Acquired LHP Justin Wilson from the Yankees in exchange for RHPs Luis Cessa and Chad Green. [12/9]
Wilson, 28, is still under team control through 2018 by way of arbitration, and should make around $1 million next season. He had a firm hold on the seventh inning by the end of 2015, and was able to retire both lefties and righties. In fact, he was actually more effective against right-handed batters (.216 BAA) than left-handed ones (.236).
In 61 innings, his K/BB was 3.30, his aforementioned PWARP was sixth among all Yankees pitchers and his VORP sat at a solid 15.8. He nearly touched eight strikeouts per nine innings, and was able to do what most can’t at Yankee Stadium, allowing an incredibly low .44 home runs per nine.
He’ll be a tremendous dollar-per-WARP value if he can come through like he did last season, and he’ll provide the Tigers a much-needed lefty reliever. He should slide in right behind their new closer, Francisco Rodriguez, as a primary set-up man along with other recent acquisition Mark Lowe. He could even one day be a candidate to close games, given the amount of control the Tigers will have over him. —Kenny Ducey
Acquired RHP Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Vincent Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, OF-L Derek Fisher and RHP Thomas Eshelman. [12/9]
For all the criticisms lobbed at Jeff Luhnow during his reign in Houston, one thing you have to credit him with is a willingness to trade prospects for veterans.
Of course categorizing Giles as a veteran is inviting an argument about semantics. He's five full seasons from free agency, and arrives in Houston with 115 career big-league innings; Velasquez, the top youngster heading the other way, has thrown 55 innings. But however you classify Giles—what about as special cloth?—you must label him a developmental miracle.
When Giles was rising through the minors, he was regarded as a max-effort, arm-strength reliever with horrible command. To wit, he walked more than five per nine in 2012 across the Sally and Florida State Leagues; nearly seven per nine during a repeat tour of the FSL in 2013; and more than four per nine in 28 innings across the upper-minors in 2014. Then he reached the majors, where he's since issued a free pass, oh, about once every three innings. Giles entered the season with Stephen Pryor as one of his top PECOTA comparisons; Pryor spent his age-25 season walking all of Triple-A. Giles spent his cementing his ascendance from Erik Cordier to Craig Kimbrel. That kind of rise seldom happens; don't think that it's somehow normal.
Likewise, don't think that Giles is somehow your normal closer. He's retained his elite arm strength, consistently sitting in the upper-90s and peaking near triple-digits. Along the way, he's developed a nasty slider with bite and depth that batters have whiffed on more than half the time they've offered at it, according to Brooks Baseball. You can list another dozen batty statistics to get the point across—he's recorded nearly twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed—but it all comes down to this: he's not some random saves accumulator; he's one of the best relievers in baseball.
The appeal to the Astros is obvious. Not just with Giles himself, but with how he fits into their already loaded bullpen. throw Giles into the late-inning mix with Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Pat Neshek, and Josh Fields, and you have the makings of the American League's best relief corps. Relievers are fickle, obviously, so one or two of those pitchers will probably suffer through an injury- or disappointment-filled year. Presuming Giles isn't the one (or one of the two), his presence should atone for any letdown, regardless of who closes, pitches the seventh or eighth, or handles the grunt work. That's a nice insurance policy, especially for a team that intends to compete in an improving division.
Still, you can never presume anything with relievers. You're going to see opposition to this trade—even among those who agree that the Astros are in an appropriate place to deal for a luxury like an elite closer—because good young relievers break all the time. Giles does have things working in his favor: his injury record includes no apparent arm troubles; he's relatively young (25); he can lose a full grade, maybe more, off his pitches and still profile as an effective reliever; and so on. And yet, there have to be Andrew Baileys and Joel Zumayas for us to appreciate the Kimbrels and Jonathan Papelbons.
So while Giles' years of control compel us to talk about this like it's a long-term arrangement, the reality is it might be a short one. The Astros just hope Giles is around long enough to lock down a World Series on their behalf, much like Wade Davis did for the Royals a few months ago. Should Giles do that, then, as with Davis, nobody will remember the concerns that came with this trade. —R.J. Anderson
By DRA, the 25-year-old flamethrower’s 2.44 mark ranked 12th out of 329 pitchers who accumulated 50 innings in 2015. In 113 career relief appearances, he owns a 1.56 ERA. Armed with a fastball that averages 97 mph and a slider that would make White Castle envious (48% whiff-per-swing rate in 2015), Giles was the senior circuit version of Wade Davis, the best reliever without a closing gig for the better part of two years. That finally changed once Jonathan Papelbon was mercifully exiled to the Potomac, where he proceeded to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, Giles converted 15 of 17 save opportunities over the final two months, establishing himself as one of the premier closers in fantasy baseball going forward.
Granted, the contextual factors (switching to the American League and a considerably less favorable home ballpark) impacting his future performance are both legitimate concerns, but they aren’t enough to incite panic. The more prominent concern at the moment is the lingering presence of a trio of veteran arms crowding the stable, most notably former closer Luke Gregerson, (3.06 DRA with 31 saves in 2015), along with dynamic setup specialists Pat Neshek and Will Harris. Barring a complete implosion, Giles should be firmly entrenched as Houston’s closer with a significant increase in save chances on the way. He should be one of the first five-to-10 closers off the board in 2016.
With Giles inheriting the closing role, the 31-year-old is no longer worthy of a roster spot in shallow mixed leagues, even for fantasy owners who relish speculating on potential closers. Gregerson is a great piece to own in AL-formats and holds leagues given the volume of quality innings, strikeouts and potential as a wins vulture in middle relief going forward. —George Bissell
Acquired RHPs Luis Cessa and Chad Green from the Tigers in exchange for LHP Justin Wilson. [12/9]
Down the stretch last season, injuries forced Adam Warren to the rotation, and the Yankees had issues trying to find someone reliable to pitch behind Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson. Now, Warren and Wilson are gone, and the Yankees must either sign a veteran reliever from a somewhat shallow free-agent pool just to pitch the seventh, or give more responsibilities to one of their younger arms. Chasen Shreve’s 2015 season is a prime example of the risk you take by going with the latter; he started off as a shutdown bullpen arm, hit a wall once the innings began to pile up, and eventually ended the season with just a 0.2 WARP.
Unless the Yankees add that veteran, though, they will indeed lean on Shreve like they did for the summer months last season, and upgrade prospect Jacob Lindgren’s role in the bullpen. Both are lefthanders, so as long as they come close to posting the 1.7 WARP Wilson did a season ago, it would essentially make sense. But, given Shreve’s struggles, and Lindgren’s age (he’ll turn 23 in March), that’s far from a given.
In return, the Yankees will get a pair of pitching prospects that could one day make their way into the rotation. If you look at it from a distance, they traded Francisco Cervelli, who was lost in a small crowd of young backup catchers in the Bronx, for a year of Wilson, then turned around and picked up two projects. Cessa is raw, but talented, and Green seems to be a perfect Larry Rothschild project, possessing a good fastball, but needing work on his secondary pitches. This move keeps with the theme of the Yankees’ on-the-fly rebuild. —Kenny Ducey
On their way from Detroit to the Bronx are two right-handers with MLB projections, albeit limited in ceiling. Luis Cessa, acquired from the Mets at the trade deadline in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, is a converted position player that had to be added to the 40-man roster at season’s end to avoid being eligible to the Rule 5 draft. Standing a nearly ideal 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Cessa pounds the strike zone with a sinking fastball that works around 92-94 mph. He delivers the ball from a very high-3/4 arm slot that allows him to generate substantial downward plane that pushes his fastball a half grade and makes it extremely difficult to lift. Cessa’s changeup is a quality second pitch thanks to delivering from the same arm slot and mirroring his fastball arm speed, though its effectiveness can be limited because the pitch features the same movement and angle as the fastball. Cessa will mix a slider that is currently below-average and has made little progress over the last two years. Thanks to his strike throwing ability with a quality fastball and changeup, Cessa profiles best in a relief role, where he could pitch effectively in the seventh inning and will likely settle in as a middle reliever as early as 2016.
A 2013 11th round pick out of Louisville, Green offers a more physical frame than Cessa; a frame that sports outstanding athleticism. Having moved quickly to Double-A in just his second full season of professional ball, Green consistently fires a a 92-94 mph sinking fastball and he will regularly reach back for 95-96 when he needs a little extra. In bursts, Green has reached as high as 97 mph and could get to that level more frequently if shifted to the bullpen full time. Both of Green’s secondary pitches, a slider and changeup, come up just short of average, though the slider shows some signs of playing better when thrown with more conviction in shorter stints. Green’s biggest drawback is an unrefined command profile that too frequently leaves his pitches in hittable locations. Similar to Cessa, Green has the potential to pitch effectively in a seventh inning role; though there are still scouts that believe he can start at the Major League level. —Mark Anderson
Acquired RHP Vincent Velasquez, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, OF-L Derek Fisher and RHP Thomas Eshelman from the Houston Astros in exchange for RHP Ken Giles. [12/9]
Signed RHP David Hernandez to a one-year deal worth an undisclosed amount. [12/9]
Matt Klentak continues to rebuild his bullpen with what might be his highest-upside addition yet. Hernandez used to be a quality setup man, back during the 2011-12 seasons. He's since sandwiched Tommy John surgery between disappointing efforts. Still, there were positive signs to be found last season in his return to the mound. Hernandez threw strikes, missed bats, and showed his old mid-90s velocity. He allowed too many home runs to be successful, but the Phillies are banking on him being less hittable the further he gets away from his operation. If they're right, Hernandez will likely find himself in a high-leverage role before long; if they're wrong, the stakes are too low to fret.
Oberholtzer isn't a prospect. He'll turn 27 in July and has more than 200 big-league innings to his name. What he is, then, is a fringy throw-in who could fill out the Phillies' rotation or bullpen. Originally sent to Houston in the Michael Bourn trade, Oberholtzer started 24 times in 2014 before falling down the depth chart. He spent most of last season in Triple-A, where he threw strikes and came after hitters with his good changeup and upper-80s fastball. Don't let his career 100 ERA+ deceive you: he profiles best as a swingman. That's fine, though, given he's the unimportant part of the return. —R.J. Anderson
Though not technically a prospect anymore, Velasquez may as well be counted among their ranks after a start-and-stop professional career that culminated in mixed-use duty at the major-league level last year. A former second-rounder, he’s been nothing if not unhealthy in his young career, which is a bummer because the stuff has long tantalized. A big, broad-shouldered moose of a man, he leverages his length well to generate extension and plane from a true three-quarters slot. He inverts his plant foot and comes with some crossfire, but a clean drive and reasonably athletic lower half allow him to get downhill and over his front side consistently.
Everything runs off a lively four-seam fastball that shows late hop and explosion in the mid-90s. He generates some natural tailing action with the pitch and enough giddyup to miss major-league bats in the zone. His best secondary pitch might just be a changeup, which he oddly shelved for the better part of his relief work in the majors this past summer. It’s a firm change in the high-80s, with two-seam-like heavy sink and lateral movement. He maintains arm speed exceptionally well with the pitch, making it a tough pitch to identify, and while it doesn’t generate a ton of swing-and-miss it does produce gobs of groundball contact when he keeps it down in the zone. He’ll throw both a curve and slider as well, with the latter pitch gradually taking more reps last season. The development of one or both of those benders into an average third pitch would go a long way toward keeping him on a starting track long term, but neither is quite there as yet.
At worst Velasquez marks a strong central piece as a potential high-leverage reliever in his own right, and the potential to groom him into a long-term rotation staple remains alive and well if the Phillies choose to do so.
Signed for slot value as the 37th overall pick out of Virginia in 2014, Fisher presents as something of a tweener profile in the outfield, full of offensive strengths and question marks aplenty. The 22-year-old has an athletic frame that is reasonably maxed out, and the physicality is most impactful in the form of borderline double-plus speed. His baserunning instincts are sound, and he showed an advanced ability to read pitchers and take good breaks on stolen base attempts at High-A this past season. The speed plays down in the outfield at present, however, on account of raw reactions and slow breaks on the ball. He struggled to discern trajectory in center, and a fringy arm leaves him more or less bound for a future in left field.
That profile puts more pressure on his bat, and the development of the hit tool will determine whether he’s a capable starting outfielder or not. He’ll show plus raw to the pull side, and the swing to that side gained notable leverage as he grew comfortable in the Cal League this year. There’s some noise in his load, which results in an inconsistent barrel delivery. Couple that with some timing issues to his front side there might not be enough to get the hit tool to average. He became more patient as the season wore on, showing some nice adjustments to lay off pitches behind in the count. But a propensity to sit red and expand the zone in hitters’ counts continued, resulting in lost at-bats.
There’s a tantalizing power and speed combination at the heart of his offensive profile, and it’s a strong enough package to make him a likely major leaguer in some capacity. —Wilson Karaman
Here's really all you need to know about Thomas Eshelman: In three years of full-time starting for Cal State Fullerton, he walked 18 people. Total. He repeats his delivery as well as any collegiate hurler I've seen, and he's not just a guy who throws strikes and hopes for the best; he hits his spots to all four quadrants. That command makes him a starter, but the lack of an out pitch keeps him from being a top-of-the-rotation option. He sits 88-90 with a four-seam fastball that doesn't have a ton of life, and his change is a solid-average offering because of the deception caused by the aforementioned delivery. The slider is—big shocker, here—a pitch he locates for strikes, but he doesn't have enough depth or break to call it more than a 45 offering at this point.
Even with mediocre stuff, Eshelman has a chance to start because of his plus-plus control, and it could make him a quick advance through the Philadelphia system.—Christopher Crawford
One of the most intriguing young power arms in the game, the 23-year-old right-hander generated plenty of buzz in fantasy circles when he joined the Astros rotation in mid-June and struck out a batter per inning while posting a 4.02 ERA over seven starts before being converted to the bullpen for the stretch run. The strikeouts alone, in tandem with the transition to the NL, make Velasquez an extremely valuable asset in keeper and dynasty formats.
There is a chance that he makes an impact in Philadelphia in the upcoming campaign, but given the assortment of other potential rotation options they’ve accumulated this offseason, he looks like a safe bet to begin the year in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Temper expectations in 2016, but the move is a good one for his long-term fantasy value.
There is a strong possibility that the reliever who will lead the Phillies in saves this upcoming season isn’t even on the roster at the moment. With that being said, 30-year-old right-hander David Hernandez, who was signed a one-year deal less than 24 hours before they dealt Giles, is the most logical choice to get the first crack at a save opportunity. There isn’t a lot to be excited about as evidenced by his 5.05 DRA over 40 appearances last season in Arizona, but saves, no matter where they come from are valuable, even in shallow mixed leagues. Someone has to close in Philadelphia. If not Hernandez, the only other viable candidates at the moment would be either Dan Otero or Luis Garcia. —George Bissell