For the second straight offseason, Luis Castillo is figuring into some chatter on the rumor mill, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link) reports that the Reds are open to discussing the right-hander in trade talks. This represents a slight change from last year, when Reds GM Nick Krall firmly denied that Castillo was available, even though other clubs inevitably asked about Castillo.
There isn’t any guarantee that Castillo will be dealt, since another team would have to be willing to meet what is sure to be a very high asking price from Cincinnati. However, dealing Castillo would be the clearest sign yet that the Reds are not just cutting payroll, but seemingly stepping back into some sort of a rebuild phase. With the offseason less than a week old, the Reds have already dealt Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers and put Wade Miley on waivers, where he was claimed by the division-rival Cubs.
Those two players weren’t guaranteed to return to Cincinnati anyway in 2022 due to club options (Miley for $10MM, Barnhart for $7.5MM), and yet quickly parting ways with two productive veterans led to some dismay amongst Reds fans. The mood didn’t improve after Krall stated that “going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.” The Reds have roughly $131.4MM on their books for next season’s payroll, yet at this point, it certainly seems like more cuts are coming. Castillo is relatively inexpensive (projected for a $7.6MM salary in arbitration), entering his age-29 season, and is controlled through the next two seasons, so he is far more of a cornerstone piece than Barnhart or Miley.
The righty has been one of the more solid pitchers in baseball over the last five seasons, with a 3.72 ERA, 30.4% strikeout rate, 53.9% grounder rate, and 14.4 fWAR over 707 1/3 career innings. He was an All-Star in 2019, and has looked like an ace at best and “merely” as a durable front-of-the-rotation type at worst, as Castillo has never spent any time on a Major League injured list.
It is worth noting that 2021 was something of a step back for Castillo, as he got off to a terrible start to the season and had a 7.22 ERA at the end of May. While he righted the ship over the rest of the year, Castillo finished with only a 3.98 ERA, as well as a barely-average 23.9% strikeout rate (after a 29.4 K% in 2019-20) and only a 9.3% walk rate. Castillo has posted subpar walk rates in three of his five years, though while control has been an issue, it hasn’t kept him from otherwise posting strong numbers.
While the Reds could explore attaching Castillo to a larger and possibly undesirable salary on the payroll (i.e. Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas), moving Castillo as a part of a salary dump would seem like something of a waste, considering that trading Castillo alone would net the Reds quite a bit of younger talent. Reporter Sung Min Kim observed that the Twins’ trade of Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays for top-100 prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson could be a comp for a potential Castillo deal, except the Reds would be in a position to ask for even more — a new team would have Castillo for two full seasons, whereas Toronto just acquired Berrios for the 2022 season and the final two-plus months of the 2021 campaign.
It is probably safe to assume that lots of teams have routinely checked in on Castillo’s availability, though the Yankees were one team specifically cited as being involved in some talks last winter. New York turned down the Reds’ demand of Gleyber Torres and more in exchange for Castillo, to present an idea of just how high a price tag Cincinnati rightfully put on Castillo’s services. It figures that the Yankees would be keen to inquire about Castillo again, except this time Torres might not be on the Reds’ radar, considering how Jonathan India now has second base locked down and Torres no longer looks like a viable shortstop.
If a Castillo trade is completed, it stands to reason that it could be the first major domino to fall in a Reds fire sale, if the team is planning to take a big step back from competing. The likes of Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Jesse Winker and others could all be on the trade block, not to mention the larger-salary players like Suarez or Moustakas. For what it’s worth, Joey Votto has a full no-trade clause and has consistently said that he would use that clause to remain in Cincinnati for the rest of his career.