After a small amuse-bouche in the form of an Andrew Benintendi trade to get our deadline appetites drooling in anticipation, the Mariners have served up a mighty entrée in the form of landing Luis Castillo, arguably the best pitcher plausibly available this week, in a late Saturday trade. Heading the quartet of players heading to Cincinnati is shortstop Noelvi Marte, the No. 11 prospect both on the midseason update on The Board and in my preseason ZiPS Top 100 Prospects. Joining Marte is shortstop Edwin Arroyo, starting pitcher Levi Stoudt, and reliever Andrew Moore.
Castillo’s season got off to a rocky start thanks to lingering issues with a sore shoulder. Those are always concerning, but he was able to debut in early May after a thankfully eventless rehab stint. After some spotty command in his first game back, he’s been absolutely solid, making his second All-Star team this year; in 14 starts for the Reds, he has struck out 90 batters against 28 walks, putting up an ERA of 2.86, a FIP of 3.20, and 2.1 WAR. That’s enough for 16th in the NL despite Castillo not debuting until Cincinnati’s 29th game. While it wouldn’t impress Old Hoss Radbourn or Amos Rusie, Castillo is a workhorse by 2022’s standards, finishing the fifth inning in every start since his first one and boasting a streak of four consecutive games of at least seven innings, with three of the four opponents (Braves, Rays, Yankees) being quite dangerous.
Naturally, landing Castillo makes Seattle’s rotation a considerably more dangerous unit. ZiPS gives it an even bigger boost than our depth charts do, bumping it from 18th in the league in projected rest-of-season WAR to 10th. Overall, ZiPS thought the Mariners were a .527 team going into the season, and now my projections see them as a .545 team with an 84% chance of making the playoffs, up from 76%. This move is more about making the team as dangerous in the playoffs as possible; the Mariners could add Juan Soto, too, and the math of an 11-game deficit would still make winning the AL West a tough road.
As exciting as it is to see the Mariners do whatever they can to push themselves over the top this season, this move may even be a bigger deal for the 2023 season. Pencil in $15 million for Castillo’s salary, and the M’s have a committed luxury tax number of just around $115 million, with only Adam Frazier and Mitch Haniger as significant free agents. Having a solid rotation already put together gives Seattle nearly unlimited options this winter.
ZiPS Projection – 2023 Mariners Rotation
Whether the 2022 season ends in champagne or sadness, I think this season will go down as one of the finest chapters of President of Baseball Ops Jerry Dipoto’s career. While the Mariners winning 90 games in 2021 was fun, when it’s time to make the hard decisions, it would have been malpractice to consider this roster a 90-win team rather than one a lot closer to the 76 wins that run differential actually suggested. Instead of clinging to the notion that Seattle had 90-win talent on the roster and simply had to bring back the same roster and let the playoff appearances pile in, the front office approached last winter as if there were a lot of work to do. Before the lockout, the Mariners acquired Frazier from the Padres and then swooped in to ink the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Ray to a five-year, $115 million contract. When the offseason (eventually) resumed, they picked up Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez, also from the Reds, in a six-player trade. And when it was abundantly clear that the minors were too small to contain Julio Rodríguez’s talent, he was in the Opening Day lineup rather than hanging out with the Tacoma Rainiers, waiting out any service time games. Similarly, the team approached the decision of how to use Kirby from the viewpoint of “how fast can he be in Seattle” rather than “how long can we justify keeping him in the minors.”
As you have probably surmised, I’m a big fan of both this trade and the more general approach to Seattle’s team-building this year. So how ’bout them Reds?
In terms of the pure value returned for Castillo, the Reds did very well. Prying a prospect ranked anywhere near the top 10 is a Herculean task, and Marte wasn’t the only prospect going to Cincy. He has a lot of power for a 20-year-old shortstop, and he’s not just a shortstop in a theoretical sense; he’s very likely to stick at the position over the long haul.
ZiPS Projection – Noelvi Marte
ZiPS isn’t sure about the rest of Marte’s offensive game other than solid speed — he still has a lot of development ahead of him — but a player with his power potential and at least competence with the glove in the middle infield is a player you ought not bet too much against.
ZiPS Projection – Levi Stoudt
My colleague Eric Longenhagen has written in the past that Stoudt “may begin his big league career as a short-outing starter and shift to the bullpen as his options dwindle.” The projections don’t tell a very different story than that. Stoudt hasn’t been particularly dominating in the minors, and ZiPS sees his average outcome being a back-of-a-rotation starter. As a reliever, his ERA+ projections improve into the low 100s, giving him solid odds of being a roughly average long man at the back of a bullpen.
Arroyo is another shortstop with power, though not in Marte’s league, and it’s still uncertain whether he sticks at short. The Andrew Moore in this trade is not the former Mariners starter, now in the Blue Jays’ organization, but a hard-throwing JUCO project drafted in 2021. He’s made a lot of progress this season; a walk rate of 4.7 per nine, hardly a celebratory number for most pitchers, is practically a revelation after he walked 18 batters in 19 1/3 innings last year. Even in college, he walked seven batters a game. The Reds love these types of projects, so it’s not surprising to see a prospect like him in a trade.
(Eric will have a full prospect piece later with more in-depth thoughts on the quartet heading Cincinnati’s way.)
My complaint about the Reds isn’t this trade, which is actually fine, but the circumstances that led to this trade becoming a necessary evil. The 2021 Reds were a flawed team, but there was a lot of talent there to build on; I’d argue that they actually went into the offseason with a stronger roster for the 2022 season than the Mariners did. But whereas Seattle rose to the challenge to invest in the team and get into serious playoff contention, Cincinnati’s owner instead slammed the contention window shut so quickly that they’re still finding shards of glass on I-71. The analyst in me appreciates that both sides did well on technical merit, but Cincy’s cynical, soulless year forces me to knock serious points off their score.