What the Luis Castillo trade means for all-in Mariners and rebuilding Reds

What the Luis Castillo trade means for all-in Mariners and rebuilding Reds

The Reds finally moved their ace, Luis Castillo, Friday night, sending the 29-year-old righty to the Seattle Mariners for a package that included Seattle’s top prospect, shortstop Noelvi Marte. Everyone had expected Castillo to be traded before the Aug. 2 deadline, and the deal did not disappoint, confirming that the Reds are in full rebuild mode and the Mariners are eagerly going for it.

The Mariners sent Marte, 21, to Cincinnati, plus shortstop Edwin Arroyo and righties Andrew Moore and Levi Stoudt. Arroyo, in particular, is regarded as a quality prospect, and all but Moore were included in Keith Law’s top 20 Mariners prospects list before the season. In return, Seattle got the consensus top pitcher on the market, a frontline starter to pair with 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray.

Meanwhile, the Reds — who already traded Tyler Naquin to the Mets on Thursday — continue to tear down a big-league team that is 38-61, and that record is actually relatively impressive, considering they opened the season 3-22.

The Athletic‘s panel of MLB experts weighs in on what the trade means for the Reds, the Mariners and for Castillo.

Andy McCullough, national MLB writer

Where were you in the summer of 2001? I was about to start high school. Seattle president of baseball ops Jerry Dipoto had just retired from pitching to take a job in the Rockies’ front office. Scott Servais was trying to hang around as a catcher for the Astros. And the Seattle Mariners were running away with the American League West. Plenty has changed in the intervening decades: My hair fades grayer every day. Dipoto and Servais are running the show in Seattle. And the Mariners, for the first time since that 116-win season back in 2001, are in position to reach the playoffs and end the longest postseason drought in North American sports.

The club only fortified its comfortable place in the American League with a trade for Castillo. To acquire Castillo, the Mariners emptied a chunk of their farm system to improve the starting rotation for both 2022 and 2023. The team also created further clarity on the Juan Soto sweepstakes.

The pieces are moving off the board now, dominoes toppling as Tuesday’s trade deadline approaches. The Yankees snatched up Andrew Benintendi on Wednesday. Castillo, the best pitcher on the market, is now gone. It is unlikely Seattle has enough prospect capital left to acquire Soto. But the Padres, Cardinals and Dodgers are still well-positioned to pry Soto from the Nationals—if those clubs are willing to meet Washington general manager Mike Rizzo’s price.

The Yankees have a strong enough farm system, too. The team had identified its rotation as a potential area to upgrade. With Castillo gone, will the Bombers focus on Oakland starter Frankie Montas? Or will they ponder the price of Soto? We’ll know the answers in the next few days. For now, folks in Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest can gear up for a drought to end and a playoff chase to unfold.

C. Trent Rosecrans, Reds writer

As happy as Dipoto may be about acquiring Castillo, there are two people in the Mariners clubhouse perhaps even more excited—Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez. Why? Because they know exactly what the Mariners are getting in Castillo. They’re getting an ace, and an ace who thrives on big moments and has dominated in one of the most challenging ballpark environments in baseball in Great American Ball Park.

Put Castillo in Seattle? Whew.

Winker and Suárez, like Castillo, were beloved in Cincinnati. Yet, the team signaled its direction early in the season when it sent the pair to Seattle at the start of spring training. The Reds’ goal in 2022 wasn’t to win, it was to shed payroll and look to the future of 2024 when Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas are off the payroll and roster.

The Reds had some trade chips and bolstered their system with their trade with the Mariners earlier this season, but this should skyrocket the Reds up the farm system rankings. Castillo still has another year of control, so the return had to be massive and by all accounts, it is.

The deal is headlined by a pair of shortstops, Marte and Arroyo. Shortstop was already the Reds’ strongest position on the farm with Elly De La Cruz, Jose Barrero and Matt McLain, but now it’s even deeper. The thing is, you can never have too many shortstops. You know who else started out as a shortstop? Just about every other right-handed big leaguer. Again, you can never, ever, ever have too many shortstops.

Right-hander Stoudt is a good starting pitcher prospect and a scout texted me saying Moore is the sleeper of the deal, a big arm who has hit 102 mph with a plus slider.

Will all these players work out? It’s hard to tell. But for a team that was going to be unwilling to sign Castillo long term, this is a haul and exactly what the Reds needed to do to maximize a chip like Castillo.

Corey Brock, Mariners writer

The Mariners went into Friday’s game in Houston with the best ERA in baseball in their last 55 games (2.96). So then why add the 29-year-old Castillo?

First, this team feels it has a real chance to snap its 21-year postseason drought. It had to make a big splash. This isn’t Soto, but it’s the best available arm out there. And it signals this: The Mariners, who recently had a 14-game winning streak, aren’t messing around. They’re serious about getting into the postseason dance. Second, the club knows it needs to watch the innings workload of two of its top young starters, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby.

Noelvi Marte is considered Seattle’s top prospect. (Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP)

Castillo is an ace in every sense of the word, and he should flourish going from the Reds’ hitter-friendly ballpark to spacious T-Mobile Park. He’s under team control through 2023. Castillo’s four-seam fastball (.125 batting average against) and changeup (.196) have been nearly unhittable this season. The return is steep, as these things can be, and signals that the Mariners are indeed going for it. Marte was the club’s top prospect and Arroyo likely would have been its No. 2 prospect. He’s carving up the Cal League as an 18-year-old.

Eno Sarris, national MLB writer

In Castillo, the Mariners are getting an ace. Since he broke into the league in 2017, only one qualified starter has had a ground-ball rate as high as he’s shown and struck out more batters — so he’s able to minimize damage and keep batters off the basepaths. He’s got power and command and has been able to keep the ball in the park in a terrible park for pitchers — he’ll enjoy getting out of Cincinnati.

It’s a full arsenal. This year, he’s flattened out his four-seamer and is showing the best fastball ride of his career, to go with a plus slider and an elite changeup. Being able to play the two fastballs off each other gives him a true four-pitch mix with command. He’s one of 15 pitchers in the big leagues this year with above-average stuff and locations on three or more pitches.

There’s always debate about what makes a true ace. Maybe Castillo is on the wrong side of that for some, and so they’ll talk about how big the haul was for the Reds and consider the idea that maybe the Mariners overpaid. But a guy with this kind of velocity, and this kind of advanced command of a large arsenal? He looks the part of a staff leader, and he’ll change the top of Seattle’s rotation either way. Probably worth the leads.

Stephen Nesbitt, national MLB writer

After weeks of speculation of where Castillo would land, the answer was not New York, not Los Angeles, but Seattle. The Mariners announced themselves as major players at this trade deadline by acquiring the best starting pitcher known to be available. Castillo immediately elevates the Mariners rotation: He and Robbie Ray will be a dandy one-two punch in the playoffs. Castillo has a career 3.22 ERA at home, despite Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati being tied with Coors Field for being the worst pitcher’s park in the majors, per Statcast park factors. Now his home ballpark is T-Mobile Park, which rates as the best ballpark for pitchers. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the difference.

The wave of young pitchers the Mariners have at or near the major-league level — from Gilbert to Kirby to Matt Brash and Emerson Hancock and more — represent a bright future, but Dipoto recognized that the best play for the present was to strengthen the rotation with a veteran arm. The price was high, as the Mariners parted with three of their top five prospects, but there’s reason to believe Castillo will provide enough value over the next 15 months to make the cost worthwhile, even if he goes elsewhere in free agency.

(Picture: Rick Scuteri/USA Today)


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