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Mariners designate reliever Ken Giles for assignment

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

It’s a surprising development, as the M’s didn’t have a pressing need for a spot on the 40-man roster. Giles also hadn’t been occupying a spot on the active roster, as he’s spent the past week and a half on a minor league rehab assignment while working his way back from shoulder tightness. The right-hander has tossed two scoreless innings with Triple-A Tacoma this week, but the organization apparently wasn’t bullish about his chances of fulfilling 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 as the club had hoped. The M’s signed Giles to a $7M guarantee over the 2020-21 offseason. He’d undergone Tommy John surgery the previous October, but the organization agreed to pay him $1.5M while rehabbing from the injury last year. In exchange, they got a potentially elite reliever who’d posted a 1.87 ERA while striking out almost 40% of opponents over 53 innings in 2019. The deal came with a 2022 salary of just $5M, which would be massive bargain if Giles recaptured his pre-surgery form, along with a $9.5M club option for the 2023 season.

Giles wound up making just five MLB appearances within the course of that deal. He missed all of last season, as expected. While the hope had been he’d been ready to go 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 a little more than two weeks on the active roster. He worked 4 1/3 scoreless frames, allowing just one hit but walking four batters against six strikeouts. In that brief look, Giles’ fastball averaged 94.8 MPH and his slider checked in at 84.1 MPH. That’s solid velocity, but down from the respective 96.9 MPH and 86.4 MPH averages from his 2019 work.

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After five outings, Giles went down with the shoulder issue from which he’s been trying to work his way back. Between the diminished velocity and the shoulder tightness, the Mariners decided to move on from the 31-year-old.

The trade deadline has already passed, so Seattle will have to place Giles on outright or release waivers in the coming days. There’s no real difference between the two in this case, as he has well over five years of major league service time. That gives him the right to refuse a minor league assignment while still collecting the remainder of his guaranteed salary even if he clears waivers. The league’s 29 other teams will have an opportunity to add Giles for the stretch run. If they all pass, he’s almost certain to test free agency.

Any team that claims Giles would be responsible for the remainder of this year’s salary (around $1.5M). A claiming team would get the right to the club option, but they’d also be on the hook for the $500K buyout if they declined the option. Given Giles’ lack of recent experience, it seems likely he’ll go unclaimed on waivers, although that’d be a more than reasonable price to pay if another team thought he could recapture something like his 2019 form.

If Giles clears waivers and hits free agency, the Mariners would remain on the hook for essentially all of that tab. They’d have to pay the buyout on next year’s option as well as all of his remaining 2022 salary, except for the prorated portion of the $700K league minimum for any time he spends on another team’s MLB roster (which would be paid by the signing club). Should Giles go unclaimed and sign elsewhere, he’d be a free agent after this season; the ’23 team option would not carry over to another team unless he’s claimed off waivers.

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