BOCA RATON, Fla. - You'll never guess it, but dozens of major league general managers who just watched the Kansas City Royals win a championship with a deadly bullpen have interest in a reliever who can touch 100 mph on the radar gun and isn't eligible to become a free agent until the winter of 2020-21.
On his second day at baseball's General Manager Meetings at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, Phillies GM Matt Klentak confirmed there was interest in Ken Giles among teams looking to upgrade their relief corps through trades. Klentak's confirmation came on the same day a cbssports.com report said Giles was "said to be available" in a trade.
So this means Giles is absolutely getting traded this winter, in the latest effort by the Phillies to restock during their rebuild program, right? Not so fast - although the first-year GM isn't ruling anything out, either.
"It's not a goal. We're trying as much as possible to collect as many good young controllable quality players as we can," Klentak said. "But as I said last week and probably the week before that, we're trying to be opportunistic at every turn and trying not to operate in absolutes. I think Ken is terrific. He's great in his role. We want to hold the leads we can hold, but I don't want to categorically say we will or we won't do anything."
Many people in baseball think it's borderline useless to have a shutdown closer if you're a team that's not expected to win very often. See: Papelbon, Jonathan. Although, in his case, the amount of (wasted?) money he was being paid was a factor.
Klentak's opinion on closers on noncontending teams?
"I think we do need to be conscious, regardless of how many games we win next year, of making sure from a morale perspective we are winning the games that we are in a position to win and I think having a good bullpen in general is critical to that," Klentak said. "And I will also say, when you ask is it a luxury, I think it's a little different when you're talking about a guy with one year of service time. If you were talking about a pending free agent then, yeah, that might be a slightly different situation. But Ken Giles, if he's here, can very easily be a part of our future, so I think we have to account for that in our thinking."
Giles, 25, went 15-for-17 in save attempts after taking over the closer's role from Papelbon in late July. Giles has a 1.56 ERA in 113 major league games and has struck out 151 batters in 115 2/3 innings.
Giles, who earned $519,000 in 2015, isn't eligible for arbitration until after the 2017 season.
"There are a number of players on our roster that teams like," Klentak said. "It doesn't mean we're going to trade them."
Last week, Baseball America unveiled its Top 10 prospect lists for each organization, and two catchers appeared in the top half of the Phillies list. Andrew Knapp was listed at fourth and Jorge Alfaro was fifth.
Both played at Double A last season and could project to be on the big-league roster before 2017. So has there been chatter about one of them switching positions?
"We still view both of those guys as catchers," Klentak said.
But Klentak left at least a little room for the possibility that could change. Knapp has played some first base in the Arizona Fall League in the last month.
"I want to try to think as open-mindfully and creatively as I can," Klentak said. "We don't necessarily have to have the starting player-backup player (setup). Maybe there's a more creative solution to that long-term. Look, I hope both these guys are so good this becomes an issue."
Alfaro, 22, was limited last season after suffering an ankle injury in early June. He came over from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade and is the better defender of the two catching prospects.
But he's also said to be athletic enough to be able to play in the outfield if needed. One of Alfaro's strongest tools is his throwing arm.
Knapp, 24, was the team's second-round pick in 2013. A switch-hitter, Knapp won the Paul Owens Award as the organization's top minor league player after hitting .308 with 13 home runs and an .876 OPS in 118 games between Double A Reading and Class A Clearwater last season.
Knapp's progress behind the plate was stunted after he underwent Tommy John surgery in late 2013.
As the free-agency season begins, Klentak reiterated that pitching remains the team's primary focus. "I think the biggest thing is we need to add innings to our rotation to help protect out kids," he said. "That's going to be important. The Phillies could sign as many as two starters with only Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Adam Morgan as strong bets to return to the rotation. They are also likely to seek veteran bullpen help, to ease the burden on the young staff's workload, too . . . Outfielder Kelly Dugan has elected free agency. Dugan, the Phillies' top pick (75th overall, second round in 2009), was removed from the 40-man roster last month. Dugan, 25, was oft-injured, including during his first big-league camp this spring, when he missed the duration with a stress fracture in his right foot . . . Lefthanded reliever Mario Hollands could be ready by Opening Day, Klentak said Tuesday. Hollands underwent Tommy John surgery in April.