Red Sox finalize deal with Giolito to add starting depth

January 4th, 2024

BOSTON -- As soon as the Hot Stove season started, new Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow had his eye on starting pitching.

It took a while, but the Sox finally came up with a significant addition to the rotation, announcing a one-year deal with free-agent right-hander on Wednesday that includes a player option for the 2025 season.

The contract will pay Giolito $38.5 million over two seasons if he exercises the player option, according to a source. The Red Sox did not disclose terms of the deal.

It swiftly became clear to Giolito how interested the Red Sox were in his services. The Red Sox, as it happened, made a strong pitch to the pitcher.

“The Red Sox were honestly probably one of, if not the first team, to reach out to me and my representation showing interest,” Giolito said. “So that obviously meant a lot to me. It's my first time going through free agency. I had a really, really interesting, amazing Zoom call; kind of like the pitch meeting, where I got to get a feel for the organization. I got to meet some of the staff, and I really liked everything I heard.”

Right-handed pitcher Mauricio Llovera was designated for assignment in a corresponding move.

In a three-year stretch from 2019-21, Giolito was one of the top starters in the American League. He went 29-21 with a 3.47 ERA over 72 starts, holding opponents to a .207 average over that span.

Giolito went on a downturn the past two seasons, but the Red Sox are confident he can reverse that trend in the team’s new-and-improved pitching infrastructure under Breslow, pitching coach Andrew Bailey and director of pitching Justin Willard.

The 29-year-old doesn’t think he is far from regaining his form, especially with the new resources at his disposal.

“I feel like it's just a great fit for me, what I'm trying to do, get back to the type of pitcher I know I can be,” Giolito said. “I'm a huge fan of Andrew Bailey, the new pitching coach. I've had wonderful conversations with him over the last couple of weeks. And then kind of on top of it all, [it’s the] Boston Red Sox, a storied franchise, Fenway Park. Not much to complain about there.”

Giolito’s 2023 season was topsy-turvy, to say the least. It started fine, with Giolito going 6-6 with a 3.79 ERA in 21 starts for the White Sox.

But after Giolito was traded to the Angels, his season took a significant dip. He posted a 6.89 ERA in six starts. The Guardians later claimed Giolito off waivers, and he had a 7.04 ERA in six starts with Cleveland.

“I'd say the biggest thing is consistency,” Giolito said. “The last couple of months of my season I was moving around a lot and I got into some bad funks, I'd say, mechanically and mentally.”

Prior to 2023, Giolito had spent six straight seasons with the White Sox, who acquired him from the Nationals in December 2016 as a part of the package in return for Adam Eaton. Giolito's best season came in 2019 when he went 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA in 176 2/3 innings while leading the Majors in complete games (three) and shutouts (two) en route to finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting.

He finished with a 3.48 and 3.53 ERA in 2020 and '21, respectively, to earn some down-ballot Cy Young votes, and he also threw a no-hitter during the '20 season.

For Giolito, the biggest problem in 2023 was hard contact. He ranked in the 8th percentile in barrel rate and the 32nd percentile in hard-hit rate, which are two of the biggest reasons he led the American League in home runs allowed (41).

“That was the result of too much falling behind, too much missing middle-middle, missing middle-in, just not executing,” Giolito said.

It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox add another starting pitcher to go along with Giolito, particularly after the subtraction of Chris Sale, who was dealt to the Braves for promising infielder Vaughn Grissom on Dec. 30.

Swiftly emerging youngster Brayan Bello is another key starter the Red Sox have slotted with Giolito in the upper portion of the rotation.

Nick Pivetta found himself as a swingman down the stretch last season and seems more likely than not to return to the rotation. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still trying to figure out whether Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock and Kutter Crawford are best utilized as starters or relievers.

In Giolito, the Sox have one of the prime rebound candidates of ’24.