TODAY: The Rangers are one of the teams who have spoken to the Reds about their starters, according to Jon Morosi (via Twitter).
NOVEMBER 29: The Reds have had talks with multiple teams about starting pitchers Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo, reports MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (via Twitter). Cincinnati has reportedly been open to dealing starting pitchers for weeks now, but Morosi suggests there have been recent discussions on all three from that trio.
Either Mahle (who has two years of control remaining after a breakout 2021) or Gray (who’s under contract for $10.2MM in 2022, with a $12MM club option for 2023) would figure to cost significantly less in prospect capital than would Castillo, whom Cincinnati is said to be loath to deal. Like Mahle, Castillo has two years of club control remaining. However, he also has a longer track record of consistent high-end production than Mahle, and he’s three years younger and less expensive than Gray, who is playing out the final two years of a contract extennsion.
An earlier report by Morosi had linked the Angels to Castillo, though he described those talks as “preliminary.” MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets, however, that the Angels are at the “forefront” of the Castillo push, even as the Reds have told opposing GMs they prefer to hang onto their top starter.
Just how high a price Reds GM Nick Krall is asking for Castillo remains to be seen, but any team that’s come calling will have expected it to be high. In what was actually one of his lesser statistical seasons, Castillo posted a 3.98 ERA (3.75 FIP) across 187 2/3 innings against a career ERA of 3.72 (3.76 FIP) in parts of five major league seasons — all of which were spent playing his home games in the hitter-friendly confines of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. He’s also been remarkably durable, taking the ball at least 31 times in each of his full seasons (and 12 times in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season).
Castillo also closed out the year in particularly impressive fashion, recovering from an ugly April/May showing to post a 2.73 ERA and 3.34 FIP over his final 135 1/3 frames. Combine that with an eminently reasonable $7.6MM projected salary in arbitration (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz) and an additional year of club control, through the 2023 season, and it’s easy to see why the ask on Castillo would be sky-high.
The 32-year-old Gray, meanwhile, is plenty affordable in his own right. He hasn’t replicated the 2015 form that saw him finish third in AL Cy Young voting and may never reach that level again, but the right-hander has strongly bounced back from a poor showing with the Yankees that prompted his trade to Cincinnati.
In three years with the Reds, Gray carries a 3.49 ERA with a 28.5% strikeout rate that trounces the 20.9% mark he posted in his pre-Reds career. Last season’s 4.19 ERA was more solid than stellar, clearly, but Gray was also among the best in the game in terms of limiting hard contact. Most fielding-independent metrics feel he was quite a bit better than that baseline ERA indicates.
Mahle doesn’t carry the name value that his teammates do — but he’s developed into a quality mid-rotation arm over the past two seasons. Through his past 227 2/3 frames at the MLB level, Mahle owns a 3.72 ERA with an impressive 28.1% strikeout rate against a respectable 8.9% walk rate. Walks and home runs have both been issues at times in his career, but he posted solid marks in both categories over the past two seasons — and one would imagine that a move away from Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park could also have a beneficial impact on his home-run rate.
Swartz projects a $5.6MM salary for Mahle, so any team acquiring him would have to figure it’s picking up two years of Mahle for under a total of $15MM in salary. There’s quite a bit of surplus value there, making Mahle a more enticing trade option than most would expect. Mahle turned 27 at the end of September, so he’ll pitch nearly all of the 2022 season at that age. Teams will likely view him as a pitcher whose stock is on the rise, and some may even have designs on extending him after a trade, given his age and recent strides.