A week from now, it’s possible Luis Castillo will be in another city.
The Reds’ veteran ace pitcher, and only All-Star, will likely be the latest Cincinnati star to fall victim to the team’s rebuild (or whatever you want to call it). With the MLB trade deadline less than two weeks away, the market for what many believe to be the game’s top available pitcher is a hot one.
It’s the ongoing quandary of every small market team in baseball’s entirely one-sided economic setup. If you’re in a place like Cincinnati, Cleveland or Pittsburgh, your really good players aren’t staying long. Just ask Francisco Lindor, Gerrit Cole and a long list of Reds from the last decade.
Granted, the Guardians locked up star third baseman Jose Ramirez to a long-term deal, but that’s far from the norm. Castillo, and potentially No. 2 starter Tyler Mahle, will suffer similar fates.
Of course, you get used to this sort of summer scuttlebutt if you’re a fan of a small market franchise in the haves and have-nots world of MLB. When the trade deadline rolls around, it becomes open season for big-game hunters seeking a difference maker.
That all but describes Castillo, whose trade value may never be higher as he closes in on his 30th birthday. He entered the All-Star Break with a 2.77 ERA in 13 starts, effectively shaking off a spring shoulder ailment that left him sidelined until May 9. It was no small coincidence the Reds were 3-22 in that span.
The past month might be his best stretch of pitching as a Red — six starts of at least six innings and less than three runs allowed. He hasn’t allowed more than one earned run since June 22 and has three consecutive starts of seven innings and one earned run.
The opponents? Atlanta, Tampa Bay and the Yankees. If Castillo were a horse, he’d be a bonafide Dominican stud. If he were a car, he’d be a Mustang Cobra.
And far too good for the Reds to keep.
In a perfect world, Castillo would be the anchor on a team primed to make a second-half charge. Those thoughts were all but eliminated when the team dug itself a 1,000-foot trench in April and was left to rot.
While he has another year of club control remaining before becoming a free agent in 2024, waiting too long to sell when a rebuild was looming, has cost this franchise in the past. See: Cueto, Johnny.
Castillo’s trade value will never be higher than it is at its current state. With a year and three months left on his deal, he’s more than a deadline rental that teams want on the cheap. This is a potential season changer for a team like the Yankees, among the teams dealing with illnesses in their rotation. A packed house at Yankee Stadium witnessed Castillo’s dominance just last week.
If you’re Reds GM Nick Krall, finding a dance partner won’t be the difficult part. A lot of teams will be drooling over Castillo’s high-90s fastball and one of the best change-ups in the game. Finding the beauty of the ball is another matter.
If trading is the route of choice, then he can’t settle for the bridesmaid. There are only so many chances to acquire the sort of talent that Castillo deserves to demand. The Reds hold the goods here, not the market. And inflation is a reality for all of us.
On the flip side, Krall could also wait it out and see how his team develops. With a ton of big young arms either in the majors or on the cusp, there’s a real solid chance the Reds could feature one of the National League’s top rotations for years to come, with or without Castillo.
The prospects of entering 2023 with a rotation of Castillo, Mahle, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft is an enticing one, one that could stand nose to nose with the game’s best.
That, and some reliable bullpen arms, could make this a team a playoff contender much sooner than many care to admit. And fans get to enjoy one of their all-time greats for another year.
The reality is it’s a pipe dream. Krall spray painted the walls for all to see after the lockout, and Phil Castellini doused it in pastel colors for everyone back in April.
We all know the Reds have turned cheap. That narrative, post-COVID, has been painfully accurate. Now it’s time to pay the piper — Castillo’s skills will pay the bills.
The rich will get richer, just like they always do around this time. It’s bad for fans and even worse for baseball’s little guys, but the reality is you strike while the iron is hot.
Castillo’s is glowing uncontrollably. And the Reds can’t risk him cooling down.
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SamBlackburnTR
This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: As deadline nears, it’s time for Cincinnati Reds to pay the piper