: Pitcher Ken Giles #51 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on June 01, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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Closer Will Smith rejected San Francisco’s qualifying offer and has signed with the Braves for 3 years / $40 million. What does this tell us about Jays’ Closer Ken Giles market value?

Lefty closer Will Smith rejected the Giants’ qualifying offer and left the free agent market even before the 5 p.m. ET deadline to accept the QO, signing a 3 year/$40 million deal with the Braves. Three years are guaranteed at $39 million, with a $13 million club option for 2023 that includes a $1 million buyout according to Ken Rosenthal, bringing the total value to $40 million at a $13.333 million AAV.

Given that closer Aroldis Chapman already re-upped with the Yankees, opting-in to the remaining two years of his contract and adding a third year at a $16 million AAV over the next three seasons, no premium closers remain as free agents. 34-year Steve Cishek had 39 saves in 2014 and 25 saves in 2016, but only seven last year for the Cubs. 29-year old Arodys Vizcaino has 50 career saves, but only one for the Braves in 2019. Soon to be 32-year old Dellin Betances has 36 career saves, but none in 2019 when he finished the season on the 60-day IL. Daniel Hudson, who will be 33-years old on Opening Day next spring, totalled eight saves between Toronto and Washington this year in the regular season, plus four saves in the Nats World Series run, but has only 17 saves over a ten-year career.

As a revenue-sharing recipient, the Braves will forfeit their 3rd-highest pick (currently a 3rd round selection) in the 2020 draft as compensation for signing Smith, but it could become their own compensation pick (between Comp Balance Round B and the 3rd round) if Josh Donaldson signs with another team after rejecting the Braves’ qualifying offer.

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What does this say about Ken Giles’ market value?

This helps set the market value for Blue Jays Closer Ken Giles around a similar $13 million AAV as he enters the final year of his contract. MLBTR projects he’ll win $8.4 million in arbitration for 2020, but he’s clearly worth more than that.

While his inconsistency with off years in 2016 and 2018 – plus injury issues – suggest Giles doesn’t deserve the 3 year/$16 million AAV paid to Chapman – who has been a consistent closer for the past eight seasons, or the 5 year/$80 million contract the Dodgers gave to their long-time closer Kenley Jansen in 2017, Giles has clearly said that he remains open to a contract extension with the Jays.

Another recent comparable is the 3 year/$43 million contract 31-year old closer Craig Kimbrel signed with the Cubs in June, including $10 million in 2019, and $16 million in both 2020 & 2021.

Giles’ stats are relatively comparable to the 30-year old Will Smith, who only became a full-time closer in 2019 after establishing himself as a set-up man with the Brewers & Giants, and missing all of 2017 after Tommy John surgery. This year, 30-year old Smith posted a 2.2 bWAR and:

  • 2.76 ERA, 4.57 K/BB rate, and 13.2 K/9 (career best) with 34 saves over 65 1/3 innings
  • limited left-handed hitters to a .157 (11/70) average with only two extra-base hits; and,
  • has 49 career saves and a 2.95 ERA over 317 innings pitched as a reliever in 342 games

In 2019, 29-year old Giles posted a 2.4 bWAR and:

  • 1.87 ERA, 4.88 K/BB rate, and 14.1 K/9 (career best) with 23 saves over 53 innings
  • limited all hitters to a .188 (36/191) average with only 5 home runs allowed; and,
  • has 114 and a 2.67 ERA over 347 1/3 innings pitched, all in relief over 353 games

While Smith was one of the top closers last season, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets that the Braves are still thinking about using Mark Melancon as their primary closer in 2020. Ironically, Smith’s break-out came as a result of Melancon’s injuries when they were Giants teammates.

Giles Extension Talks?

According to Giles himself on contract extension talks between Ross Atkins and his agent to this point, “we have not” had talks. “I’m pretty sure if that comes about, I’m more than willing to listen. If it’s not, it is what it is. I know the direction this organization is going and I’m not going to push something that’s not necessary.”

On rumours that he was being shopped to teams including the Yankees at the July trade deadline, Giles said, “Not that I didn’t want to be traded or go to a contender, but once you feel comfortable somewhere, you really don’t want to go anywhere. For one, [Toronto] makes my family happy and when my family’s happy, I’m happy. Winning is always a great thing in life, but it’s not always everything. I want to enjoy myself.”

As per Shi Davidi,

"“Since coming over as part of the return from the Houston Astros for Roberto Osuna, Giles has made clear to everyone how much he’s liked Toronto. He’s formed a tight bond with pitching coach Pete Walker. He’s been able to rebound on the field after some well-documented struggles in Houston. It’s worked out so well for him that he hoped to not be traded before this year’s deadline.”"

After the GM meetings this week, Davidi says the Jays front office has been gauging interest in Giles from potential trade partners. But so far, that interest seems to be lukewarm.

Extending Giles for two to three years beyond 2020, when he’s projected to earn $8.4 million in his final year of arbitration, makes sense for the Jays if they really do hope to open their competitive window from 2021 on. In addition to sending a clear message to potential free agent starting pitchers that the Jays are willing to extend their elite closer in his prime, it also would send a clear message to the current young Jays core given the leadership qualities Giles showed this past year, helping run post-game celebrations with Luke Maile and awarding championship belts to a player of the game after wins.

Options

The other options beside a contract extension are to:

  • trade Giles this offseason if the Jays receive an overwhelming offer of two to three prospects which was the rumoured Yankees offer at the July 2019 TDL. The Nationals, Dodgers, Mets, Giants, Rays, Diamondbacks, Pirates and Rangers are all likely looking to upgrade at closer or at the back of their bullpen.
  • trade Giles at the July trade deadline when teams hoping to make a deep 2020 playoff run may be more willing to give up talent to acquire an elite closer, or
  • make a more expensive qualifying offer to Giles after the 2020 season, which would only bring back draft pick compensation and potential international bonus pool money if he rejects the offer and signs elsewhere.

Given the expected free agent bonanza this offseason, that QO next year could actually approach $20 million given the QO dollar amount is derived by taking the average of the top 125 player salaries, which will clearly include higher numbers in 2020 for Cole, Strasburg, Wheeler, Rendon, Donaldson, Bumgarner, Ryu, Castellanos, Ozuna, Grandal and others.

Dodgers?

The Dodgers are rumoured to be looking for a closer. Kenley Jansen struggled in the playoffs, and his status as the team’s closer is apparently up in the air after Dodgers President Andrew Friedman said, “I’m not sure,” when asked if Jansen will be the 2020 closer at his end of year press conference.

They have a stacked farm system that was ranked #3 by MLB Pipeline in their 2019 midseason update, with SS Gavin Lux (#10), starter Dustin May (#35), catcher Keibert Ruiz (#36) and catcher Will Smith (#58) all in MLB’s top 100.

To add fuel to this, the Pittsburgh Pirates reportedly coveted Dodgers catching prospect Keibert Ruiz as the centerpiece in a potential trade involving their closer Felipe Vazquez, who is facing sexual assault and immigration related issues and may never pitch in MLB again.

Could Toronto get Dustin May and Keibert Ruiz in a package headlined by Giles?

Drew Pomeranz?

Shapiro drafted LHP Drew Pomeranz in Cleveland in 2010. When the Brewers used him in relief after picking him up at the July TDL, he had 50 Ks in 28 2/3 innings with a 1.67 xFIP, 1.86 SIERA in relief. FanGraphs estimates we could sign the 31-year old for 2 years/$16mn; MLBTR says even three years are possible because, “from August 2nd onward, Pomeranz was an utterly dominant reliever for Milwaukee. His fastball velocity ticked up to 95-96 miles per hour as Pomeranz struck out nearly half of batters faced, more than Josh Hader during that time.”

Conclusion

The Will Smith signing means there are no other premium free agent closers available in free agency. And likely sets the market for a Giles’ extension at $13mn AAV on a three-year deal.

If the Jays are serious about opening their competitive window from 2021, an argument can be made that now is the time to invest in your premium talent in their prime. Jays CEO Mark Shapiro has said as much, that to make the playoffs you need a balance of young, controllable talent, players in their prime looking to get paid, and veteran talent that has already been paid and just wants to win.

Closer Ken Giles is clearly an elite talent in his prime looking to get paid. According to MLB’s Baseball Savant, Giles is above average on all metrics. Based on FanGraph’s advanced metrics, Giles is among the top ten closers in MLB (xFIP 2.73, SIERA 2.49. He’s comparable to Chapman, he’s better than Roberto Osuna, the closer Atkins traded for him, and he’s clearly better than Will Smith, who Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos and his front office just said was worth a three-year contract and $40 million. Extending Giles for three years at a $13 million AAV makes sense!

dark. Next. Two chess moves down, Jays may have to act quickly

Now if we could only also sign lefty Drew Pomeranz to a three-year/$24mn deal, and we’d have a lockdown bullpen for three years which would help us to attract one or two of the premium FA starters left after Odorizzi accepted his QO.

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