With Giolito hurt, Red Sox should step up and sign Montgomery

With Giolito hurt, Red Sox should step up and sign Montgomery originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Paging Jordan Montgomery. You're needed in Fort Myers.

If the Red Sox felt they had enough starting pitching to round out a rotation, maybe they'll reconsider now that Lucas Giolito, the team's only significant free-agent acquisition, needs testing on his right elbow and could require season-ending surgery.

"We're obviously concerned," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Florida. "Not a good day for us."

Giolito signed a two-year, $38.5 million contract this winter and was supposed to supply innings. He just threw a career-high 184.1 frames and has made at least 29 starts in every full season since 2018. Since undergoing Tommy John surgery as a prospect more than a decade ago, he has been remarkably durable.

So much for that. ESPN reported he has a partial tear of his UCL and is evaluating his options. With the early prognosis sounding so ominous, the Red Sox must decide if they want to promote from within and further signal that 2024 just doesn't matter, or if they finally, belatedly intend to reach an agreement with free-agent left-hander Jordan Montgomery.

All winter, the Red Sox have telegraphed their determination not to spend a penny more than necessary to field a team, relying on a fanciful – and extensive – series of what-ifs to draw a circuitous path to the playoffs. Chief among their thoughts of a wishful variety was Giolito regaining his 2019 All-Star form and fronting the rotation with quality and quantity.

Now they face the possibility of his extended absence, which puts the bullseye back on Montgomery.

If they had hoped to watch the veteran left-hander's market drop a little further, it was a miscalculation, because now they have a need, and Montgomery's agent, Scott Boras, has some leverage.

"I think there is a pitching panic going on in Major League Baseball right now," Boras told USA Today on Monday. "We have got so many starting pitchers that are now compromised, maybe short-term, but some long-term, and the calls for elite starters are certainly starting to increase."

With Cardinals ace Sonny Gray (hamstring) and Phillies right-hander Taijuan Walker (knee) sidelined, teams that thought they had enough pitching suddenly might rejoin the market. But no one needs Montgomery more than the Red Sox.

He's likely available for what amounts to a one-year deal with opt-outs, and there's no longer a worry that he'll command the $170 million Boras reportedly sought in December. He checks the same boxes as Giolito, but with much better recent results. He has made at least 30 starts in each of the last three seasons and just set his own career-high in innings with 188.2, plus another 31 in the playoffs. He owns a 3.34 ERA over the last two years.

Rangers pitcher Jordan Montgomery
Jordan Montgomery would give the Red Sox a proven veteran arm atop a relatively inexperienced rotation.

He could very easily help keep the Red Sox respectable this year and still be effective when the team's prospects hopefully arrive, and it remains frustrating that the Red Sox didn't approach his free agency with more urgency.

The alternative to Montgomery is underwhelming. Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, and Josh Winckowski originally projected to compete for the last spot in the rotation behind Giolito, Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, and Kutter Crawford. Now, manager Alex Cora simply could keep two of them, with Houck and Whitlock the obvious choices.

That's the path of least resistance, and the team could sell it as a product not only of opportunity, but improvement. After all, Houck is throwing harder than ever this spring, and Whitlock remade his physique.

But wouldn't it be nice if just once the Red Sox recognized that a need required a bolder solution? Montgomery may not be Pedro Martinez, but he's a massive upgrade who'd allow the younger pitchers to develop behind him without the pressure of being the team's No. 1 starter.

There's value in that. Of course, there's been value in it all winter. Maybe the Giolito news will finally force them to act.