The first major starting pitch exchange has been made, as the Mariners and Reds announce a deal sending All-Star twice castle louis in Seattle. In exchange, the Reds bring back four prospects – highly valued infielders Noelvi March and Edwin Arroyo and right-handed Levi Stoudt and Andre Moore.
Castillo had perhaps been this year’s rotational market price. After missing a few weeks with shoulder pain to open the year, Castillo made his season debut in early May and looked like a bona fide arm at the top of the rotation. He made 14 starts and worked 85 innings, pitching to a 2.86 ERA despite playing at home in one of the league’s most hitting-friendly parks. Castillo hit 25.8 percent quality of opposing hitters against a solid 8 percent walk rate. This season’s 47.1% grounding percentage is down a bit from its 2019-21 levels, but it’s still a few points better than the league average.
This kind of top-end production is what we’ve come to expect from Castillo, who has established himself as one of the sport’s top arms over recent seasons. He has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in each of the past four years, carrying a cumulative mark of 3.49 in 91 starts since the start of the 2019 campaign. He is the 24th among 98 starters qualified during the this period. His strikeout rate of 26.8% ranks 23rd in this group, and he is 12th with a swing hitting percentage of 14.2% (puffs per pitch). He completed the batting stuff with a whopping 54.8% rushing percentage that ranks in the top ten.
Few pitchers can match Castillo’s combination of smells and grounders, and the 29-year-old backs him up with an impressive arsenal. He is one of the hardest pitchers, averaging just under 97 MPH on his four seams and sinker. Castillo’s bread-and-butter secondary ground, his switch, is among the game’s best off-speed offerings, and he’s had solid results on his slider as well.
Castillo will take the lead in a rotation that suddenly looks like one of the toughest in the sport. The M’s signed defending AL winner Cy Young Robbie Ray to a five-year contract over the winter, and second-year pitcher Logan Gilbert has a 2.78 ERA through 21 starts. Beginner George Kirbywho was generally considered among the top pitching prospects entering the season, has a 3.50 ERA in his first 13 major league outings. Chris Flexon and Marco Gonzales aren’t high-striped arms, but they’re more than capable of upside-down spins.
Seattle will want to keep tabs on inning totals for Gilbert and Kirby, so it would have made sense to even add a steady arm. Instead, president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and his team have expanded to bolster the 54-46 club they hope will end the franchise’s two-decade playoff drought. If they made the playoffs, the front office and fan base would no doubt be convinced of their ability to match their opponents’ best three arms with Castillo, Ray and Gilbert.
The deal isn’t just for the 2022 season, as Castillo will be eligible for arbitration for one final time this winter. He earns $7.35 million this year, of which about $2.75 million has yet to be paid. He will earn a decent raise in officiating but will still have a very affordable salary – probably around $12 million. It’s an obvious bargain for a pitcher of his caliber, making a year and a half of his service incredibly valuable.
This is reflected in the return, which seems very strong. Marte and Arroyo were Seattle’s top two system prospects on Baseball America most recent top 100, respectively 47th and 48th in the league. Marte, the best-known of the bunch, entered the season ranked among the top 15 farmhands in the game as estimated by Keith Law of the Athletic, FanGraphs and ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel.
A 6’3″ infielder from the Dominican Republic, Marte is universally projected as a more possible power hitter capable of racking up 25 or more home runs a year at his peak. He played exclusively at shortstop in the minors, and while evaluators suggest he could eventually grow beyond that position, he’s expected to stay on the infield as a possible third player. Above average goal. He spent the year in High-A at age 20, posting an impressive .270/.360/.460 line with 15 homers, a strong 10.8% walk rate and strikeout percentage manageable 21.1% in 389 plate appearances. .
Arroyo, 18, was Seattle’s second-round pick in last year’s draft. The Puerto Rico native has already raised his stock considerably in his first full professional season, raking in a .316/.385/.514 clip in Low-A. He had 13 homers and 19 doubles and stole 21 bases. This kind of offensive performance was unexpected, as the switch hitter entered the season more valued for his upside and shortstop defense than his bat.
Stoudt recently registered as the No. 10 M prospect, per Baseball America. The 24-year-old right-hander has struggled at Double-A this year, throwing to a 5.28 ERA in 87 innings. It has a slightly below average takedown rate of 22% and a tiny walk percentage of 5.9% which, however, seems more acceptable. BA writes that he works in the 94-98 MPH range with his fastball and has a solid range of secondary offerings, led by his change. The 2019 3rd-round pick will need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. He is considered a possible starter at the back of the rotation.
Moore, not to be confused with the former Seattle starter of the same name, was a 14th-round pick out of junior college last year. The 22-year-old right-hander worked exclusively out of the bullpen in Low-A, posting a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings with a ludicrous strikeout rate of 43.6%. He typically faces younger competition and has walked nearly 13% of opponents, but BA recently wrote that he features a 95-97 mph fastball and swing-and-miss breaking pitch. It will add an interesting lower level bullpen arm to the Cincinnati system.
Trade — which marks the second time in four months these two teams have aligned on a blockbuster – will have a lot of repercussions. Seattle’s decision to push arguably their two best prospects for one of the best starters in the sport reinforces that the M’s see themselves as a legitimate contender in the American League. It also apparently means that they are not in the running for John Soto, although there is still plenty of top talent for Dipoto and his group to further bolster the roster over the next three days. Second base looks like a possible target area, as does the backup catcher. Castillo, however, appears to be the splash – the impact addition designed to put a team that’s usually strong around the diamond on top.
As for the Reds, it’s the second (and probably most notable) trade they’ll make this week as they clear the big league roster in search of future talent. Castillo’s former rotation mate Tyler Mahle may soon join him in being moved for a marquee comeback (although probably not as strong as this one). Hire hitters like Brandon Dry and Donovan Solano won’t pick up a franchise modification package, but there’s little reason why they won’t join Tyler Naquin and Castillo in changing clubs.
With Castillo out of the market, Mahle’s pitcher and A Frankie Montas become the top two rotational trade candidates, in addition to a handful of high-impact weapons that may be available despite having windows of control extending beyond 2023. Teams like the Yankees, Cardinals, Rangers and Twins have been known to be in the rotation assist market. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweet that 12 teams were in contact with the Reds about Castillo and suggests the Yankees’ offer was close to the quality of Seattle’s. Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted Texas also made a strong push. In the end, the Mariners put the best deal on the table, leaving many others looking elsewhere over the next 72 hours.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.