Ken Giles Elects Free Agency

The Mariners announced that reliever Ken Giles has declined an outright assignment and elected free agency. Giles was designated for assignment on Friday and this announcement would seem to indicate he has passed through waivers unclaimed. As a veteran with over five years of MLB service time, Giles has the right to reject an outright assignment without forfeiting any salary.

Giles, now 31, underwent Tommy John surgery in October of 2020. The Mariners later signed him to a two-year deal, knowing that he would miss the entirety of the 2021 campaign, but hoping for a payoff in 2022. Giles made $1.5MM last year and is making $5MM this season. (There was also a club option for 2023, which now seems to be a moot point.) Unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to that long-term plan, with Giles missing much of this season due to other injuries. Though it was hoped he’d be ready for Opening Day, a finger injury in Spring Training kept him from making his Mariner debut until June 21. After five appearances with diminished velocity, a shoulder issue sent him back to the IL yet again. He was rehabbing from that issue when the M’s designated him for assignment.

Giles will now head back to the open market and try to find his next opportunity. Prior to his current run of injury woes, he was one of the better relievers in all of baseball. He was last healthy for an extended period of time in 2019 with the Blue Jays, throwing 53 innings with a 1.87 ERA, 39.9% strikeout rate, 8.2% walk rate and 39.3% ground ball rate.

While dreams of that kind of performance will surely leave some people salivating, there are reasons to feel bearish about Giles for the rest of the season. For one thing, the Mariners didn’t have any need for his roster spot at the time of his DFA, which perhaps suggests that they weren’t expecting his shoulder issues to subside between now and the end of the year. Giles also could have been nabbed on waivers by any of the 29 other teams, with the claiming club only on the hook for the remainder of his salary this year, which would have been about $1.4MM. That claiming team also could have retained him for 2023 via the club option on his contract, which would have given Giles $9.5MM next year and came with a buyout of just $500K. The fact that every team passed up on that chance suggests at least some degree of pessimism from the market.

However, now that he has cleared, any team could sign him and pay him the prorated league minimum for any time spent on the roster, with that amount being subtracted from what Seattle pays. That will make him an interesting wild card in the baseball world until he signs. On the one hand, he’s now three years removed from his last signs of effectiveness and has dealt with various ailments since. But on the other hand, with the trade deadline now gone, teams desiring bullpen upgrades have very limited options for doing so. Given Giles’ past success and no-risk acquisition cost, teams could consider him worth a dice roll.

The Mariners also announced that catcher Luis Torrens cleared waivers and was outright to Triple-A Tacoma. His situation is slightly different from Giles, given that he has just over three years of MLB service time. Players between three and five years can reject an outright assignment and elect free agency, though they have to forfeit their remaining salary. Torrens qualified for arbitration this past offseason as a Super Two player and is making a $1.2MM salary this year. With approximately $340K remaining to be paid out this year, no team deemed him worthy of a claim. Though the Mariners didn’t announce if he accepted the assignment, it seems fair to assume that he has, given that the club announced Giles’ rejection and the money Torrens would leave on the table by walking away. Torrens isn’t rated very highly for his defense but provided strong offense last year, hitting 15 home runs and slashing .243/.299/.431, wRC+ of 101. He’s been far worse this year, however, adding just a single long ball and producing a batting line of .214/.262/.252, wRC+ of 52.

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