It was only natural that after waiving Wade Miley and trading Tucker Barnhart within hours of the offseason opening, rumblings of the Reds being open to further cost-saving moves would emerge. However, despite early reports that Cincinnati will at least listen to offers on righty Luis Castillo, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that it’s “doubtful” the 28-year-old (29 next month) will ultimately change hands.
This marks the second straight offseason that Castillo’s name has surfaced in trade rumblings, which only makes sense given that it’s also the second straight winter punctuated by cost-cutting measures in Cincinnati. General manager Nick Krall has already stated that the Reds “must align our payroll to our resources.” While no specific number was provided, that certainly doesn’t bode well for Reds fans — particularly when taken in conjunction with the aforementioned Miley and Barnhart transactions.
Rosenthal’s report is likely reflective of what is surely a sky-high asking price for the talented Castillo, who racked up the eighth-most innings of any pitcher in MLB last season (187 2/3). While Castillo’s 3.98 ERA looks more solid than dominant, it’s skewed a bit by a rough start to the season from which he recovered rather emphatically.
Sporting an alarming and uncharacteristic 7.22 ERA through the end of May, Castillo looked on his way to a lost season. From June 1 through season’s end, however, Castillo rebounded with a masterful 2.73 ERA with a strong 26% strikeout rate, a 9.4% walk rate and a massive 59.9% ground-ball rate. That recovery salvaged Castillo’s 2021 season and brought his ERA over the past three campaigns to a sharp 3.61 mark through 448 1/3 frames.
Controlled through 2023 via arbitration, Castillo is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $7.6MM in 2022. He’d be due one more raise for the 2023 campaign, likely taking his salary into at least the $11-12MM range — still an eminently reasonable price to pay for a pitcher of this caliber.
The Reds and other clubs likely view Castillo as a pitcher capable of taking his game to yet another level. While his results over the past three seasons are quite strong already, the makings of a top-of-the-rotation starter are seemingly present. Castillo’s 97.3 mph average fastball trailed only Sandy Alcantara and Gerrit Cole among qualified starters this past season, while his 13.1% swinging-strike rate (a down mark, by his standards) ranked 10th. Castillo also sports an elite ground-ball rate, a well above-average strikeout rate and typically limits hard contact at a high level.
The extent to which owner Bob Castellini is seeking to reduce payroll will determine the urgency when it comes to moving Castillo, but even if Krall and his staff feel compelled to move him eventually, the return would be considerable. (As a loose comparison, recall that the Blue Jays traded 2020 No. 5 overall pick Austin Martin and well-regarded pitching prospect Simeon Woods Richardson to acquire what was then 1.5 seasons of Jose Berrios back at the trade deadline.) Even if teams feel it’s “doubtful” the Reds actually trade Castillo, they’ll surely still try to pry him away — just as they’ll likely do with righties Sonny Gray (guaranteed $10MM in 2022) and Tyler Mahle (like Castillo, controlled via arbitration through 2023).
Krall, however, didn’t focus on subtracting from the roster in his most recent public comments. To the contrary, the GM spoke with Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer this week about a need to “rebuild some of the bullpen” after seeing Mychal Givens and Michael Lorenzen reach free agency and losing Tejay Antone (Tommy John surgery) for the 2022 season.
Heading into the 2022 campaign, the most experienced arms in the Reds’ bullpen group will be Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett, Luis Cessa and lefty Justin Wilson, who exercised a $2.3MM player option at season’s end. Righty Art Warren, he of a 1.29 ERA and 34-to-8 K/BB ratio in 21 innings after being claimed from the Mariners, should have a spot locked down as well. Krall offered plenty of praise for Sims and Warren, also adding that righty Tony Santillan may be stretched out as a rotation candidate in Spring Training but could yet end up in the ’pen.
Perhaps most interestingly among Krall’s comments — which Cincinnati fans, in particular, will want to read in full — was his rather noncommittal stance on Garrett. The 29-year-old southpaw was one of the Reds’ best relievers from 2019-20, pitching to a 3.03 ERA with a 33.3% strikeout rate (albeit against a 13.3% walk rate).
Garrett, however, was clobbered for a 6.04 ERA this past season as his strikeout and walk rates went in the wrong direction. Projected for a $2.2MM salary in 2022, Garrett looked like a possible non-tender candidate in the first place, and Krall’s assessment that he’s “in our bullpen at this point” wasn’t exactly an emphatic vote of confidence. The GM did go on to eventually call Garrett a “quality member of the bullpen that should be able to help,” but between his struggles and projected salary, Garrett doesn’t feel like a lock to return.
Lower-cost paths to improving the depth — Krall specifically mentioned waiver claims — seem a likely path for the Reds moving forward. It’s certainly possible they’ll add a veteran reliever on a big league deal if the asking price isn’t too lofty, and any additional trades could bring back some MLB-ready bullpen help as part of the return. At the very least, the Reds seem likely to bring in a couple of new arms to compete for bullpen jobs, but Krall’s offseason comments and actions to date don’t portend significant spending.