Cubs Scouted RHP Ken Giles, ‘Still in Market for Bullpen Help’

There’s no such thing as too many pitchers, especially in the bullpen, which is why the Cubs are yet again stockpiling as many arms as possible ahead of spring training. And while Hector Neris is the only reliever they’ve inked to a guaranteed deal, there are a few very interesting names among the group of retreads and relegation projects. One of those, Richard Lovelady, was signed following his impressive showing at Driveline’s recent pro day.

Because they’ll be over the 40-man roster limit once the Neris deal becomes official, any additional signings will need to either be of the minor-league variety or will have to wait until the 60-day IL can be utilized. Of course, they can always reach an agreement and just finalize it once pitchers and catchers report. Despite what appears to be a lack of activity on the outside belies continued work behind the scenes to suss out value.

“I can say confidently that one team that is still in the market for bullpen help is the Chicago Cubs,” Robert Murray of FanSided said on the latest Baseball Insiders podcast. “For everyone who’s asking about the Cubs, the Cubs are in fact looking for bullpen help.”

That could mean swinging a big trade for Emmanuel Clase or Kenley Jansen, either of which could ease the roster crunch by trading away at least one 40-man player. More likely is that Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins continue to monitor all those lines they’ve had in the water for months in hopes of a bite or two. One potential target is 33-year-old righty Ken Giles, who fits their typical profile as a former closer who has logged just eight total innings since the start of 2020.

Following five straight seasons of at least 53 appearances and 15 saves spread across time with the Phillies, Astros, and Blue Jays, a series of injuries conspired to keep Giles off the mound for most of the last four years. Elbow reconstruction cut his 2020 campaign even shorter than most, then he missed all of ’21 while rehabbing. A finger sprain landed him on the 60-day IL in ’22, after which he made five scoreless appearances before the Mariners designated him for assignment.

The Giants signed him to a minors deal in August of that year and he made four appearances for them in rookie ball and Triple-A before being released. A minors deal with the Dodgers last season yielded just 19 disastrous games at Triple-A, after which he became a free agent.

Injuries are one thing, but the inability to crack an MLB roster over most of the last two seasons is troubling. So are the 31 walks, 46 hits, and 35 earned runs in 30.2 minor-league innings. Giles did have 49 strikeouts in that same time, so it’s clear the pure stuff is still there. But even accounting for rust and all the different input from various coaching staffs, all of which may have spawned a case of the yips, it’s understandable that teams saw too much risk to offer a roster spot.

Giles looked good during a recent workout for scouts at Terra Sports in Phoenix, however, touching 95 mph with the fastball and sitting 83-85 mph with the slider. That’s right in line with his last two MLB stints, though both marks are down a couple ticks from his prime averages. Judging by the tag in the tweet linked above, the Cubs were among the teams in attendance and could make a long-awaited move to bring Giles aboard.

They had checked in on him back in 2019, when he was closing games for the Jays, but his elbow issues cropped up in July of that year and his trade value cratered. So now we add a little familiarity to the profile. As easy as it is to crack jokes about Hoyer’s type when it comes to adding bullpen depth, Giles’ slider is a true wipeout pitch that was one of the best in the game during his healthy years. Only Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances generated more total value on sliders from 2014-19, and not by much, then Pedro Strop came in fourth.

That said, 2019 is too far in the rearview mirror to be worth anything at this point. Barring a surprise trade in the next two weeks, I think we’re going to be looking at Giles as the biggest name the Cubs add from a bullpen perspective. Anyone else getting strong Joe Nathan vibes? Hey, there are worse ways to conduct business in the offseason. There are also better ways.

As one last note on the optimistic side, Giles just turned 33 last September and he’s got a lot less mileage on his arm than comparable pitchers. Well worth a flyer to get him into camp and see what he can do. Even with all these fringe moves and the Cubs’ desire to seek value above all else, I still get the sense that something big is in the offing. Maybe that’s just the anticipation of spring training getting to me.

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