“I made it clear I want to be here,” Lucas Giolito said after his start Sunday.
Yes, the guy who’s been the White Sox’ best starting pitcher this year doesn’t want to change uniforms this summer, and his stated loyalty to the organization is worth remembering as he approaches free agency at the conclusion of this season.
No one should ever expect a pro athlete to take a hometown discount, but for someone to so heavily tout their positive feelings for one team is certainly worth noting, especially as plenty of frustrated White Sox fans seem sure of how ownership and the front office will operate this winter.
“I came to the White Sox in that trade, so immediately it was like, ‘Cool, fresh start,’” Giolito told CHGO last month, explaining why he feels the loyalty he does to the organization that acquired him in 2016. “But how welcomed I felt from the get go, from top down in the organization, the players, the coaches, front office. It was like, ‘We want you. You are going to be a part of our future.’ And feeling that after what just happened the year before (with the Nationals) was like, ‘Oh wow, this is wonderful.’
“You fast forward to 2018. ‘Worst pitcher in baseball,’ right? … Probably 29 other teams, two months in, would’ve been like, ‘All right, you’re going down to Triple-A. Figure it out.’ The White Sox literally told me, ‘Hey, it’s a rebuild. You’re going to be a part of our future. You’re going to be a part of our future success. We know you’re struggling. Get through it. You’re going to be here all year.’ It meant the world. Such a lucky position to be in. I got to have a year of service time and learn from that failure. The next offseason I got to work, and 2019 was my breakout season. And I just felt nothing but love.
“I’m very loyal to this organization. It does make me kind of sad thinking that this could be my last year.”
But whether Giolito even gets the chance to finish the year on the South Side remains to be seen.
The White Sox hit the All-Star break at a season-worst 16 games below .500 thanks to an extra-inning loss to the Cardinals on Sunday in which Giolito threw seven innings of two-hit ball. While “only” eight games back of first place in an awful AL Central, it seems seven losses in their last nine games — four to last-place Cardinals and A’s teams and three in a sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays — has worked to cement their status as one of baseball’s worst teams; only four teams currently boast worst records.
While Rick Hahn refused to publicly declare a midseason direction for his club on the Fourth of July, given the sticky situation of owning a horrible record but not yet being out of the division race, a 1-5 home stand followed, and it’s as clear as it’s been all season that the White Sox could be heading toward a trade-deadline yard sale.
Giolito, for all his loyalty, strikes as the team’s biggest potential trade chip. More playoff slots mean more potential contenders and more deadline buyers. It puts the White Sox in a relatively unique position of having pitching for other teams to procure. If there’s a dearth of sellers and a dearth of starting pitching on the market, Giolito could command some interesting offers that could help Hahn accomplish his stated goal of attempting to improve this team’s chances in the long term after back-to-back disappointing seasons.
Giolito won’t be alone, of course, and there could be a dramatic exodus from the White Sox’ pitching staff, which has performed well in 2023 while most of the position players have struggled to both produce and stay on the field. Lance Lynn finished his first half with a gem against the Blue Jays and has some epic strikeout numbers, despite a sky-high ERA. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, he’s already drawing interest. And the bullpen has potentially attractive veteran arms, too, such as Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Keynan Middleton and free-agent-to-be Reynaldo López.
Of course, the White Sox are hoping to avoid such a fate, even if time is not on their side. A turnaround to convince Hahn & Co. of postseason possibilities has been the mission since they stumbled out of the gates to a 7-21 record near the end of April. Things have gone better since but nowhere good enough to right the ship, hence the season-worst record at baseball’s traditional halfway point.
Words of hope, however laughable to a fed-up fan base, keep emanating from the home clubhouse at 35th and Shields, however, even though the realities of math — specifically the number of games they need to start winning and the number of days before the deadline — are creeping in.
“It’s been rough,” Giolito said of the team’s campaign to date. “Haven’t been able to really fire on all cylinders. A lot of close losses, which hurt. But I have faith with a few adjustments, we can make a good run in the second half. We’d have to get really hot. That’s what it would take.
“I think confidence and faith are there. It’s just a matter of executing and doing it, which we haven’t done. I’m hoping that with this break, the reset, we all … come back a little bit more motivated.
“We need to get really hot, which is very possible. Baseball is weird like that. If we come out and we are playing good defense and hitting the ball well, keep pitching like we are pitching, I think we are going to be good.”
It all strikes as rather unlikely, though, considering how the White Sox played the first three-plus months of the season, just as it seems unlikely that the roster will stay intact through the Aug. 1 deadline.
It’d sure be nice for the White Sox to find a way to retain Giolito, who has taken the unusual step of not just giving a cursory “I’ve enjoyed my time here, it’d be nice to stay” and instead outlining in detail why he feels the loyalty he does to the team. Any similar wishes from the fan base, though, would seem to ignore how this industry typically works.
There’s always a team, usually several, willing to shell out for pitching, and Giolito is an accomplished arm having a very good season. He’s made an All-Star team, thrown a no-hitter, pitched spectacularly in a playoff game and thrice finished in the top 11 in the AL Cy Young vote. His midseason ERA of 3.45 is lower than his end-of-season mark from each of the last three years and just a hair above where it ended in 2019, the year he was an All Star, when it was 3.41.
The White Sox have a reputation among their fans, fair or otherwise, of being a team that won’t spend big on free-agent pitching, though they made the largest contract offer to Zack Wheeler several years back, Wheeler deciding he’d rather pitch on the East Coast. The White Sox gave Dallas Keuchel a $55.5 million contract after Wheeler signed with the Phillies, only to DFA the lefty before the end of the deal.
The White Sox had plenty of additional reputations that were done away with thanks to Hahn’s actions during a yearslong rebuilding process, and with as many as three holes in the rotation coming this offseason, the reputation that the team doesn’t pay top dollar for starting pitching might have to be forcefully crushed if there’s any hope of contention in 2024.
That might or might not factor into any Giolito decisions over the next few weeks. But as stated, Giolito might also represent the best chance for Hahn to strengthen those 2024 chances with a deadline move. Given that Giolito would be a rental for any contender, it figures that a return won’t be in the realm of what Hahn got in trades involving Chris Sale and José Quintana, but a thin starting-pitching market means Giolito could definitely fetch something of long-term value.
That would be all well and good, considering where the White Sox currently sit. But they weren’t supposed to be in this position. Giolito was part of a carefully rebuilt roster that was supposed to be competing for championships by now. Giolito has proven to be one of the few members of the team’s core that’s been able to stay healthy, injuries the biggest of multiple reasons things have not gone to plan on the South Side.
But as the present-day situation places a focus on what comes next and what Giolito and others might get in a trade, it’s stunning to look back and realize that these conversations are happening in the first place for a team that seemed so primed to rule the AL Central and achieve far more.
With those plans so dashed, at least in the last two seasons, it’s worth wondering if Giolito’s wishes to remain a White Sock or the team’s wishes for a second-half surge to thwart all this trade talk have any chance of coming true.