Ken Giles

Vince Velasquez is the last man standing from Matt Klentak's first big trade with Tom Eshelman dealt to O's

Vince Velasquez is the last man standing from Matt Klentak's first big trade with Tom Eshelman dealt to O's

It’s all on Vince Velasquez's shoulders now.

Vinny Velo is the last man standing from Matt Klentak’s first big trade as Phillies general manager. The power-armed right-hander took over that distinction Monday when the Phillies peddled pitcher Tom Eshelman to the Baltimore Orioles Monday in exchange for $1 million in international signing bonus money.

The Phillies acquired Velasquez and Eshelman, along with pitchers Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz, from the Houston Astros in exchange for reliever Ken Giles and minor-league infielder Jonathan Arauz in December 2015.

Giles was coming off a big season as Phillies closer and was considered a luxury for a rebuilding team. Klentak packaged him and Jonathan Arauz and sent them to the rising Astros for five pitchers.

Oberholtzer pitched in the rotation and out of the bullpen and was waived in August of his first season with the Phils.

Harold Arauz briefly reached Triple A with the Phillies and mostly struggled at Double A. He became a minor-league free agent after last season and is currently pitching to a 6.56 ERA in the Cardinals’ system.

Appel was the lottery ticket in the deal, a two-time first-round draft pick who went No. 1 overall in 2013. The Phils hoped a move from Houston to Philadelphia would unlock his huge potential. It didn’t. He struggled with injury and ineffectiveness and left the game during the 2017 season.

Not blessed with overpowering stuff, Eshelman was a legendary strike thrower at Cal State Fullerton and he initially shined in the Phillies’ system. He won the Paul Owens Award as the organization’s top minor-league pitcher in 2017 when he went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts at Double A and Triple A.

Eshelman was invited to big-league camp in the spring of 2018, but he struggled during the regular season. He opened this season at Double A and made his last four starts at Triple A, allowing just eight runs in 26 innings.

The Phillies still might end up turning Eshelman into something in the future with that extra international money.

As for the Houston side of that initial trade, Giles was part of an Astros team that won the World Series in 2017. He had 34 saves for that club. He is now with Toronto and pitching quite well. It’s not out of the question that the Phillies look to reacquire him in the coming weeks as they seek bullpen help.

Jonathan Arauz, still just 20, remains in the low minors with the Astros.

From a Phillies perspective, Velasquez was always the centerpiece of that initial trade with Houston. He is in his fourth season in the majors with the Phils. He was inconsistent in three seasons as a starter and is now filling an important role in the bullpen.

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Jay Bruce? Dallas Keuchel? Craig Kimbrel? How 'bout Ken Giles? Action heating up for Phillies

Jay Bruce? Dallas Keuchel? Craig Kimbrel? How 'bout Ken Giles? Action heating up for Phillies

LOS ANGELES — There’s a lot of action brewing beneath the surface in the Phillies organization, some that could improve the team in the short term, some that could improve the team in the long term.

The long-term matter is clear: Baseball’s annual draft begins Monday night. The Phillies pick 14th overall and hope to land a player that will make a significant contribution down the road.

But there are matters with more potential immediate impact brewing.

The arrival of the draft means free-agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are no longer tied to draft-pick compensation. Teams can sign either pitcher without having to surrender a pick in next year’s draft.

Plenty of teams are looking for starting pitching so Keuchel, a former American League Cy Young winner, could sign quickly.

Ditto for Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star and four-time National League saves champ.

The Phillies need help in the rotation and bullpen.

It’s not difficult to see that.

What are their chances of signing Keuchel or Kimbrel?

More on that later.

In addition to pitching, the Phillies are looking to upgrade their bench, specifically with a left-handed power bat. The loss of Odubel Herrera, for however long that will be, has intensified the need.

Sources on Saturday confirmed an ESPN report that the Phils were in talks with Seattle to acquire veteran slugger Jay Bruce (see story). The ESPN report painted the deal as imminent. Several sources disputed that characterization, saying talks were not that far down the road.

Clearly, however, something is going on between the Mariners and Phillies. We’ll see if it gets to the finish line.

“I think it’s clear that a left-handed bat would be helpful for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said before Saturday night’s game against the Dodgers. “Speaking generally, I think it’s always good to have a veteran pinch-hitter, a guy who can have an experienced and high-quality plate appearance in a big moment. I also think that a profile like that, in general, fits our club.”

Bruce, 32, has 300 homers in his career and 14 this season to go with a .212 batting average and 53 strikeouts in 165 at-bats. He is owed about $23 million through next season. The Phillies, according to a source, would not take on all of that money if the deal goes through.

The Phils are in no real danger of going over the luxury tax threshold of $206 million this season. Next season would be more of a concern as the Phils would like to extend J.T. Realmuto’s contract. They also have a number of players due pay raises through salary arbitration.

As for pitching additions, the Phillies need help in the rotation and the bullpen.

That brings us to Keuchel.

Are the Phils in on him?

Several sources have indicated that the Phils are not hot on the left-hander’s trail. He threw a simulated game for interested teams several days ago and the Phils did not attend.

As for Kimbrel, the Phils have had interest dating to last season, but not for the big-dollar, multi-year deal he has sought. If Kimbrel would take a one-year deal, the Phils might be ready to tango. But it appears he could get a better deal elsewhere, maybe from division rival Atlanta. The Braves are also in on Keuchel.

While the Phils have monitored the markets for starters Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, all potential trade additions, the team’s current strategy involving relievers may be to see what it has in-house coming back from injury.

Tommy Hunter, who has not pitched all season due to a flexor strain, threw another bullpen session on Saturday. He is getting close.

“Tommy threw a bullpen, a really good one,” Kapler said. “He’s feeling really good about himself, which is encouraging for us. It’s going to be difficult to slow him down because of how excited he is and healthy he looks, how the ball is coming out, and, quite frankly, we have a need for Tommy Hunter, so when he’s ready, we’ll be ready for him.”

David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan are all due back in the coming weeks.

Even with these potential in-house additions, the Phils are still likely to seek outside bullpen help, maybe not with the signing of Kimbrel, but possibly via a trade for someone like Toronto’s Ken Giles or the White Sox’s Alex Colome.

Stay tuned. We’re into June now. The Phillies are a first-place club, but far from a perfect club. They have holes they want to fill and could begin doing so soon.

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Former Phillie Ken Giles demoted after cursing at Astros manager

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AP Images

Former Phillie Ken Giles demoted after cursing at Astros manager

The Houston Astros have optioned reliever Ken Giles to Triple A Fresno, a night after he appeared to curse at manager A.J. Hinch when he was lifted from the game.

The Astros were up by four to start the ninth inning against Oakland on Tuesday night when Giles took over and gave up three straight singles, which cut the lead to 4-1.

Hinch came to the mound to take Giles out and the television broadcast caught the former Phillie appearing to curse at Hinch right after he walked by him on his way off the field.

It was the second major outburst of the year for the right-hander, who punched himself in the face as he left the mound after another bad performance earlier in the season.

The Phillies traded Giles to the Astros in 2015 for a haul of pitchers Vince Velasquez, Thomas Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer, Harold Arauz and former first overall pick Mark Appel.

Even with Giles' demotion, it's tough to say which team really won the trade. Giles has saved 61 games for the Astros but was wildly inconsistent during the team's 2017 World Series run, posting an uncharacteristic 11.74 ERA. His struggles have continued in 2018, as Giles has posted a 4.99 ERA in 34 appearances.

In parts of three seasons with the Astros, Giles' ERA has ballooned to 3.57, compared to 1.56 during his two seasons in red pinstripes. Still, Giles is just 27 years old and will surely be back in the majors at some point. How soon (and with what team) remains to be seen. Fortunately for the Astros, they can afford to send Giles down as a teaching lesson.

Houston went on to win Tuesday night's game 6-5 in 11 innings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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