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Addition of right-hander Lucas Giolito signals first move to bolster Red Sox starting rotation

On Friday night, in the first multi-year deal of new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow’s tenure in Boston, Cora and the Red Sox secured one of baseball’s most reliable inning suppliers. According to major league sources, the team has reached an agreement with free agent right-hander Lucas Giolito on a two-year, $38.5 million contract that includes opting out of the player after the 2024 season and a conditional option – either a $14 million team option, or $19 million. million mutual options, depending on the number of rounds launched – for 2026.

In Giolito, the Sox get a pitcher who played at an All-Star level with the White Sox from 2019-21 (29-21, 3.47 ERA, 31 percent strikeout rate and 8 percent strikeout rate). walks, 1.2 homers per 9 innings) struggling forward over the last two years (19-24, 4.89 ERA, 26 percent strikeout rate, 9 percent walk rate, 1.7 circuits per 9 innings). Even during his struggles the past two years – with a derailed second half in 2023 (2-10, 7.13 ERA) that coincided with a period of off-field turmoil that included a divorce and two team changes – Giolito continued posting.

Since 2018, the 29-year-old ranks eighth in the big leagues with 139 starts of at least five innings. In the same time frame, he ranks 12th in the big leagues with 96 outings of at least six innings.

At least the Red Sox have apparently landed a pitcher capable of solidifying the back of their rotation by providing innings – an important attribute for an organization that had 64 horrible starts shorter than five innings last year, fourth in the major leagues. And, if Giolito returns to a level he played at as recently as the first half of 2023 (6-5, 3.45 ERA, averaging nearly 6 innings per start), it’s possible the right-hander could elevate not only the floor of the rotation, but also its ceiling.

Of course, there are no guarantees associated with a bounce-back — which is why Giolito represents a starting point for offseason rotation overhaul rather than a conclusion to that effort. The team now has Giolito, Chris Sale, Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford and Nick Pivetta as rotation candidates, along with Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck as additional options that are increasingly in demand. (The team also signed right-hander Cooper Criswell as a deep starter/swingman.)

Additionally, with Sale, Pivetta and potentially Giolito (if he opts out) all potentially eligible for free agency after this season, the Sox’ longer-term rotation beyond 2024 remains unstable enough that the team seems likely to keep looking for longer. -term additions – perhaps in the form of a trade for a controllable starting pitcher.

And according to major league sources, the Sox have continued to explore trades involving their group of young outfielders – they currently have left-handed hitters Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran and Wilyer Abreu, as well as right-handed hitters Tyler O’Neill, Rob Refsnyder and Ceddanne Rafaela. If the Sox make a deal with this group to add a pitcher, they could then return to the free agent market to add a bat such as slugger Teoscar Hernández, who the team remains interested in even after signing Giolito.

It was unclear Friday night whether the Sox remained committed to the highest-profile free agents remaining on the market — a group that includes previously discussed options such as left-handers Jordan Montgomery, Shōta Imanaga and James Paxton.

But it’s hard to imagine the Sox would view Giolito alone as enough of an offseason upgrade for a rotation that was one of the worst in baseball, finishing with a 4.68 ERA (22nd in the major leagues) as well as 774⅓ innings (27th) – especially since such a streak would mean the team did not bring back Paxton (7-5, 4.50 ERA in 19 starts – including dominance during his First 16 outings, before a knee injury spoiled his final line).

Nonetheless, the addition of Giolito represents a building block for the Sox offseason. Breslow and the team now know they won’t be completely left out of the starting pitching market. The likelihood of a mind-numbing succession of games and bullpen openings has diminished. Now, with a stronger foundation, it’s time to see how the Red Sox build the rest of their roster — and if they can create something that withstands the onslaught of the huffing and puffing wolves of the American League East.


Alex Speier can be contacted at alex.speier@globe.com. follow him @alexspeier.

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