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Yankees potential trade target: Lucas Giolito

The right-hander seems likely to be traded in the coming days, with the Yankees presenting a potential fit.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

With the White Sox listing Michael Kopech, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease, TBD, and TBD as their starting rotation coming out of the All-Star break, chances seem as good as any that Lucas Giolito has thrown his last pitch as a member of the Chicago White Sox, six-and-a-half years after heralding in their ill-fated rebuild by being acquired as a prospect in exchange for Adam Eaton in December, 2016.

After establishing himself as a front-of-the-line pitcher between 2019 and 2021, totaling 427.2 innings at a stellar 3.47 ERA (good for a 129 ERA+ and 10.6 rWAR, seventh in MLB in that span) with a no-hitter tossed in for funsies, Giolito struggled with COVID-19 and a subsequent velocity drop last season, concluding 2022 with an ugly 4.90 ERA, albeit with a much more manageable 4.04 FIP. This season, that FIP has actually increased to 4.21, but his results have gone back to their usual sweet spot: Giolito has a 3.45 ERA, a solid but unspectacular 25.3 percent strikeout rate, and solidly better-than-average 7.4 percent walk rate.

Though the crackdown on sticky-stuff robbed him of the high strikeouts that he plied his trade with in 2019 through early 2021, with slightly reduced rise and run on fastball contributing to a precipitous drop in the pitch’s inability to get whiffs in the strike zone, he’s compensated with some of the best control of his career, and he’s commanding all three of his primary pitches on a consistent basis for the first time since 2019, when he finished sixth in Cy Young balloting. He’d bring a sorely-needed workhorse mentality to a Yankees rotation that for the time being doesn’t have a single pitcher other than Gerrit Cole who’s a sure thing to go beyond five innings.

Giolito would be a shot of stability for a Yankees rotation that hasn’t had much of it this season, and as a free agent at the end of this campaign, even if he likely won’t move mountains at the top of the rotation like Luis Castillo or Max Scherzer, the best rental pitchers at the previous two years’ deadlines, he’s got postseason experience. He threw seven dominant innings in his 2020 playoff debut, and hung in with a tough Astros lineup on the road in 2021 before being left out to dry by Tony La Russa late in the start. As the Yankees saw on June 6th, when he shut them down for six no-hit innings, he can still go toe-to-toe with any pitcher in the league when he’s near the top of his game.

His fastball’s velocity has lost a tick since its 2019-20 heyday, and while it doesn’t get swings and misses in the zone like it used to, it’s still got enough carry and a flat-enough approach angle that it’s quite effective when he spots it above the strike zone, and it’s currently outperforming its expected stats (a solid .309 wOBA to a roughly average .332 xwOBA) for the fourth time in five seasons. Though his bugs-bunny changeup has been his calling-card secondary since his breakout, it’s been hit hard for a career-worst .329 wOBA/.331 xwOBA, and he’s compensated with a rediscovery of his slider form, which has held hitters to a .270 wOBA and .284 xwOBA, both its best marks in years.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Even with reduced stuff, Giolito’s command has improved enough to maintain the bottom-line results he generated in 2019-21; that 7.4 percent walk rate is substantially lower than the 8.6 percent rate he worked with in 2019-20, and right in line with his 7.3 percent mark in 2021. It also shows up in his batted ball luck, running a .266 BABIP right in line with his prime numbers — a significant rebound from last year’s ugly .330 — although statcast metrics see him as virtually the same pitcher as last year, with identical .318 xwOBA and .391 xwOBAcon outputs. That being said, expected stats don’t take situational pitching into account, and this author has watched enough of his starts over the last two seasons to say with confidence than a tick up in stuff and command has allowed him to emerge through difficult innings and RISP scenarios far more consistently than he did in 2022 — the difference in results certainly isn’t a complete mirage.

There are a few interrelated reasons that Giolito might not be an intuitive target for this iteration of Cashman’s Yankees. First, his arsenal simply doesn’t quite line up with the sets of traits that Yankees pitching coordinators has gravitated towards in the Matt Blake era. His slider has increasingly become a gyro-heavy up-down offering, in recent years, something we’ve seen out of more Yankees pitchers lately, but both it and its accompanying fastball have pedestrian velocity. His curveball has always been a traditional 12-6 offering and his arm slot isn’t conducive to throwing a sweeper, which not only doesn’t fit the type of pitcher the Yankees have gone after in recent years, but also contributes to a fly ball heavy profile that might be work all that well at Yankee Stadium, even though that’s partially a product of an unorthodox changeup that he often throws up in the zone and generates far more pop-ups than your typical offspeed pitch.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In another year, those factors probably wouldn’t be enough to foreclose on a trade for a pitcher of Giolito’s caliber, but the market is shaping up in a way that might mean the risk isn’t worth the spend. The draft pick reward from a rejected Qualifying Offer that would be certain to come gives the White Sox additional leverage, and more importantly, some of their prime competition for Giolito’s services — namely, the Dodgers and the Orioles — are quite wealthy in upper-minors prospects who match up well with what the re-loading Sox are likely to seek in a deal. The risk profile is high enough that one would have to think long and hard before sending Oswald Peraza or Everson Pereira the other way in such a deal, but organizations like those two — and even other potential suitors like the Reds or Diamondbacks — are flush with the 45+/50 FV prospects in the range that it might take to get Giolito.

Though he’s not going to lead your staff to a championship, Giolito is a workhorse who’s been somewhere between good and All-Star caliber for more or less four out of the last five seasons, and he’ll likely slot handily into the back part of a playoff rotation for whomever he plays this last part of 2023 for. There’s no doubt that he can help the Yankees. But it remains an open question whether there’s enough upside — and enough of a fit for their philosophy — to justify the cost of what might be one of the more abnormally expensive non-elite rental pitchers that’s hit the market in recent deadlines.