IT MIGHT feel strange to feel OK about saying goodbye to a guy like Ken Giles, but the Phillies' apparent decision to trade away their fireballing closer is a promising sign that Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail are setting a solid course for the franchise.
Counterintuitive? Sure. Giles is everything the Phillies weren't when their fall from grace began: young, cheap and talented. But he is also a relief pitcher, and, besides the health risks commonly associated with the position, the role itself is drastically less important and easier to fill (or at least fake) than a regular position player or a starting pitcher.
The Phillies are hoping that they landed at least one of the latter in a deal with the Astros that, according to CSNPhilly.com, has been finalized pending physicals. The centerpiece of the trade is righty Vincent Velasquez, who spent the last four months of last season in the majors, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen. A second-round pick out of high school in 2010, he had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and logged only 63 2/3 innings in 2014 as he battled some non-elbow injuries. Regardless of the health concerns, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and MLB.com all rated him among their Top 100 prospects before the 2015 season. He began his big-league career as a rotation fill-in last June. In seven starts, he struck out 38 and walked 14 in 38 innings, allowing 17 earned runs and three home runs for a 4.03 ERA. He spent the final two months of the season in the bullpen, where he posted a 5.09 ERA in 17 2/3 innings over 12 outings.
Velasquez features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a changeup that is well-regarded by scouts. Most projections have him as a potential No. 3 starter. The Phillies need as many of those arms as they can get. They already have one in Aaron Nola and a potential one in Jake Thompson, whom they acquired from the Rangers last season in the Cole Hamels deal. Behind that trio they have plenty of depth, including Double A righty Zach Eflin and newly acquired lefty Brett Oberholtzer, who has started 32 games over the last two seasons for the Astros (but who lacks the strikeout stuff to be considered as anything more than a No. 5 in a playoff rotation).
This is how you build a franchise. You maximize the value of your assets. That Giles would have been dominant and healthy when the Phillies were ready to contend was far from a guarantee, given the track record of the position in both of those departments. Rosters are not built in a vacuum in which players can be retained - or signed to crippling contract extensions - just because they are good and we like them. Put it this way: If both players reach their ceilings, Velasquez will be far more valuable than Giles. Given the Phillies' rebuilding status, the deal was a no-brainer.
Elsewhere . . .
1) The real issue isn't the circumstances surrounding DeMarco Murray's conversation with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, it's that the conversation was leaked to a reporter (in this case, ESPN's Ed Werder).
Maybe the leak came from somewhere other than Murray's camp, but considering that Werder is based out of Dallas and Chip Kelly and Pat Shurmur both seemed perturbed to have to deal with the publicity surrounding the situation, it certainly creates the impression that it came from the player or, I don't know, an agent hoping to grease the skids for an offseason exit from the team. Think about how that must play in a locker room where everybody else spent the plane ride home enjoying the new life that their upset victory over the Patriots gave them.
The Eagles can't cut Murray next year. It would cost them $13 million in cap space vs. the $7 million it would cost to keep him. Perhaps another team is desperate enough for a running back that it would take on Murray's $7 million salary for a conditional draft pick. But there does not appear to be an easy way out of this situation. Operating through the media will only make it worse.
2) I suspect people might be allowing their distaste for all things Hinkie to obscure the fact that the 76ers' president/general manager wasn't the member of the former troika who was absent from the head table at the news conference introducing Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations/special adviser. From this writer's vantage point, it seems more logical that Colangelo was brought in to replace CEO Scott O'Neil as the man responsible for selling the public on Hinkie's vision. No doubt, Colangelo will vie for Josh Harris' ear, and it makes all the sense in the world for the Sixers owner to have an experienced member of the basketball establishment to diversify the voices in the front office. But his real value might be the sense of legitmacy he creates for any move the Sixers make moving forward.
I'm not suggesting this is a pure public relations role, but I am suggesting that it is not standard operating procedure for an owner to invite a guy to a news conference and then cut off his legs (see Roseman, Howie). People might want Hinkie gone, but we might eventually realize that the greatest trick he ever pulled - or that his owner pulled - was convincing the world he no longer exists.
3) Let's hope Mayor-elect Jim Kenney doesn't soften his stance on Temple's ridiculous hope to build an on-campus football stadium. The notion that any amount of money - state, city, federal student loan dollars - might be spent on a deluded attempt to turn the Owls' football program into something that it has never been is simultaneously laughable and infuriating.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy