After weeks if not months of hand-wringing throughout New England, the Boston Red Sox have finally landed some starting pitching help. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Boston is in agreement with righty Lucas Giolito on a two-year, $38.5 million contract, which also includes an opt-out after the 2024 season.
BREAKING: Right-hander Lucas Giolito and the Boston Red Sox are in agreement on a two-year, $38.5 million contract that includes an opt-out after the first season, sources tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 29, 2023
Boston lands its first big signing of the winter. The question now is: Will there be more?
The fit here is obvious. Few teams got less from their rotation in 2023 than the Red Sox — Boston starters threw the fourth-fewest innings in the league last season, putting way too much pressure on a bullpen that flagged down the stretch. Chris Sale is entering his age-35 season and hasn’t cracked 150 innings since 2018. Tanner Houck has long had trouble maintaining his effectiveness deep into games. Kutter Crawford, Garrett Whitlock and Nick Pivetta have bounced between the bullpen and the rotation. Outside of promising young righty Brayan Bello, Boston didn’t have a ton of innings it could count on entering 2024. If nothing else, Giolito checks that box; the 29-year-old has made 29 or more starts in each of the last five full seasons (not including the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign).
Just how effective those innings will be, however, is another question. Giolito is coming off a rough year in 2023, one in which he posted a 4.88 ERA and led the AL with 41 homers allowed in 184.1 innings of work. He was solid over the first half with the White Sox (21 starts, 3.79 ERA) but imploded after being dealt at the trade deadline, putting up a 6.89 ERA in a brief stint with the Angels and a 7.04 mark with the Guardians. The righty has always been a fly ball-heavy pitcher — it’s baked into his arsenal, with a four-seamer he wants to keep at the top of the zone and a changeup that’s his go-to offspeed — and those fly balls cleared the fence at an alarming rate. It’s not an ideal profile for Fenway Park, where the Green Monster turns even the most innocuous balls in the air into extra-base hits.
Then again, Giolito is also just two years removed from looking like a No. 2 starter: He put up a 3.47 ERA from 2019 to 2021, earning down-ballot Cy Young votes in each of those seasons. There was no discernable drop-off in stuff last season, and nothing to suggest that he can’t get back to being an above-average starter. Plus, with Yoshinobu Yamamoto off the market, Boston didn’t have a ton of compelling options to choose from — Giolito was one of the few available pitchers a team could trust to take the ball and go five or six frames every fifth day, and Breslow entered this offseason knowing that he needed not just one but preferably two or three of those guys. This is hardly an exorbitant price, even though including the opt-out after next season hurts.
This doesn’t solve all of the Red Sox’ pitching problems, but it does represent a perfectly fine first step. If Giolito is the best pitcher Breslow manages to add this winter, that’s a huge problem for the team’s hopes of contending in 2024. But this fills a need without breaking the bank — even given Boston’s reticence to go into even the first luxury-tax apron, they’ll still have tens of millions to spend — and if Boston can also land someone like Jordan Montgomery, Shota Imanaga or even a trade candidate like Dylan Cease, this roster suddenly becomes a lot more promising.