After an unfortunate ending to an exciting season, it is time to start looking at the laundry list of to-dos for the White Sox to take care of this offseason. At the top of the list, extending Lucas Giolito should be among the team’s highest priorities.
Despite the emergence of Lance Lynn on the South Side and the bounce-back year Carlos Rodon just experienced after battling health issues, the ace of this pitching staff is still Lucas Giolito. He got off to a rocky start to begin the year, however, he solidified his ace status after the all-star break with a 2.65 ERA from mid-July through the rest of the 2021 regular season. At age 27, despite having two more years of arbitration eligibility, he is surely looking for a contract extension that provides him guarantees, and the White Sox should be happy to lock him up long term.
Evaluating a Player’s Worth
Now, when evaluating what a player is worth, there are several factors that must be taken into account: performance, age, health, and comparable player extensions throughout the league. In terms of the first three, Giolito passes with flying colors by just turning 27 and accumulating 11.2 total war (according to Fangraphs) through 427.2 innings over the last three seasons. The final factor, comparable player contract extensions, is less in Giolito’s control but can help both his agent and the White Sox front office find a common ground in terms of a fair contract.
The one factor that is in the Sox favor at the negotiating table is the arbitration. Because Giolito is still technically under team control for the next two seasons, the Sox have the leverage of being able to take their time with limited risk. This is where Giolito’s camp will most likely have some urgency at getting a deal done, as pitchers, in general, are susceptible to more injuries due to the nature of the position. Pitchers are one pitch away from a long-term UCL injury, so locking in a guaranteed salary provides them with much less financial risk.
In terms of recent comparable contract extensions, the best example we can go off of is Lance McCullers. Before the 2021 season, McCullers signed a 5-year $85 million extension entering his 6th year in the league (he did not pitch in 2019) at age 27. This is the exact same situation Giolito is heading into this offseason, sans missing a year due to injury. Now, Giolito’s camp should have no issues demanding more than this contract for a number of valid reasons. First of all, McCullers has been more injury-prone throughout his career, and his 168.2 IP in 2021 is the only time in his career that he has topped 130 IP. Also, and more importantly, Giolito has outperformed McCullers on the pitching mound in terms of ERA, K/9, BB/9, and WAR.
Giolito Extension Framework
Now, based on all the above info, we can start to piece together what an extension for Giolito will probably look like. While Jerry Reinsdorf has never handed out a $100 million contract during his tenure as the White Sox owner, this is something that cannot be avoided much longer. Giolito has earned the right to earn the first $100 million contract as the leader of the White Sox pitching staff.
In terms of annual average value (AAV), he will most definitely top McCullers’ $17 million per year, and I would put $20 million at Giolito’s floor in contract negotiations with the potential to be as high as $25 million. Now in terms of years, 5 is probably the sweet spot. Giolito’s camp will most likely look for something longer, however, it is difficult for pitchers that aren’t perennial Cy Young candidates to command that type of length in contracts (plus let’s face it, it is going to be difficult to expect Jerry to commit longer than that). They could compromise here by offering Giolito high-value 6th and 7th-year club/mutual options, as the Sox have been known to include those club options in contracts over the past few years.
Prediction: Lucas Giolito and the White Sox agree to a 5-year contract extension worth $110 million plus 2 option years worth $25 million each (max value 7 years $160 million).
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