The Boston Red Sox were busy as the working world took a pause between Christmas and New Year's, adding Lucas Giolito on the free agency market, and trading away Chris Sale, a rotation stalwart for over half a decade. In return for Sale, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves, the Red Sox acquired infielder Vaughn Grissom. Giolito signed a two-year deal worth up to $38.5 million.
Giolito was on three teams in 2023, starting with the Chicago White Sox and ending with the Cleveland Guardians, with a month-long cameo in Los Angeles in between. The veteran right-hander was much better in Chicago than his other two stops, pitching to a 3.79 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 121 innings on the South Side. With the Angels and Guardians, Giolito pitched to a combined 6.99 ERA in 63.1 innings. Ouch. Giolito's 4.88 season ERA is his second straight season with an ERA north of 4.50 after three seasons with an ERA below 4.00 from 2019-2021. Turning 30 in 2024 limits the upside of Giolito, reflected in the two-year contract given by Boston, with an opt-out after the first season.
The downfall of Giolito's 2023 can be tied to the homerun ball; Giolito allowed 41 (!!!) between his stops. More than half of those home runs came in his twelve starts after leaving Chicago. Here is a bit of a silver lining. If Giolito's home games had come in Fenway Park, 12 of those home runs would disappear. There is a way to look past the numbers and see Giolito as a league-average starter. The changeup and slider combo kept hitters below a .250 average, and increased usage could bring some positive change. In only one season -- 2019 -- was Giolito's fastball a dominant pitch, and his usage numbers have decreased in correlation with the pitch's performance.
The changeup and slider are the only two pitches at or above league-average, and maybe a reworked curveball could be an answer to improved performance. The slider break is minimal, so adding an effective pitch that moves away from righties should improve Giolito's arsenal. Pitching Coordinator Shawn Haviland has an interesting project on his hands.
Chris Sale had been a member of the Red Sox since 2017, playing a key role in the team's 2018 World Series championship. In 115 career starts with the BoSox, Sale pitched to a 3.27 ERA, striking out 945 in 670.2 innings, good for a 17.1 bWAR, and of course, one World Series ring. Sale has battled injuries from 2020-2023, making just 31 starts in that time frame. Last season, Sale made 20 starts, his most since 2019, pitching to a 4.30 ERA with 125 strikeouts in 102.2 innings. Sale's once overpowering fastball has lost a ton of zip, down over three miles per hour on average from his 97.0 mph peak in 2010. Still, Sale's slider was elite in 2023, holding batters to a measly .162 batting average. As part of the deal, Boston agreed to pay down a portion of Sale's salary, making this a low-risk investment for Atlanta. At best, Sale will likely fill the third spot in their rotation, but a majority of that ceiling relies on Sale's health. A team like Atlanta has both the resources and the depth to take a risk like this.
In return for Sale, the Red Sox acquired an interesting prospect in Vaughn Grissom, who has accumulated 236 at-bats across parts of the last two big league seasons. In limited action, Grissom has slashed .287/.339/.407, playing a mix of shortstop and second base, neither of them particularly well. New Chief Baseball Officer Craig Breslow has stated that the team views Grissom as the everyday second baseman entering 2024. FanGraphs' Eric Longenhagen was bullish on Grissom's defense entering the 2022 season, projecting him as an average defensive second baseman upon maturity. Regardless of position, Grissom's driving tool is his bat, producing a 107 wRC+ in 64 career MLB games. Grissom crushes fastballs, to the tune of a .333 career average, with four of his five career home runs coming off fastballs. While the 2023 numbers looked rough at the big league level, Grissom crushed his first taste of Triple-A, nearly matching his strikeout total with walks. Grissom slashed .330/.419/.501 with eight home runs and 13 stolen bases as a 22-year-old at Triple-A.
With a crowded infield all inked for the foreseeable future, Grissom quickly became expendale for Atlanta despite debuting at 21. Moving to a Boston team that is somewhere between contending and rebuilding, Grissom is set for consistent playing time for the first time in his big league career. Playing 140 plus games could be the key to Grissom reaching his considerable ceiling. Either way, the Red Sox shedded some payroll, a key to building back up to contention sooner rather than later.