The Reds have a pair of the best trade candidates on the market this summer, with starting pitchers Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle each in the middle of their penultimate seasons in control of the club. Teams requiring rotation will be in discussion with Cincinnati general manager Nick Krall and his team over the next six weeks, and a few have already expressed interest in Castillo.
Jon Heyman of the New York Post lists the Twins, Mets and Padres among the clubs in the market. This surely won’t be an exhaustive list, as virtually any contender could find room in their starting five for a pitcher of this caliber. Castillo is playing this season on an affordable salary of $7.35 million (just over half of which is still due), so most clubs should have no problem integrating him financially.
Castillo has been one of the most productive arms in the sport over the past few years. Despite spending his entire MLB career with a team that plays in one of the most batter-friendly fields in baseball, the right-hander has an ERA below 4.00 in five of his six seasons. That includes this year’s mark of 3.71 through nine starts and 51 innings.
The 29-year-old’s underlying numbers haven’t been as strong in 2022 as they have been in previous years. His strikeout rate of 22.9% and swing hitting percentage of 10.5% are around this season’s respective league averages for starters. Castillo’s 49.6% ground ball rate is high, but down from the 55-58% range he sat in every year from 2019-21. He also lost a tick on the average speed of his four-seam, flowing fastballs, possibly due to shoulder pain that cost him the first month of the year.
While Castillo’s first two months may be a little disappointing by his high standards, there’s still no shortage of demand. Even his fastball controls diminished slightly north of 96 MPH on average. His performance this season has remained strong – his 3.71 ERA and 3.88 SIERA are below the respective league marks of 4.10 and 4.09 for debutants – and the Dominican Republic native has shown potential to improve. impact in the past. Between 2019 and 2021, Castillo ranked among the top 25 qualified pitchers in ERA and strikeout rate and posted the second-highest grounder percentage in the sport.
With that kind of resume, it’s no surprise that rival sides are already in contact with the Reds. The Twins are among the more straightforward candidates for a rotational pickup, and they also plan to explore the market for other high-end arms like Mahle and the A’s. Frankie Montas. Minnesota comes into play Thursday percentage points behind the Guardians in the AL Central, with the White Sox looming as a divisional threat four games behind them. Minnesota’s rotation started strong but was flagged for a 4.80 ERA over the past month, a streak that has coincided with stints on the disabled list for Bailey Ober and chris paddack (the latter of which is finished for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery).
The Mets, on the other hand, have a star rotation when healthy. Jacob of Grom, Max Scherzer and Tylor Megill are all currently on the injured list, and they’ve been on the periphery of the market for most stars available over the past twelve months. Scherzer is expected to return shortly (possibly as soon as this weekend), while deGrom continues to progress from the shoulder blade stress reaction he suffered in spring training. The club will hope he returns before the August 2 deadline, but Megill will likely be on the shelf beyond that point.
You could argue that New York should prioritize areas beyond rotational assistance, but the Padres’ presence in Castillo’s market illustrates that even teams without a clear need need to at least do some due diligence. San Diego already has an excellent six-man squad Joe Musgrove, Sean Manee, Yu Darvish, mackenzie gore, Mike Clevinger and Blake Snell. It’s the forced sign of the offseason Nick Martinez in a rotating role, and the prevailing view is that they are more likely to leverage that surplus than add another impact trigger. Between their depth of rotation and the fact that they’re just against the $230 million base competitive balance tax threshold, the Brothers feel like a long shot to land an arm of Castillo’s caliber. That may have been true for Manaea as well, though, and president of baseball operations AJ Preller has shown time and time again that he’s willing to act boldly to attract the players the organization desires.
No Castillo deal is imminent, of course, and there will be plenty more teams in contention over the next few weeks. The Reds don’t have to move either him or Mahle with an extra season of scrutiny, but their trade value will likely never be as high as it will be this summer. At 23-46, Cincinnati has no fighting chance this year. Moving Castillo and/or Mahle would be a serious blow to the 2023 roster, but this year’s struggles could suggest a broader overhaul is needed. The Reds did not enter this season with the intention of rebuilding, but their efforts to stay competitive while subtracting some key players to reduce the wage bill were shattered by a 3-18 performance in April.
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