July 12: The Reds aren’t close to any trades as of this morning, tweets Jim Bowden of The Athletic, who adds that “most” contending clubs have checked in on Cincinnati. That includes both the Cardinals and the Mariners, who have not been prominently linked to Castillo until this point (but who both make logical sense as a potential landing spot).
July 11: The Dodgers and Reds have had preliminary talks about Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link). Los Angeles joins a growing list of contenders known to be in contact with the Reds front office.
Castillo is one of the sport’s most obvious trade candidates, placing fourth on MLBTR’s Top 50 list last week. The right-hander is arbitration-eligible through 2023, but Cincinnati has no hope of competing this season. With the opportunity to market two possible postseason pushes to contenders, Castillo’s value around the league will never be higher than it is this summer. Teams like the Twins, Padres, Mets, Yankees, and Blue Jays have all been reported to have inquired in recent weeks. That’s presumably not an exhaustive list, as virtually every contender is likely to check in with Cincinnati general manager Nick Krall and his staff.
The 29-year-old Castillo carries a personal-best 2.92 ERA through his first 12 starts of the season. He’s been in peak form of late, tossing 20 innings of three-run ball with 25 strikeouts and five walks over his past three outings. Of course, Castillo has a multi-year track record as one of the sport’s better pitchers. He’s allowed fewer than four earned runs per nine innings in five of his six big league campaigns. One of the game’s hardest throwers, he typically blends a rare combination of swing-and-miss and ground-ball upside. This season’s respective 25.3% strikeout rate and 49.7% grounder percentage are both down a bit from his best levels, but each remains decidedly above-average.
Castillo missed the first month of this season with shoulder soreness. That set him off on a less than ideal start, but he’s rounded into form over the past few weeks. Although his fastball velocity was down a tick in May, he’s built arm strength as the season has worn on. According to Statcast, Castillo has averaged 97.7 MPH on his four-seam and 97.1 MPH on his sinker through his two starts this month. That’s in line with or better than last year’s respective 97.1 MPH and 97.3 MPH season averages, seemingly putting away any concerns clubs might’ve had stemming from his early-season injury.
Alongside teammate Tyler Mahle and A’s hurler Frankie Montas, Castillo is one of three high-octane controllable starters widely expected to be available at the deadline. Mahle is on the 15-day injured list with a shoulder strain, while Montas is dealing with some shoulder inflammation. Mahle has indicated he expects to be reinstated well in advance of the August 2 deadline, though, and the A’s remain hopeful that Montas can avoid the IL entirely and start this week (link via Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle). Even if all three pitchers are healthy, one could argue for Castillo to land the strongest return based on his track record and recent dominance.
The Reds are understandably setting their sights high in discussions. Jon Heyman of the New York reports that Cincinnati has sought one of Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza as a headliner in talks with the Yankees. Each player is a top shortstop prospect, with Volpe topping the Yankees’ farm rankings and placing among the 15 best farmhands leaguewide at each of Baseball America, FanGraphs, ESPN and the Athletic heading into the 2022 season. Peraza is generally regarded as the second or third-best player in the New York system; he landed second in the organization and 79th overall on BA’s recent Top 100 update.
It’s hard to envision New York parting with Volpe in any trade, but a player of Peraza’s caliber is a reasonable starting point for the Cincinnati front office. The Blue Jays sent the Twins two prospects generally regarded as top 100 talents (Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson) for a year and a half of José Berríos’ services last summer. Martin was a somewhat divisive player but just a season removed from being drafted fifth and ranked by most outlets as a top 50 overall talent at the time of the deal.
Peraza isn’t having a great season offensively in Triple-A (.242/.313/.411 through 275 plate appearances), but he’s young for the level, having just turned 22. He’s viewed as a strong defensive player, and the Yankees’ belief in he and Volpe was cited frequently as a reason for the club declining to aggressively pursue the big-ticket free agent shortstops available last winter.
Whether or not the Yankees are willing to entertain the possibility of putting Peraza in a Castillo trade, the lofty reported ask reflects the Reds’ leverage in dangling an arm of his caliber. They’ll certainly look towards the upper ranks of the farm systems of other clubs inquiring over the next few weeks. In all likelihood, talks with myriad teams will continue until the days immediately preceding the deadline and perhaps into August 2 itself.