In December 2015, Matt Klentak made his first major move as General Manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He traded a young, dominant reliever named Ken Giles to the Astros for a package of Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, Tom Eshelman, Harold Arauz, and, of course, Vince Velasquez. Philadelphia also sent Jonathan Araúz to Houston as part of the deal.
While seven players switched teams in that trade, it feels apt to call it the Velasquez/Giles trade because the other five players have had little to no MLB success.
Since 2016, the Astros have won three division titles and a World Series. Ken Giles was one of the best relievers in baseball until he blew his arm out in 2020 and needed Tommy John surgery.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have gone 398-453 (.468) since the trade. They have yet to make the playoffs or even finish above .500. Their team ERA ranks 21st in the league, while Houston’s ranks 3rd. The Phillies have been unable to find a reliable closer since trading Giles, while the Astros have had no problem finding starting pitching since trading Velasquez.
So the Houston Astros did not “lose” the Velasquez/Giles trade. There is no defensible way to argue that they did. But that doesn't mean that the Phillies “lost” the trade either. The Astros went on to have immense success and Ken Giles helped to make that happen. Yet as far as the Phillies are concerned, Vince Velasquez may have provided them with more value than Giles ever would have.
Since 2016, Ken Giles has been worth 5.6 fWAR, 4.0 bWAR, and 6.4 WARP for the Astros and Blue Jays. In that same time span, Vince Velasquez has been worth 7.0 fWAR (6.4 as a pitcher), 5.4 bWAR (4.4 as a pitcher), and 6.6 WARP (6.1 as a pitcher).
No matter which type of WAR you prefer, Vince Velasquez and Ken Giles have been roughly equivalent in value since 2016 (and, arguably, Vince has been more valuable). Velasquez also came with a lower price tag. While Vince Velasquez made $9.2 million in his six seasons with the Phillies, the Astros and Blue Jays paid Ken Giles a total $15.5 million.
Giles is undoubtedly the more talented pitcher, but Velasquez was able to eat a ton of innings over the past six seasons. It’s truly a matter of quality versus quantity. Velasquez pitched 582.2 innings for the Phillies with a 4.93 ERA. That isn’t good, but it was necessary. And that’s just it. Velasquez has been a necessity for the Phillies over the past six seasons, whereas Giles would have been a luxury.
There are still ways to argue that Matt Klentak lost the Velasquez/Giles trade. You could argue that the Phillies should have waited to find a better deal for Giles. You could argue that if the Phillies never acquired Velasquez they might have invested in some better starters over the past few years instead of hoping to turn Velasquez into a good pitcher. You could even argue that if the Phillies had just kept Giles around he might not have gotten injured last year and maybe he would have saved the Phillies 2020 bullpen. But that’s all speculation.
The fact of the matter is, the Phillies received more value than they gave up in this trade. It's not what we were hoping for, but it wasn’t a bust either.
Do you think the Phillies won the Velasquez/Giles trade?
It’s a wash
A parting thought
While doing the research for this article, I came across this piece from NBC Sports Philadelphia that goes over every trade of the Matt Klentak era. It’s a pretty useful resource, and it helped me come to an interesting conclusion.
In his five years as general manager, Klentak never made a great trade, but he never really made a bad one either. In my opinion, every trade he made was just kind of “meh”, and the Velasquez/Giles one is a perfect example. The Jose Alvarez/Luis Garcia trade always stood out to me as one of his best moves, but when that counts as one of your best moves, it’s not a great look. Let’s talk about it in the comments!