It’s been a roller coaster of a baseball season here in Cincinnati—lots of peaks and valleys, as Reds GM Nick Krall might say—but the most exciting week of the 2022 season is finally upon us. First, Reds ace Luis Castillo dazzled American League hitters, striking out two in one inning of work in the MLB All-Star Game. And now, with Major League Baseball’s trade deadline rapidly approaching on August 2 at 6 p.m., Castillo looks like a likely candidate to be dealt to a contender. Peaks and valleys, indeed.
When I left for a much-needed vacation a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like there was a pretty good chance that Castillo would no longer be toiling for the hometown nine by the time I returned. The good news for me, an unapologetic Castillo fan, is that the star righty still wears a Reds uniform and is scheduled to start against the Marlins on Wednesday night. But will that be his final start for the club?
If the Reds were serious about winning baseball games for the next couple of seasons, it would make a lot of sense to invest money into keeping Castillo atop Cincinnati’s rotation. With Castillo and Tyler Mahle alongside a talented trio of young hurlers (Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft) the Reds could have one of the top rotations in baseball. Add some veterans around the other talented kids in the lineup, and you have a team that could be competitive soon.
Alas, it’s abundantly evident, given the salary-slashing we saw over the winter, that Cincinnati’s brain trust does not consider it a priority to put a winning team on the field as soon as 2023. If we concede that point, then trading Castillo at this year’s deadline actually makes a certain amount of sense, even if I dread the image of him wearing another club’s uniform. And what the Reds receive in return should tell us plenty about the secretive “plan” Krall and company will be trying to execute.
More on that in a moment. Why does it make sense to trade Castillo? Well, he’s almost certainly the best starting pitcher available on the trade market this year. Castillo is 29, a two-time All-Star who’s at the height of his powers, with a 2.77 ERA this season thanks to a dominant fastball and gorgeous changeup. Even before his latest performance on the big stage at MLB’s Midsummer Classic, Castillo had been dominant; in his last four starts, he allowed just three earned runs while striking out 33 hitters. He would immediately make any contender better.
In short, the Reds might have the most valuable asset available right now. It would be malpractice if Cincinnati’s front office didn’t engage in trade discussions with the rest of the league.
On a lesser scale, Mahle would be an interesting trade target for a contender. He’s not as good as Castillo, but he’s under team control for a couple more years. If the Reds don’t intend on fielding a competitive team during that span—and if they don’t intend to spend the money to keep good veteran pitchers around—they would have to listen to offers for the 27-year-old right-hander.
Ultimately, I don’t think Mahle will be traded this week. There are a couple of Reds who are far more likely to be dealt, however. Brandon Drury has been superb this season, hitting .274/.332/.517 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI. He’s a former top prospect and has played every position in his career except center fielder and catcher. On the one hand, he’ll make just more than $300,000 for the rest of the season. That’s a bargain, and the Reds don’t usually part ways with players who won’t cost them much money.
On the other hand, the Reds signed Drury to a minor league deal before the season, and he’ll be a free agent after 2022. If they can trade him for a prospect or a useful piece for the next good Reds team (whenever that might be), that would be a good piece of business. I expect that Drury is on his way out of town.
Tyler Naquin is another player who could help a contending club down the stretch and who doesn’t appear to have a future in Cincinnati. He simply mashes right-handed pitchers, and that’s a skill that should make him a modestly attractive commodity both on the trade market now and on the free agent market after the season. The Reds have three options: (a) they could trade him now and get something in return; (b) they could hang on to him now and let him walk at the end of the season; or (c) they could sign him to an extension for a couple of years.
We know they won’t do (c), despite the fact that the Reds have almost no big league outfielders under contract for next year’s team. That circumstance will be the topic of a column next spring, I imagine. For now, Naquin and Drury look like good bets to be ex-Reds this time next week.
As for Castillo, my guess is that he’ll be traded as well. And yes, I’ll be sad when that happens because I like to watch the guy pitch for our team every five days. He’s one of the best pitchers any of us have ever seen in a Reds uniform.
If Castillo is traded, however, it will be an opportunity for us to catch a glimpse of what Reds management’s plan is for the next couple of years, as Wick Terrell noted over at RedReporter.com:
If they get a big league rookie, or a prospect ripping up AAA who’s ready for their first cup of big league coffee, it may well indicate that the Reds are actually trying to build around their young core at the big league level, even if they wasted all of 2022 in the process. After all, why deal Castillo for a piece that’s on a timeline you don’t intend to maintain? Could that be the kind of foreshadowing that the club maybe, just maybe, will augment things over the winter with some actual cash spent on veteran players? Otherwise, what’s the point?
On the other hand, if the Reds trade Castillo for some highly-touted prospect(s) who are down in A-ball, it will be an indication that the club doesn’t intend to actually compete any time soon. Especially after the Reds leaned hard into drafting high-upside high school talent in last week’s draft. That strategy might pay dividends eventually, but it will also be a recipe for lots of losing at the big league level in the near-term.
By this time next week, we should know whether we get to keep watching Luis Castillo in Cincinnati or whether Reds fans will need a vacation of their own—perhaps for the next two or three years.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.