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Friday, August 19, 2022

Astros Among Teams With Interest In Luis Castillo

Luis Castillo is among the league’s highest-profile trade candidates. The hard-throwing righty is having another excellent season, and with a year and a half of remaining club control, he’s a good bet to move from the 34-55 Reds to a contender in the next couple weeks.

Virtually every win-now team figures to inquire on Castillo, who’d upgrade any rotation. The Dodgers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mariners, and Twins have all been linked to tied to the Cincinnati starter in recent weeks. Erik Boland of Newsday (Twitter link) and Sweeny Murti of WFAN (on Twitter) both report the Astros are also in the mix. Jon Heyman of the New York Post adds that teams like the Mets and Padres, who’d been linked to Castillo early in the process, are likelier to prioritize adding offensive help than an impact starter.

That said, even teams with enviable rotation depth figure to at least kick the tires on Castillo over the coming weeks. Houston’s interest is indicative of that, as they have arguably the best starting pitching outlook in the game. Astros starters rank second in the majors in ERA (3.15) and innings pitched (505), while they’re ninth in strikeout percentage (23.6%). That’s in spite of zero contributions from Lance McCullers Jr., perhaps the team’s top pitcher in 2021, as he’s rehabbed from a forearm issue.

Few teams would be able to comfortably withstand an injury to a pitcher of McCullers’ caliber, but Houston’s rotation has thrived nevertheless. All six of the Astros starters to eclipse 30 innings this season have an ERA of 4.08 or lower. Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez own sub-3.00 marks. Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia are in the mid-3.00s with strong strikeout totals, while Jake Odorizzi (3.38) and José Urquidy (4.08) have solid results despite lacking huge whiff totals.

With McCullers also expected to return at some point after the All-Star Break, the Astros certainly don’t need to add another starter. Castillo’s performance, though, is impressive enough they’ll join virtually every other contender in checking in with Reds’ general manager Nick Krall and his staff. Despite pitching in a hitter-friendly home ballpark, Castillo has a 3.49 ERA with an above-average 26.8% strikeout rate and an elite 55.2% grounder percentage over the past three and a half seasons. That includes a personal-best 2.77 ERA through 13 starts this year. Castillo’s swinging strike and ground-ball numbers are down a touch, but he’s still been better than league average in both regards.

Castillo has been especially excellent of late, pitching at peak form as the August 2 deadline draws nearer. He’s allowed one or fewer runs in each of his past four outings, striking out 33 against nine walks over his last 27 innings. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic examined Castillo’s strong recent run this morning, noting that the right-hander worked with the Cincinnati coaching staff to tweak the grip on his four-seam fastball this year.

In addition to his excellent results, the 29-year-old would be an eminently affordable pickup for acquiring teams. He’s playing this season on a $7.35MM salary, approximately $2.9MM of which will remain to be paid out after the deadline. He should be in line for a decent arbitration raise next winter, but even a 2023 salary in the $12-15MM range would be a strong bargain for a pitcher of his caliber.

Cincinnati is widely expected to field offers on both Castillo and rotation mate Tyler Mahle, who is also in his penultimate year of club control. Andy Martino of SNY reports that talks on at least the former have yet to get underway in much detail, suggesting those discussions figure to accelerate after the upcoming amateur draft. The Reds are sure to set a lofty asking price once discussions begin in earnest. Heyman wrote earlier this week that Cincinnati was looking for one of the Yankees’ top shortstop prospects, Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza, to get Castillo talks underway. Heyman suggested last night that New York remains firmly against parting with either player, even after losing Luis Severino to the injured list due to a lat strain.

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