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Garfien: What Red Sox can expect from Giolito in 2024

Garfien: What Red Sox can expect from Giolito in 2024 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

After a tumultuous 2023 campaign, Lucas Giolito will look to regain his ace form with the Boston Red Sox in 2024.

Giolito signed a two-year, $38.5 million contract with the Red Sox in free agency. His deal includes a $19 million player option for 2025 with a $1 million buyout. If he exercises the 2025 option, the Red Sox will have a $14 million option for 2026 with a $1.5 million buyout.

The 29-year-old's career thus far has been a rollercoaster. He went from arguably the worst pitcher in the league in 2018 to an All-Star and sixth-place Cy Young award finisher in 2019. He pitched well in 2020 (seventh in Cy Young voting) and 2021 but has regressed significantly in his two most recent seasons.

In 2023, Giolito went 8-15 with a 4.88 ERA and a league-leading 41 home runs allowed in 33 starts between the White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and Cleveland Guardians. The White Sox traded Giolito at the deadline and it was all downhill from there for the 29-year-old right-hander.

Giolito's inconsistency won't inspire much optimism, but there's reason to believe he can bounce back and be a key contributor for the Red Sox next season. NBC Sports Chicago's White Sox reporter Chuck Garfien, who covered Giolito's entire career in the South Side, explained why.

"The Lucas Giolito you're likely getting in my opinion is the Lucas Giolito that pitched really well with the White Sox," Garfien told NBC Sports Boston. "He was essentially picking like their ace for the first three months of the season. What happens sometimes, especially for pitchers, when they get traded, they're out of their comfort zone. It's not like a hitter who can just go hit. Who's the catcher? Who's the pitching coach? I think what Lucas also did, I think he put a lot of pressure on himself because the Angels acquired him and he's thinking, 'OK, I've got to be the guy that's gotta help (Shohei) Ohtani get to the playoffs.'

"These are not thoughts you want on the mound when you're trying to win a baseball game. I just don't think that was a good fit. And all of a sudden he gets picked up again and essentially traded again because the Angels DFA'd him. Now, he's in a whole other environment trying to help the Guardians get to the playoffs. I think he learned some lessons from a mental standpoint on how to handle yourself and don't put that kind of pressure on yourself."

While bouncing from team to team and struggling with his mechanics, as he acknowledged in his introductory press conference, Giolito had plenty going on in his personal life. Garfien believes this should be taken into account while assessing Giolito's down year and that the stats don't tell the whole story.

"He was obviously pitching in a funk, he had problems in his personal life, he got a divorce during the season. So there was a lot going on beyond just the stats," Garfien said. "If you look at the stats, you're thinking, 'He was a terrible pitcher at the end of the year. Are we getting that?' You're not getting that. You're gonna get a better pitcher and someone who wants to right the ship and turn his career around."

That's encouraging news for a Red Sox club that hasn't done much to appease fans so far this offseason. Other than Giolito, their only big-league free-agent addition was little-known pitcher Cooper Criswell on a one-year, $1 million contract. Their other notable acquisitions have come via trade as they sent prospects to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Tyler O'Neill and veteran left-hander Chris Sale to the Atlanta Braves for middle infielder Vaughn Grissom.

As of Friday, Giolito leads a Red Sox rotation that also includes Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, and Nick Pivetta. Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck also are candidates to start games.

Perhaps Giolito won't be the only ex-White Sox hurler to call Boston home in 2024. Hard-throwing righty Dylan Cease is rumored to be on the Red Sox' radar, but it'll likely take a package of top prospects to acquire the former Cy Young runner-up.