If the Dodgers go after a starting pitcher, it should be the Reds’ Luis Castillo

In case you forgot, the Dodgers are the World Series champions. As such, they don’t have a ton of holes, thanks to years of shrewd and not-so-shrewd acquisitions.

This offseason, if they’re going to make any trades, it’ll be one or two types:

  1. Minor, around the fringes or an attempt to buy prospects
  2. A big-time, star-level player or players

This post is about the latter.

While Trevor Bauer is available via free agency, he’s awful (let me cite the ways) and not as good on the mound as some may think. The 2020 NL Cy Young award winner wasn’t even the best pitcher on his own team, let alone the National League (Yu Darvish, Jacob deGrom).

If the Dodgers make a blockbuster trade or signing — not necessarily to counter what the Padres have done this offseason — they should target Luis Castillo.

Castillo, 28, is one of the more underrated starting pitchers in the game in that he should be mentioned among the game’s best. He’s coming off what was trending to be the best season of his MLB career and he’s about to start getting a bit pricey for the confused Cincinnati Reds.

He finished 2020 with a good-not-great 3.21 ERA, but his ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. He had a 2.65 FIP (4th-best in the NL) and a 22.3 K-BB% and league-best 58.4 GB%. He also had the third-highest BABIP in the NL, which was surely impacted by the ground ball rate, but he also missed plenty of bats — a 15.4 SwStr% (second do deGrom’s ridiculous 21.6%).

Castillo’s main weapon is a devastating changeup. He throws it against both-handed hitters and allowed just an 82.5 MPH exit velocity and a 40.1 whiff percentage on it last season. It led to a .170 xBA (5th-best in MLB), .271 xSLG (10th-best) .227 xWOBA (8th-best). FanGraphs rated it as the 23rd-best changeup in the game this season. That isn’t terribly impressive, but last year, it was the best changeup in the game among starting pitchers. It was 29.4 runs above average — the 4th-best pitch in MLB by that metric.

Oh, he also sports a high-90s fastball (97.4 MPH average in ’20), a sinker he throws just as hard and a mid-80s slider that gets a 40-plus percentage whiff rate.

Aside from the slow fastball spin rate and the mediocre walk percentage, everything else is what the Dodgers look for in their pitchers — strikeouts, ground balls, limits exit velocity and so on.

As it stands, they don’t have a many pitchers under contract who throw many changeups. Pedro Baez led the team with a 35.9% usage, followed by Wood’s 23% and Floro’s 21.3%. Of the projected starters, the only one who threw a true changeup in 2020 was Dustin May (5.1%). Tony Gonsolin‘s splitter acts as a changeup, which he threw 29.8% of the time. David Price is coming back and he throws a changeup in the mid-20% range, but Castillo’s right-handed changeup could give the rotation a different feel. And the fact that his stuff is similar and differs from someone like May could keep opposing hitters from keying in on a specific repertoire.

Castillo is just getting better, and if the Reds trade him, they’re going to get a haul in return. Sure, they could try to attach a contract to him (Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Joey Votto), but that would reduce the return for Castillo. They could also package him with Eugenio Suarez, who would improve the overall return, despite having a decent amount of money still attached to him. As it stands presently, the Dodgers could use a third baseman.

Since being hired in October 2014, Andrew Friedman the Dodgers and Reds have hooked up for five separate deals.

Three minor deals, two rather significant deals. They also hooked up on the failed Aroldis Chapman deal during the 2015 Winter Meetings. It’s been 2-plus years, methinks it’s time for another one.

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I’m not going to sugarcoat it: If the Dodgers were to acquire Castillo, he’d cost quite a bit. He’s probably going to make in the neighborhood of $5-6 million in his first year of arbitration. He’s not a free agent until after 2023, and with Clayton Kershaw and Price’s contracts expiring before then, the Dodgers could be in the market for not just one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, but also one who could be a rotation fixture for the next few years.

The Reds are looking for a shortstop. They’ve been looking for one for a while. They were even interested in Corey Seager last winter. Now, the Dodgers aren’t going to trade Seager to get Castillo, but there’s a certain former top prospect who could fit that description.

Gavin Lux headlining a package for Castillo could make sense for both sides. Yeah, it’d be difficult to lose Lux, but if they’re getting an borderline ace, it might be worth it, especially since they’re still interested in DJ LeMahieu.

With seven projected starting pitchers, the Dodgers would probably have to move one of them in this deal for Castillo, and we know it won’t be Walker Buehler, Kershaw, Price or Julio Urias. If Lux is headlining, then it won’t be May, either. That leaves either Gonsolin or Gray. I think the Reds and Dodgers would opt for Gonsolin, as he has MLB experience and plenty of team control. I really like Gonsolin, but if it means getting Castillo, I think I’d be willing to include him. Also, his stuff is somewhat similar to Castillo’s, so it could be a bit redundant to keep them both.

To finish it off, Keibert Ruiz makes some sense. Yes, the Reds have Tyler Stephenson, but there are at least some questions about his long-term future behind the plate because of his big frame (6’4, 225 pounds). Worst-case scenario, Ruiz and Stephenson could make a formidable catching duo. Tucker Barnhardt is signed through the 2021 season (with an affordable 2022 club option), so the Reds could be in the market for a new catcher as early as next winter. With Austin Barnes still under contract and Diego Cartaya on the way, the Dodgers can afford to deal from a position of depth.

To summarize:

To CIN: Lux, Gonsolin, Ruiz
To LA: Castillo

If the Reds are truly open to trading Castillo this offseason, this is the kind of package it would take to land him. If they hold him until the trade deadline (assuming they aren’t competitive in the NL Central), they could still trade him for a substantial return. If they hold him until next winter, the return would take a bit of a hit, unless he makes a deGromian leap. Sonny Gray would be a more realistic trade target, but he wouldn’t have as much of an impact as a Castillo acquisition would.

It may not make sense for the Reds to move him this winter, but you have to think they’ll look to do it in the next 12-18 months. If the Dodgers want to shore up their rotation for the next three years, landing Castillo — even at the expense of three premium young players — could go a long way to helping their chances of repeating as World Series champions in 2021.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.