Free agent right-hander Lucas Giolito is getting a lot of attention, with Jon Morosi of MLB.com reporting that the Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Royals are interested in him. The interest from the Dodgers was already reported but the four other clubs are new mentions.
Giolito, 29, is one of the hardest free agents to value. From 2019 to 2021, he made 72 starts and tossed 427 2/3 innings with a 3.47 earned run average. He struck out 30.7% of batters faced in that time while walking just 8%. His 11.3 wins above replacement in that stretch, per FanGraphs, was seventh among all pitchers in the league.
Things took a bit of a downturn in 2022, at least in terms of results. His ERA jumped to 4.90 and his strikeouts dropped a bit, though his 25.4% rate was still above league average. His .340 batting average on balls in play that year stands out as a clear outlier, as he’s never had that figure finish higher than .274 in any other season. His 4.06 FIP and 3.79 SIERA both suggested he was actually more in line with his previous track record than the ERA would indicate.
He seemed to be back on track in the first half of 2023, making 21 starts for the White Sox with a 3.79 ERA. But things went downhill for him after he was traded to the Angels prior to the deadline. He took the ball six times for the Halos, posting an ERA of 6.89 in those. As that club fell out of contention, he was put on waivers and claimed by the Guardians. Six more starts with that club yielded an even worse ERA of 7.04. His walk rate jumped to 10.8% in the 12 starts after being traded and he also allowed 20 home runs in just 63 1/3 innings.
That poor stretch of play represents such a small sample in a career that now includes over 1,000 big leagues innings, but was unfortunately timed right before his first trip to free agency. MLBTR predicted he would get a two-year, $44MM with an opt-out that lets him potentially return to free agency with a stronger platform.
Each of the four clubs now connected to him are sensible fits since they each are known to need pitching. The Diamondbacks have Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in two rotation spots with Brandon Pfaadt likely to be somewhere behind them, but there’s not much certainty beyond that. General manager Mike Hazen has been open about the club’s desire to upgrade the rotation this offseason.
The Mets have added Luis Severino to a rotation that also features Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana, but there are question marks for the back end and even Severino is no guarantee after his poor 2023 campaign.
The Red Sox have plenty of options but none of them concrete. Chris Sale should be in one spot but he hasn’t reached 105 innings pitched in a season since 2019 due to various injuries. Brayan Bello had a decent 2023 season overall but faded later in the year with a 5.49 ERA in the second half. Each of Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock and Kutter Crawford have oscillated between the rotation and bullpen without permanently cementing a spot. Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow said at the Winter Meetings that the club would be “aggressive” in pursuing upgrades.
The Royals have plenty of questions in their rotation. Cole Ragans had a strong finish after coming over in the Aroldis Chapman trade but Brady Singer and Jordan Lyles each had disappointing seasons. General manager J.J. Picollo said this week that the club has about $30MM to spend and adding a starter is one thing on their to-do list. Signing someone like Giolito would likely eat up a decent chunk of that budget and leave little for bullpen upgrades, but it’s at least feasible that they could dedicate more of their resources to the rotation.