How quickly things have changed for the Reds. Just one year after pushing the chips in toward contention, Cincinnati is signaling a step back. The team has already let go or traded a few key players, including Archie Bradley and Raisel Iglesias, and now appear to be heading toward even more significant subtractions. Ex-Yankee Sonny Gray came up in trade rumors a few weeks ago, but now, 28 year-old righty Luis Castillo is on the block. The cost to acquire him will be exorbitant, but surely the Yankees will ask anyway given the need for rotational help.
Background & Performance
Castillo’s been involved in three trades already in his young career. San Francisco originally signed him as an international amateur free agent in 2012, traded him to the Marlins two years later. Then, at the trade deadline in 2016, Miami included Castillo in a package to San Diego, only to have him sent back to the Marlins later. Colin Rea, a player acquired by Miami in the deal, got hurt immediately which resulted in Rea and Castillo going back to their original clubs. Finally, the Marlins sent Castillo packing for good in January of 2017 in a deal to the Reds.
The Reds summoned Castillo to the big leagues mid-2017 and haven’t looked back since. He’s made 90 starts for the Reds in his career and owns a stellar 3.62 ERA (124 ERA+) along with terrific peripherals. He strikes out a ton of batters (27 percent), has a pedestrian walk rate (8.6 percent), and keeps the ball on the ground (52.9 percent). His stuff is electric and the underlying Statcast metrics are terrific, too:
Castillo’s best pitch is his changeup, and it’s not one of those changeups that a righty only throws to a lefty. He’ll offer it up to hitters on either side of the plate and make them look absolutely silly in the process. Overall in 2020, opponents swung through the pitch 40.1 percent of the time and struggled to make solid contact against it (.227 xwOBA). Just look at this thing:
Now, even though the changeup is Castillo’s bread and butter, his slider was actually better by the numbers in 2020 (43.4 percent whiff rate, .183 xwOBA). It’s a legitimate out pitch for the young righty even though it’s his least relied upon offering (under 18 percent). He’s posted high swing-and-miss rates against it in the past, though he hangs it from time to time. In 2019, he surrendered 6 of his 22 homers on the pitch in spite of throwing it 16.9 percent of the time.
Castillo plays his changeup and slider off of his four-seamer and sinker. He uses those two fastball-types more than half the time. The four-seamer isn’t a spin rate darling, but he certainly can blow it by hitters (97.4 MPH, 37.2 percent whiff rate). Meanwhile, the sinker is what drives his high ground ball rate. Opposing hitters really struggle to lift the pitch, which Castillo has garnered a nearly 70 percent ground ball rate over the last two seasons.
I’ve talked up Castillo’s swing-and-miss stuff a lot already, but it’s also worth going a little more in depth on his batted ball trends. Impressively, these have only gotten better over the years:
2018 is the clear outlier here and Castillo has made some changes since. Take a look at his pitch usage over the years:
There are some significant swings since that down 2018 campaign. Fewer four-seamers and more changeups and sinkers. It really seems like he’s come into his own over the last two campaigns as a frontline starter. Any team would be lucky to have him.
As far as I can tell, Castillo hasn’t spent time on the injured list (minors or majors) since he became a professional. He’s missed just one start since the Reds brought him to the majors: his final one of 2018. Cincinnati simply decided that his workload was enough at that point as it was his first full year at the top level.
Pitchers break all the time, but this is about as clean as it gets for a pitcher. No arm injuries, no missed starts, and no decline in stuff.
Castillo has three years remaining until he hits free agency and will get his first real payday this offseason. This is his first time through arbitration and is projected to earn between $3 and $5.8 million per MLB Trade Rumors.
What would a trade look like?
There aren’t too many deals for pitchers this good with three years of team control remaining. I’m going to cite the Chris Sale trade here even if it’s apples to oranges, to a degree. When Boston acquired Sale from the White Sox, the lefty had three years remaining on an extension signed with Chicago (though the latter two years were really club options). Boston wound up paying just under $40 million to Sale across those three seasons.
In return for Sale, Chicago received four prospects, two in MLB Pipeline’s top-100 and two outside of it. Yoan Moncada, the top prospect in the world at the time, was the headliner. Michael Kopech, 30 on MLB Pipeline’s top-100, was the second big piece. It was considered a huge return for the White Sox at the time, but appropriately so. Sale was a bona fide ace.
Sale was more established than Castillo as he had already logged 1,110 innings by the time of the trade. He also had finished in the top six of Cy Young voting over the previous four seasons. Castillo hasn’t had that level of success, but is the same age as Sale at the time of the Boston-Chicago trade.
From the Yankees’ perspective, there’s no real perfect equivalent here. Moncada had a cup of coffee for Boston in 2016, so he still had six years of control left. Kopech had topped out in High-A for the Red Sox. Perhaps Clarke Schmidt or Deivi García align with Kopech, but there’s no way to match Moncada in the Yankees’ organization right now. Gleyber Torres would probably be the closest. Obviously, Gleyber is much more established than Moncada was at the time, but also comes with two fewer years of control.
I do think that Cincinnati would demand nothing short of Gleyber in return for Castillo. However, I don’t think the Yankees would be able to stomach that. As bad as the team needs pitching, opening up another hole in the middle infield isn’t really palpable. There’d need to be a contingency lined up for shortstop in order to pull off such a move, and even then, I’m not so sure I’d want to move Torres for a pitcher.
Want to get Castillo without moving Gleyber? You probably have to move a myriad of guys for Cincy to entertain such a deal. Clint Frazier, Jasson Dominguez, Schmidt/Deivi, and more.
Anyway, as great of a fit as Castillo would be for the Bombers, I just can’t see it getting done. Brian Cashman doesn’t typically make moves like this at top dollar.