NASHVILLE - Pete Mackanin laughed on Tuesday afternoon when a reporter asked if Ken Giles had a firm grasp on the team's closing duties or if the Phillies would enter spring training with an open competition. Giles, the manager said, is certainly still the team's closer.
Mackanin liked what Giles had done last season. The fiery righthander excelled in the second half when the ninth-inning responsibilities were assigned to him. But, there's still a chance that the Phillies could enter spring training without Giles as their closer.
The team continues to field trade offers at the Winter Meetings for Giles, who became the best closer on the market after Cincinnati's deal to send Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers fell through on Monday night.
Cincinnati's trade, which was reported to have Los Angeles send two prospects in exchange for Chapman, was the first major move of the four-day event at the Opryland Resort. The deal hit a snag once it was reported that Chapman is being investigated for allegedly abusing his girlfriend. The Dodgers are out of the running for Chapman, which means there could be another team in the mix for Giles.
"I think there are a lot of factors in discussions we're having," general manager Matt Klentak said. "Some of them are related to free agency. Some of them are related to trades. I think most teams, ourselves included, have multiple balls we're juggling at one time. A player signing here, a player being dealt there can always impact things."
A deal may not happen before Klentak departs Nashville on Thursday morning. He is in no rush to part with Giles, who shows signs of being an elite-level closer. But, the market has a base. The Dodgers were willing to trade two prospects, which gives Klentak a starting point for any negotiations.
Chapman will reach free agency after the season. Giles will not hit the open market until 2021. There's a chance Klentak will be able to get a steep return. If he's unsatisfied, Klentak can wait until the trade deadline when a team that is chasing a playoff berth could be desperate for a closer. By then, the Phillies could have a minor-league arm - such as Jimmy Cordero - ready in waiting if Giles is dealt.
Klentak still expects to make a move before leaving Nashville on Thursday.
"I would say, if anything, we're probably getting closer to the free agent front than the trade front," Klentak said.
The free agent - which is not expected to be a big splash of signing - will likely be a veteran starting pitcher to help stabilize the team's rotation. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, and Jeremy Hellickson appear to be the only certainties in the five-man rotation. David Buchanan, Alec Asher, and Adam Morgan are still candidates to crack the rotation after spring training. Prospect Jake Thompson will likely be invited to spring training, but it would take a lot for the Phillies to rush him to the majors.
The Phillies could target righthander Doug Fister or lefthander Tim Lincecum, both of which could be willing to sign short-term deals. Righthanders Mat Latos and Yovani Gallardo would probably come at a higher cost.