What are we to make of Lucas Giolito?
The free agent right-hander is now two years removed from his days as a frontline starting pitcher. As obvious as it sounds to say it out loud, this point is worth emphasizing: There’s a gulf of a difference between a single down year and two in a row.
One poor season could be a fluke. The numbers could be skewed by bad defense, bad luck, or bad timing.
A difficult year could also be the result of a small mechanical problem or a hidden injury. Whatever the reason may be, a single disappointing season doesn’t always offer enough data to make a strong judgment about a pitcher, especially one with a lengthy track record of success.
Two bad seasons, you say? Now it’s a pattern. And even if the problem is related to health or faulty mechanics, there clearly isn’t an easy fix.
If Giolito were coming off a single bad season, an outlier on the back of his baseball card, he’d likely still get paid like a No. 2 starter this winter. His impressive performance from 2019-21 would be enough to outweigh any serious concerns about an uncharacteristic slump.
After two consecutive down years, however, his fate is much harder to predict. Do any teams still view him as the kind of pitcher who can take the ball in October? It remains to be seen.
Landing Spots for Lucas Giolito
To be fair, it’s not as if the clock struck midnight and Giolito’s arm turned into a pumpkin. He has made 30-plus starts in each of the past two seasons with an ERA under 5.00 and a total of 2.8 FanGraphs WAR. That’s not going to earn him any playoff starts, but every team needs innings, and Giolito has innings to offer.
Indeed, look no further than the one-year, $13 million contract Kyle Gibson signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Gibson is pretty much Giolito’s floor, and his talents are valued in the eight figures.
Combine a Gibson-esque floor with Giolito’s youth and reputation, and you get the foundation for a desirable pitcher. He won’t be paid like an All-Star, but he should have his fair share of suitors to choose from in the coming weeks.
Here are six potential landing spots for Giolito, as he attempts to bounce back in 2024.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox need upside more than anything else this winter. After missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, their only real chance to contend in 2024 is to load up the roster with high-upside players and hope for a miracle.
This isn’t a bad team, by any means, but they play in a powerhouse division, and the clubs around them are only getting stronger. Thus, the Sox will need just about everything to break their way if they’re going to make some noise next year.
From 2019 to ’21, Giolito made 72 starts with a 3.47 ERA. If he can somehow rediscover that form, he might just be the top-of-the-rotation arm Boston desperately needs.
New York Mets
The Mets have added Luis Severino and Adrian Houser this offseason, but they still need live bodies for the rotation. According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, they’re showing “strong interest” in Giolito, and it could be for precisely that reason – if nothing else, at least he can eat innings.
Sure, he’s going to cost a little bit more than your run-of-the-mill innings eater, but if any team can afford to pay a premium for the player they want, it’s the New York Mets.
San Diego Padres
It’s difficult to predict what kind of contract Giolito will sign. Will he go for a one-year prove-it deal? Or will he look to secure the highest possible guarantee this winter? There’s a solid argument on either side.
That being the case, he could be a good candidate for the kind of option- and incentive-laden contract that Seth Lugo, Nick Martinez, and Michael Wacha all signed with San Diego last winter. The Padres, for their part, still need starters after losing the aforementioned pitchers to free agency, along with staff ace Blake Snell.
The two sides haven’t been formally linked, but the fit is there. The Padres may not have a ton of payroll flexibility, but they have to fill innings somehow, and Giolito offers the upside they need.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have already revitalized their rotation this winter, but given the injury concerns surrounding Tyler Glasnow and Walker Buehler, they could use a durable veteran arm. What’s more, we all know this team loves a pitching project, and if anyone can help Giolito rediscover his top form, it’s the Dodgers. He might even be willing to take a discount to sign with L.A.
The two sides have not been formally linked since before the Dodgers landed Yamamoto, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the running. I mean, come on, are the Dodgers ever out of the running?
The Orioles could really use a true frontline starter this winter, but it’s hard to believe they’ll part with the necessary prospects to land Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, and it’s even harder to believe ownership will shell out the big bucks to sign Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery.
Instead, it seems more likely they’ll sign someone like Giolito. In a worst-case scenario, he fills the role Kyle Gibson and Jack Flaherty played last season. In a best-case scenario, he has the stuff to be the No. 1 starter on the staff.
The Reds have a glut of talented young arms but a severe shortage of proven and reliable big league starters. They began to address that problem by signing Nick Martinez earlier this winter, but they have been connected to Giolito even after adding Martinez.
For the past two years, the Reds have not had a single pitcher throw more than 150 innings in a season. Gioltio has thrown at least 160 in every full season of his career. If the Reds are willing to open the purse strings a little wider this winter, Giolito could be just the arm they need.