As the hot stove gets hotter, it is time to begin looking at who Peter Bendix and the Miami Marlins could possibly target in major league free agency. Currently, the Marlins’ top three needs are a starting shortstop, starting catcher and starting pitching. The available free agents at shortstop and catcher are pretty bad, but starting pitching is actually the strength of this FA class.
All-Star pitcher Lucas Giolito is a free agent for the first time in his career. Unfortunately for him, Giolito didn’t pitch up to his usual standards during the 2023 season: 184.1 IP, 4.88 ERA, 5.27 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9.
Giolito had a solid first half of the season with the Chicago White Sox. He entered the All-Star break with a 3.45 ERA while averaging nearly six innings per start. With the White Sox way below the .500 mark, they flipped him and reliever Reynaldo López to the Los Angeles Angels prior to the trade deadline for a pair of top prospects.
Giolito really struggled with the change of scenery. He posted a 6.96 ERA over his final 12 starts. His teams went 2-10 with him on the mound and he allowed a league-leading total of 21 home runs during that period.
The Marlins reportedly tried to claim Giolito for themselves in late August. With Miami’s young pitchers pushing up against career-high workloads and trades no longer permitted, the Angels reversed course on their playoff push and wanted to shed salary. The veteran right-hander was the best option available on the waiver wire and the Marlins thought they were first in line among remaining postseason contenders. The Cleveland Guardians took everybody by surprise and claimed Giolito to keep their slim AL Central title hopes alive (it didn’t work).
Giolito possesses a three pitch-mix—four-seam fastball, changeup and sider—with an occasional dose of the curveball. The changeup has been his most consistent pitch through the years, a big reason why he’s done better against lefties (.691 OPS allowed) than righties (.770 OPS allowed).
Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara (Tommy John surgery) is out for the 2024 season. There is also uncertainty surrounding how many innings Eury Pérez will pitch as a 21-year-old and how Braxton Garrett and Jesús Luzardo will look like following a year where they went a career high in innings pitched. On a short-term deal, Giolito would make a lot of sense.
Pitching home games at LoanDepot Park should help Giolito coming off a season where he gave up the long ball more than usual. His 2.00 HR/9 in 2023 was the highest of his career.
The way that Giolito struggled in the second half will hurt his ability to get a monster contract. As a 29-year-old with a durable history, he could still get multiple years guaranteed at a solid rate (his median contract projection is three years, $46.5M). However, he’s in a situation to consider signing a one-year “prove it” deal to improve his value and enter free agency next offseason. The Marlins could be interested in that, filling a hole in their rotation for 2024 and knowing they could sell him for prospects at the trade deadline if they can’t repeat as a playoff team.
Like Giolito, Michael Wacha was a former first-round draft pick who didn’t have much momentum entering free agency. He signed a series of one-year contracts before finding success with the Boston Red Sox in 2022, turning that into a bigger deal with the San Diego Padres the following season.
If you’re Giolito, the dream is to follow Robbie Ray’s example and break out as a Cy Young award winner like Ray did on his “prove it” deal with the 2021 Toronto Blue Jays. That led to a five-year, $115M payday.
It’s unclear whether the Marlins’ interest level in Giolito has changed at all under new president of baseball operations Peter Bendix, but you can see how they would match up well with each other.