We could see the Royals’ off-season pick up a bit at the Winter Meetings as they look to improve a team that lost 106 games last year. Pitching is a top priority after the team finished with the third-worst ERA in baseball. The Royals are reportedly looking for a “No. 1 or No. 2 who can help solidify the rotation” but it seems unlikely they would pursue top-tier free agents like Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell. What is more likely is that they look for pitchers that have front-of-the-rotation-type potential, perhaps someone like Lucas Giolito.
December 5 update: Jon Morosi reports the Royals have interest in Lucas Giolito
Free agent RHP Lucas Giolito, 29, is drawing interest from the Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Royals.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 5, 2023
The Yamamoto and Ohtani markets could impact Giolito's destination. He posted a 4.88 ERA this year while tying for a league-best 33 GS.@MLBNetwork
Giolito was a first-round pick in the 2012 draft by the Nationals, but was traded early in his career in a blockbuster deal to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton. He struggled in his first season on the South Side, but was an All-Star in 2019, finishing top ten in the league in ERA, strikeouts, and pitcher rWAR. It would begin a string of three consecutive seasons in which he received Cy Young votes. Over that time, he was seventh in all of baseball in fWAR with a 3.47 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts-per-nine innings.
His ERA spiked to 4.90 in 2022, although his FIP was still an acceptable 4.06 and his strikeout rate was still high, albeit down from his peak. He got off to a good start this year and had a 3.85 ERA when the White Sox traded him to the Angels at the end of July. That began a tumultuous year for the right-hander, and he was later placed on waivers in a cost-cutting mode that left him with Cleveland to end the year. He finished poorly and ended the year with a 4.88 ERA, paired with an ugly 5.27 FIP. He led the league in home runs allowed, and he had his highest walk rate since 2018.
While Giolito’s fastball has only dropped slightly in velocity, it has gone from a plus pitch to a very hittable offering with a 50 percent hard-hit rate. His change up has held up well, but his slider lacks consistency. He was probably a bit unlucky in his home runs allowed - he was second in home run-to-flyball ratio. His overall flyball rate was only up slightly from his peak, and Kauffman Stadium could help suppress some of those longballs.
Giolito is just 29 years old, one of the few free agent pitchers on the right side of 30. He could be looking for a one-year deal to resurrect his value. If he is able to return to the form he showed a few years ago, he could be looking at a $100 million deal a year from now. But if a team wanted to lock him up now for several seasons, a three- or four-year deal worth $14-18 million per season might get it done. That brings a fair amount of risk, as his decline may be a sign his best days are already behind him. But the Royals will have to take on a fair amount of risk if they want any hopes of acquiring anything that resembles a frontline pitcher.