The trade: The Mariners acquire RHP Luis Castillo from the Reds for SS Noelvi Marte, SS Edwin Arroyo, RHP Levi Stoudt and RHP Andrew Moore.
With the Mariners in a wild-card position and looking to end an epic playoff drought that dates back to the stone ages (at least in sports years) of 2001, you knew general manager Jerry Dipoto was going to make a move — and maybe a big one. He didn’t disappoint. The Mariners were believed to be one of the leading contenders to acquire Juan Soto, but Dipoto instead snapped up Castillo, viewed as the top starting pitcher available (barring a shocking Shohei Ohtani trade), and outbidding teams like the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals who were also in hot pursuit of Castillo.
Let’s go to the grades.
The Mariners are 17-5 over the past 22 games to put themselves in playoff position, but all five of those losses have come against the Astros since the All-Star break, with the Mariners scoring just 11 runs in those defeats. So that’s why they were in on Soto; they do need to improve an offense that is 11th in the American League in runs per game. But they faced another issue: Rookie George Kirby is nearing an innings limit, with 94 innings on the season after pitching just 67.2 in 2021 in his first full season as a professional. Without a viable No. 5 starter, they did need another starter to eventually replace Kirby in the rotation.
Castillo obviously fits that hole. The two-time All-Star is just 4-4, but he owns a 2.86 ERA with 90 strikeouts in 85 innings (he missed April after coming out of spring training with a sore shoulder). He’s been especially hot of late, with a 1.59 ERA over his past five starts, including pitching seven innings his past four outings. Two of those games came against the Braves and Yankees, two of the best offenses in the majors, so he hasn’t been beating up on just the Cubs and Pirates. With a fastball that averages 96 to 97 mph, Castillo’s velocity has never been an issue, nor has his changeup, which has been one of the best in the majors for several years. But he’s developed a little more consistency this season, dropping his walk rate from 3.6 per nine innings to 3.0 and his slider has turned into a wipeout pitch, holding batters to a .189 average and just one home run. Scouts have long viewed Castillo as a potential ace, and he’s been closer than ever to that level in 2022 — that’s why all the contenders needing a starter wanted this guy.
Castillo has been going deep into games, pitching 187.2 innings in 2021 and 190.2 in 2019. Acquiring Castillo should allow Scott Servais to back off the innings of second-year right-hander Logan Gilbert, who has pitched 123 innings, just three behind Alek Manoah for most in the AL. Kirby can move to the bullpen or make some spot starts as needed. Seattle’s bullpen has been lights out the past two months — entering Friday’s games, it had a 2.59 ERA since May 25, best in the majors — so the Mariners’ now have plenty of depth both in the rotation and the pen to get through the final two months.
The added bonus is Castillo is also under team control for 2023, giving the Mariners six viable starting pitcher options for next season in Castillo, Gilbert, Kirby, Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales and Chris Flexen. Of course, there’s still that offense that needs upgrading. Trading Marte, their top prospect, almost certainly takes them out of the Soto sweepstakes, which they probably weren’t going to win anyway. Sure, they could offer a package of Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Jarred Kelenic, Kyle Lewis and another prospect, but that would basically empty the farm system, and given Kelenic’s struggles at the major league level, his trade value isn’t Soto-worthy right now anyway. The big upgrade the M’s are looking for will likely have to come from Mitch Haniger, who has been out since mid-April (other than one game). He is finally rehabbing in the minors and should be back soon. Remember, he hit 39 home runs last season.
But Haniger alone might not be enough, especially since the wild-card race remains a scramble with the Blue Jays, Rays, the AL Central teams, and maybe the Orioles and Red Sox. The Mariners could still be in search of a second-tier bat, somebody like, Ian Happ (although he has another of team control, so the Cubs may not trade him), Brandon Drury or David Peralta. Or maybe Jesse Winker will finally start raking on a consistent basis like he did in 2021.
Look, you can argue that no team needs a trip to the playoffs more than the Mariners … but they did give up two extremely promising prospects to get Castillo, and I think there’s a very strong likelihood this trade looks lopsided in favor of the Reds in a few years. Yes, the trade helps the Mariners for this season and next, but given how the Astros have crushed them in five games of late, Seattle hardly looks like a World Series contender in 2022 (but you have to get in to have a chance!).
The Reds and Mariners swung the Winker/Eugenio Suarez deal back in spring training (pitching prospect Brandon Williamson was the main get for the Reds in that one), so that helps explain this deal. The Reds know Seattle’s system, and the two front offices have dealt with each other before, often the key to any successful transaction.
And there’s a reason the Reds agreed to this deal: They may have hit a home run.
Marte was Kiley McDaniel’s No. 12 prospect entering the season, and he’s played at a level to remain at that ranking — or perhaps even move up. He’s hitting .270/.360/.460 for Everett in the high-A Northwest League at age 20, making him one of the youngest players in the league. His .820 OPS is well above the league average of .693, and he’s been especially hot of late, hitting .370 with seven home runs in July (with 10 walks and just 12 strikeouts). You have to love that midseason adjustment/improvement. Marte’s power potential has been his calling card, with Kiley giving it a 60 grade back in spring training. He may not stick at shortstop, but the bat and glove will easily profile at third base. Look, you never know with any prospect, and Marte wasn’t exactly tearing it up before his July hot streak, but unless the hit tool suddenly evaporates, Marte looks at least like a solid big leaguer and one with star potential. For one-plus years of Castillo, that’s about as good as you can expect.
Except the Reds also got Arroyo, Seattle’s second-round pick last year, out of Puerto Rico. He was a very young draft pick and doesn’t turn 19 until August, but has been super impressive in the low-A California League, hitting .316/.385/.514 with 13 home runs. Yes, you have to adjust California League stats — the league OPS is .755 — but Arroyo is one of two 18-year-olds in the league with at least 93 at-bats and the other one is hitting .188. Oh, he’s also 21-for-24 stealing bases with a chance to stick at shortstop. That looks like a top-100 prospect heading into 2023. Reds fans should be getting very excited about this deal.
Except that’s not all. Levi Stoudt was probably Seattle’s No. 5 or No. 6 prospect via general consensus, although he’s struggled at Double-A Arkansas with a 5.28 ERA and 13 home runs allowed in 87 innings. But he has big-time stuff, with a fastball in the upper 90s and a changeup that has been viewed as his best secondary option. The strikeout-to-walk ratio has been pretty good at 82 to 22, so with more refinement, there is still starter potential here.
Andrew Moore (not the former Mariners prospect of the same name who is now in the minors with the Blue Jays) is a reliever with Bugs Bunny numbers at Modesto (58 K’s, no home runs in 32.1 innings). A 14th-round pick last year out of Chipola Junior College in Florida, the numbers are at least intriguing.
Look, any rebuild is painful, and while you can fault the Reds for starting to deal away their best players back in spring training, you can’t fault the Reds for this trade.