It finally happened. Sure, you could see this coming ever since the Reds began the 2022 season 3 - 22, but it still stings to see a promising Red leave town on trade-wings destined for greener pastures and playoff appearances. Luis Castillo, a two-time All Star for your Cincinnati Reds, has been traded to none other than the Seattle Mariners, the team that currently employs Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez, also former Reds All-Stars. Better watch out, Reds, you’re quickly becoming the Mariners AAA team!
In all seriousness, anyone could have foreseen this trade, especially after the selloff in the offseason. If there’s one thing the Reds’ front office has been truthful about, it’s their unwillingness to spend money. And with Luis Castillo entering his third year of arbitration, he was likely going to get a hefty raise - from the Reds, or, as it turns out, the Mariners.
This was unavoidable. With Castillo already owed $7.35 million in 2022, and given how electric he’s been this year, he’ll likely be looking at an extra $5 million on his paycheck in 2023. Comparably, in the 2021 offseason, then-Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa entered his third year of arbitration, and, after playing on a $8 million deal in 2020, he "scored" in arbitration, and would go on to play in 2021 on a $11.7 million contract - and that was after a down year! Castillo’s in the middle of arguably his finest season of his career. He could be looking at a 70% pay increase or more.
Now, let’s get one thing straight: could the Reds actually afford to keep Castillo beyond 2022? Absolutely! If there’s one thing their strange, just-before-the-season-started spending-spree demonstrated, this team isn’t in that bad of financial shape. Incredibly, the Reds actually have a higher payroll than the Mariners right now ($114.4 million in total for the Reds vs. $109.9 million in total for the Mariners).
The fact that the Reds are 38 - 61, dead-last in the NL Central and the Mariners are 54 - 47, right in the thick of the AL Wild Card-race, just demonstrates how necessary this deal was. The Mariners are a young team on the rise. The Reds are…wait, what are the Reds exactly? They’re not particularly young, but they're not the ‘08 Yankees who trotted out a 37-year-old Jason Giambi, a 37-year-old Jorge Posada, a 38-year-old Mariano Rivera and a 39-year-old Mike Mussina. The Reds are terrible, but not Washington Nationals-terrible, who are internally debating trading their generationally talented 23-year-old outfielder Juan Soto. The Reds' front office is incompetent, but are they Los Angeles Angels-incompetent, who are actively wasting the primes of two of the greatest individual talents the game of baseball has ever seen in Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani?
That’s the honest (and terrifying) truth: nobody has any clue what this Reds’ team is. This all goes back to the mystifying decisions the front office made in the offseason. They didn’t even entertain re-signing Nick Castellanos, which looks like a savvy decision today, given he’s in the middle of a disappointing campaign one year into signing a five-year, $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. They wanted to dump Suarez’s albatross-contract, but they had to include their best young hitter in Winker to do it. Of course, Suarez has had a bounce-back season, and while Winker has disappointed, they both have teamed to catapult the Mariners into contention. The Reds traded Amir Garrett for a 34-year-old Mike Minor. They signed 34-year-old infielder Donovan Solano and 34-year-old outfielder Tommy Pham. But for some reason, even though they apparently love 34-year-olds, they waived 34-year-old Wade Miley!
If you're struggling to find a pattern among these moves, don’t worry - there isn’t one. Approximately half of these moves can be interpreted as rebuilding-moves, and approximately half can be interpreted as moves with an eye toward contention. Those two ideas cannot co-exist. If you want a simple explanation for why the Reds are in the middle of a garbage season, look no further.
So, now Castillo is a Mariner. In return, the Reds got a haul, though whether this haul even amounts to anything more than names on a piece of paper is yet to be seen. Of the four prospects they got in the swap, the most interesting is Noelvi Marte, a 20-year-old shortstop with power to spare. Ranked the #17-prospect in America according to MLB.com, Marte immediately becomes the best prospect in the Reds’ organization.
Marte is an important piece. Right now, the Reds are in a precarious position. They’re bad, but they have talent. Hunter Greene has been up-and-down, but he’s shown elite potential when he’s at his best. Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft have also shown promise as long-term options in the starting rotation. Alexis Diaz has been a revelation out of the bullpen. Tyler Stephenson and Jonathan India have had injury issues, but their talent is undeniable. But beyond that, there’s not a lot to get excited about. And the countdown to future trade deadlines has already begun.
I hate to even bring this into the universe, but if the Reds can’t turn this ship around in a year or two, we might be preparing ourselves for more premature departures. Do you think the Reds will hesitate to trade India if they’re 20 games under .500 by July 30, 2024?
Of course not. That’s why it’s so imperative that the Castillo-trade actually works out. The Reds need more young hitters, and Marte could be the star they need to get out of this rut.
Overall, the Reds made out okay in the Castillo-trade. They added two promising infielders and two more pitchers to add to their ever-growing supply. The Reds’ front office annihilated the fans’ trust in the offseason, and this trade could be the start of the rebuilding of that trust. But until we see the results, though, it’s hard to see this transaction through Rosie Red-tinted glasses.