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Red Sox sign Lucas Giolito

The Red Sox face an aviator Lucas Giolito. The parties reportedly agree to a two-year, $38.5 million guarantee that allows the CAA client to opt out after the first season. Giolito will earn an $18 million salary next year and would receive a $1 million buyout if he exercises his opt-out right. His salary of 25 is worth $19 million.

If he doesn’t opt ​​out next winter, a conditional option kicks in to cover the 2026 campaign. If Giolito pitches fewer than 140 innings in 2025, the Sox would have a $14 million club option. If he reaches or exceeds 140 frames, he will convert that retainer into a $19 million mutual option. Regardless of the value of the option, there would be a $1.5 million buyout. The deal also contains $1 million in performance bonuses for each of the next two seasons.

This is a modified pillow deal for the 29-year-old. This reflects the dismal final months of last season. Giolito seemed on track for a nine-figure deal earlier this summer. Over his first 21 starts with the White Sox, he posted a 3.79 ERA while striking out more than a quarter of the batters faced. Chicago’s loss made him one of the top starters available at the deadline.

An exchange sending Giolito alongside the reliever Reynaldo Lopez to the Angels looked like an increase in his market value. Joining a fringe contender gave him an outside chance of making the playoffs. Most significantly for his free agency, this removed the qualifying offer, as players who change teams mid-season cannot receive the QO.

That’s not how things happened. Giolito was one of the worst pitchers in MLB from the deadline. He made just six starts for the Halos before they placed him on waivers, giving up the remainder of his salary after the team fell foul of helping Limbo below the luxury tax line. Giolito was hit hard by both Los Angeles and the Guardians, who took him off the waiver wire in late August.

Over his last 12 appearances, he was marked for a 6.96 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. He was incredibly prone to the longball, allowing 21 home runs (nearly one in three innings) during that stretch. His walk rate has also increased. He handed out free passes to nearly 11% of opponents after issuing walks at a manageable 8.3% rate in Chicago.

Barring a major injury, it would be difficult to paint a more frustrating finale two months before free agency. That said, there are a lot of things in his resume that make him the top pickup target in the rotation class. Giolito performed superiorly in the mid-rotation between 2019 and 2021, combining for a 3.47 ERA with an excellent 30.7% strikeout percentage despite the hitter-friendly nature of Chicago’s guaranteed rate outfield.

He has allowed nearly five earned runs out of nine in each of the last two seasons, although for different reasons. His 4.90 mark in 2022 was largely attributable to a .340 average on balls in play, by far the highest rate of his career. That fell to .274 last season, and his early season numbers once again painted the picture of a solid No. 3 starter. Then came the late-season barrage of home runs that left him with a 4.88 ERA at the end of the year.

The long ball has always been a bit of a problem for Giolito, but his home run rate in the second half is unsustainable. Boston is banking on a positive regression in this department, hoping it translates into mid-rotation results. Although Giolito’s whiffs are down from his 2019-21 peak, he’s still missing at-bats at an above-average level. Opposing hitters have completed 12.2% of his deals in each of the last two years, which exceeds the league mark of 10.8% for starting pitchers. His fastball sits at around 93 MPH and he misses a decent number of bats with his changeup and slider.

Giolito’s performance has varied over the past few seasons. Its durability was not. The 6’6″ pitcher has taken the ball almost every fifth day for the past six years. He has never been on the injured list for more than two weeks at any point in his MLB career. He had no arm-related absences as a major player. Giolito has started 29 or more games in each of the last five full schedules and has worked the full 12-round rotation during the shortened season. Only Aaron Nola, Gerrit Cole, José Berrios And Patrick Corbin have started more matches during this period. He is eighth in the majors in innings pitched since 2018.

A source of volume innings is a smart addition to a talented but volatile Boston pitching staff. Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock And Kutter Crawford are among the internal options for the opening day rotation. Sale has had to deal with various injuries over the past few seasons. Pivetta, Houck, Whitlock and Crawford all worked out of the bullpen at times. Aside from Crawford, this group has generally had more success in long relief than out of the rotation. Bello’s rotation spot isn’t in jeopardy, but his production has dropped off at the end of his first full season in the major leagues.

That made adding a starter an offseason priority for director of baseball Craig Breslow. The Sox were on the outskirts of the Yoshinobu Yamamoto market before signing with the Dodgers. They had been linked to Jordan Montgomery likewise, although recent reports suggest they are moving towards the second tier. Giolito becomes Breslow’s first significant free agent acquisition as the leader of Boston’s front office. The Sox could still explore the rotation market – they have recently been linked to the NPB southpaw Shota Imanaga and old friend James Paxton – but this signing could cause them to focus primarily on another area of ​​need like second base.

The contract is in line with MLBTR’s two-year, $44 million forecast from the start of the offseason, when we ranked him as the No. 17 free agent this winter. The two-year guarantee with opt-out after the first season has become more common in recent years for priority rebound candidates. This gives the player more security than a consecutive one-year contract while still allowing him to return to the market after one season if he bounces back.

Giolito turns 30 in July, so he would be well-positioned to land an ambitious multi-year deal next winter if he gets on track. Since he was not eligible for the qualifying offer, the signing does not cost Boston any interim compensation. If he pitches well enough to opt out in a year, the Red Sox would likely make him the QO, allowing them to salvage a draft pick if he only spends one year in Massachusetts.

The Red Sox payroll projection for 2024 now sits around $187 million, according to Roster Resource. They’re just under $200 million from a luxury tax perspective, keeping them $37 million below next year’s lowest threshold. Boston entered last season with a payroll in the $181 million range after surpassing $206 million the previous season. They have not exceeded the luxury tax threshold in 2023.

Jeff Passan from ESPN first reported that the Red Sox were signing Giolito to a two-year, $38.5 million guarantee with an opt-out option; Passan was also first with salary structure and 2026 option details. Chris Cotillo of MassLive first reported the $1 million in annual incentives and specified that the buyout applied regardless of the option scenario.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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