The Reds could be without top starter Luis Castillo when Opening Day rolls around, as manager David Bell told reporters Tuesday that Castillo was briefly shut down due to some shoulder soreness (Twitter link via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer). Castillo is healthy now and has resumed throwing, per Bell, but he’s behind schedule in his buildup for the season. There was more concerning news on righty Justin Dunn, acquired in last week’s Jesse Winker trade, as Bell revealed that he’ll miss at least a couple of months due to ongoing shoulder troubles. Nightengale further notes that the Reds were aware of Dunn’s injury status when acquiring him.
The good news for Reds fans is that there’s no indication Castillo is being plagued by a serious injury. It’s possible he’d only miss the first turn or two through the rotation, so long as there are no further setbacks as he builds back up.
For much of the offseason, Castillo stood out as one of the more logical trade candidates on the market. General manager Nick Krall began the offseason speaking of a need to align the Reds’ payroll to its resources, and the first few moves continued a cost-cutting sequence that dated back to last offseason. The Reds placed Wade Miley and his eminently reasonable $10MM salary on waivers and traded catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers. In the days coming out of the lockout, Cincinnati dealt Sonny Gray to the Reds and traded both Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Mariners.
Since shedding the remainder of the Suarez deal, however, the Reds have begun to make some more modest additions to the payroll. They picked up about $7MM of salary obligations in the trade that sent Amir Garrett to Kansas City in exchange for Mike Minor, and the Reds have also given out small big league deals to infielder Donovan Solano and reliever Hunter Strickland. Krall has since publicly stated that he does not expect to trade either Castillo or right-hander Tyler Mahle, who was a popular trade target of pitching-needy teams himself.
Castillo, 29, got out to a rocky start in 2021 when he posted an ugly 7.22 ERA through his first 11 appearances. His return to form was swift and emphatic, however, as Castillo closed out the year with a brilliant stretch of 22 starts that saw him work to a 2.73 ERA with a 26% strikeout rate and 9.4% walk rate. Over the past three seasons, he’s given the Reds 448 1/3 innings of 3.61 ERA ball with a 27% strikeout rate, a 9.3% walk rate and an outstanding 56.8% grounder rates. He’s controllable through the 2023 campaign, and it stands to reason that if the Reds don’t contend this year, Castillo’s name will again surface on the summer trade market. It’s a similar story with Mahle, who’s also controlled through 2023.
As for Dunn, the news of a months-long absence due to a shoulder problem that dates back to June 2021, when the right-hander last pitched, is surely a source of frustration. The 26-year-old Dunn pitched 50 1/3 innings of 3.75 ERA ball with Seattle last year but did so with a below-average 22.8% strikeout rate, a bloated 11.3% walk rate and a low 33.8% grounder rate. He last took the ball on June 17.
Dunn is a former first-round pick and well-regarded prospect, having been drafted 19th overall by the Mets in 2016 and traded to the Mariners alongside Jarred Kelenic in the deal that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York. He can still be controlled all the way through the 2025 season, but it now seems that by the time he’s ready to go for the Reds, he’ll have missed upwards of a year due to shoulder troubles.
The injury news on Dunn squarely takes him out of the running for the fifth spot in the rotation, and with Castillo ailing to a much lesser degree, there’s some uncertainty regarding who’ll round out the starting staff. If Castillo isn’t ready to go, Opening Day would likely fall to Mahle. He’d be followed by Minor and Vladimir Gutierrez, with right-hander Tony Santillan and perhaps lefty Reiver Sanmartin serving as early options as well. The Reds figure to get a look at several top pitching prospects in 2022 — Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Brandon Williamson among them — but it’s unclear whether they’d consider dipping into their farm for an early-season stopgap.