Earlier this Summer, we published a piece on the site about the Houston Astros’ weird ability to remain competitive post-rebuild despite extremely short-sighted and silly front office moves. One of the five transactions we talked about was the trade that sent fastball-heavy closer Ken Giles to the Bayou City.
In 2017 — before Giles’ ghastly postseason — it seemed to be working out for all parties involved. The Philadelphia Phillies got a strong return that included starter Vince Velasquez, while the Astros enjoyed 34 saves, a 2.30 ERA, and an 11.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio from Giles, named a finalist for the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award, last season.
This season has been different. Giles was recently optioned to the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies after the right-hander blew up in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Oakland Athletics. Giles allowed three consecutive singles, was responsible for three earned runs, and did not record an out in his final appearance before being sent down. To make matters worse, Giles told manager A.J. Hinch, if my lip-reading skills are good enough, “f*** you, man.”
The Astros led 4-0 before Giles entered the game, an appearance that nearly cost Houston the win before a fluke walkoff hit by Alex Bregman in extra innings. Giles is also the guy who sucker-punched himself in the face after allowing a home run to Gary Sanchez in an Astros loss in May.
Aside from being a headcase with temper control issues, Giles this year has been much less than the Giles that Houston got last season. His record is 0-2, with an ERA of 4.99, a WHIP of 1.272, and more hits per nine innings (10.6) than any other year of his five-year career. That’s all you really need to know about Giles.The @Astros' biggest need just got bigger with the demise of Ken Giles; Houston needs a closer, and fast.Click To Tweet
What can the Astros do? Wait and see if the minor leagues help Giles become himself again? No, absolutely not. Houston has the Seattle Mariners and the upstart A’s breathing down their necks and can’t let themselves fall far behind the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in the race for home-field advantage in the AL playoffs.
Can they groom someone like Collin McHugh or Brad Peacock into the closer role? Yes, but in the case of McHugh, you’d be losing one of Major League Baseball’s premier middle relievers (McHugh is 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA, 377 ERA+, and 0.727 WHIP this season) by inserting the former 19-win starter into the closer role, and in the case of Peacock, you have a 30-year-old who has appeared in just five save situations in his entire career before 2018.
Keep your setup men as they are. They need to reach out and acquire a new closer anyway, getting somewhat of a replacement for Giles, even if Giles is to come back strong.
The concern about making the postseason is the opposite of that; we (Astros fans) shouldn’t have a single thought about that scenario, it’s more what will happen when October begins. The risk of giving Giles the ball in a late-inning playoff situation is enough to make our stomachs turn, and not worth the fingernails we’ll bite off when Giles, long prone to allowing baserunners, does the inevitable.
The recent trade of Kelvin Herrera from Kansas City to Washington was expected to blow the relief pitcher market wide open; instead, everything seems steady and easy as we await the potential moves of bigger names like Manny Machado. For now, every other relief pitcher tentatively made available by rebuilding teams is still up for grabs, just when the Astros need to swoop in.
Zach Britton, Raisel Iglesias, Kyle Barraclough, Joakim Soria, and Brad Hand are names to keep an eye on. If the Astros want to capitalize on this championship window of mortgaging everything they have in order to win, they need clarity and consistency in the closer spot. Keep in mind that the length of an average postseason start is dwindling to downright weird levels, and relievers in October are as important and integral as ever.
The Astros have all the pieces to do it. Their farm system is a mountain of above-average prospects, which is illustrated by their minor-league affiliates absolutely tearing this season up. The Triple-A Grizzlies (hey, hello, what’s up, Ken Giles, what’s going on, dude) are 52-37, and Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks stand at 58-30, while their Single-A clubs are all above .500.
There is a stockpile of capable prospects with high ceilings that probably won’t have room to play for Houston in the future. Why not sell them for a proven commodity like Hand, Britton, or others?
With AL Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve, former Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, Home Run Derby participant Bregman, World Series MVP George Springer, and many more position players to make headlines offensively every night, the Astros are set at the dish. Their starting rotation is almost undoubtedly the best in baseball, with All-Stars Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole leading a group of starters that also contains 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, 2017 All-Star Lance McCullers Jr. and the revamped Charlie Morton.
My point is: everything is squared up and taken care of. Except for, in today’s evolving game of player-specific matchups and short starts, perhaps the most crucial position in the depth chart: the closer. If general manager Jeff Luhnow can work his magic amid the decline of Giles and acquire a proven closer at the trade deadline, then Houston will be set to defend their 2017 World Series crown.