Mariners designate Ken Giles for assignment

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The Mariners announced they designated reliever Ken Giles for assignment. The move reduces Seattle’s 40-man roster to 38.

It’s a surprising development, as the M’s weren’t in dire need of a spot on the 40-man roster. Giles also hadn’t been holding a spot on the active roster, as he spent the past week and a half on a minor league rehab assignment while recovering from shoulder strain. The right-hander has pitched two shutout innings with Triple-A Tacoma this week, but the organization apparently wasn’t optimistic about his chances of filling a key role in the bullpen down the stretch.

The move more or less closes the books on a two-year free agent deal that didn’t pan out the way the club hoped. The M’s signed Giles with a $7MM guarantee during the 2020-21 offseason. He had undergone Tommy John surgery the previous October, but the organization agreed to pay him $1.5 million while he rehabbed the injury last year. In exchange, they got a potentially elite reliever who posted a 1.87 ERA and struck out nearly 40% of opponents in 53 innings in 2019. The deal came with a 2022 salary of just $5MM, which would be a great bargain. should Giles return to his pre-surgery form, along with a $9.5MM club option for the 2023 season.

Giles ended up making just five MLB appearances over the course of that deal. He missed all of last season, unsurprisingly. While the hope was that he would be ready for Opening Day this year, he suffered a finger injury in spring training that cost him more than two months. Giles made his Mariners debut on June 21 and spent just over two weeks on the active roster. He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit but walking four batters against six strikeouts. In that brief look, Giles’ fastball averaged 94.8 MPH and his slider clocked in at 84.1 MPH. That’s solid speed, but down from the respective 96.9 MPH and 86.4 MPH averages from his 2019 work.

After five starts, Giles suffered a shoulder problem from which he has been trying to recover. Between the decreased speed and shoulder strain, the Mariners decided to leave the 31-year-old behind.

The trade deadline has passed, so Seattle will have to either place Giles directly or release waivers in the coming days. There’s no real difference between the two in this case, as he has more than five years of Major League service. That gives him the right to turn down a minor league assignment while he’s still drawing the rest of his guaranteed salary, even if he clears waivers. The other 29 teams in the league will have a chance to add Giles down the stretch. If they all pass, he’ll almost certainly try free agency.

Any team that claims Giles would be responsible for the rest of this year’s salary (about $1.5 million). A claiming team would earn the right to the club option, but would also be on the hook for the $500K buyout if they decline the option. Given Giles’ lack of recent experience, it seems likely he won’t be claimed on waivers, though that would be a more than reasonable price to pay if another team thought he could recapture anything like his 2019 form.

If Giles clears the waivers and hits free agency, the Mariners would remain on the hook for virtually that entire bill. They would have to pay next year’s option buyout, as well as all of their remaining 2022 salary, except for the prorated portion of the $700,000 league minimum for time spent on another team’s MLB roster (which would be paid by the signing club). If Giles goes unclaimed and signs elsewhere, he would be a free agent after this season; the ’23 team option would not carry over to another team unless he had claimed waivers.

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