The Cincinnati Reds seem willing to wheel and deal this offseason, and the Los Angeles Angels should make a move for their prized starter: Luis Castillo.
In the midst of missing the playoffs in Major League Baseball’s 60-game regular season, the Angels finally saw some growth from their starting rotation, a long-standing weakness of their roster. Griffin Canning posted a 3.99 ERA while veteran Dylan Bundy got back on track in his debut season with the Angels, posting a 3.29 ERA and 72 strikeouts across 11 starts.
Is Canning and Bundy enough for the Angels to stand pat with their rotation? It is not. Castillo would change the game for manager Joe Maddon‘s ballclub.
Castillo is an ace and one of the brightest young stars in the sport. Across the last two seasons (44 starts) he has posted a combined 3.41 FIP, a 140 ERA+, and 315 strikeouts. The right-hander hits the high 90s with his four seamer and sinker and gets hitters to whiff at his changeup. Castillo doesn’t give into at-bats and has consistently been able to pitch through the sixth inning.
Keep in mind that he has pitched in the National League Central across his four seasons in the big leagues, a division that has been traditionally strong at the plate in recent memory. Castillo has found success against well-versed offenses.
With Canning continuing to progress, Bundy pitching at a similar clip to 2020, and Castillo performing like his stellar self, the Angels would have a reliable top-of-the-rotation with upside. When’s the last time you could say that?
Let’s also consider the unit the Angels rotation accompanies. Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Shohei Ohtani, David Fletcher, Justin Upton, and Albert Pujols headline the Angels’ offensive attack. Plus, they recently signed Kurt Suzuki, one of the best hitting catchers in the sport. This is an elite offense from a talent standpoint that has been performing alongside a rotation that has been unable to turn a collective corner.
This is a skewed program that needs balance.
Under team control through 2023, the Reds would rightfully command a haul for Castillo. What does that mean the Angels would have to give up?
The Reds would likely want outfielder Jo Adell, the Angels’ former top prospect, for Castillo, which would be met with a polite two-word response from the Angels. After the blunt rebuttal, the Angels could counter the Reds by offering top outfield prospect Brandon Marsh, one of their prestigious young pitching prospects (Reid Detmers or Chris Rodriguez), one of their MLB starters who has failed to take the next step (Andrew Heaney or Patrick Sandoval), and maybe an unheralded prospect.
In said trade, the Reds get a highly touted young outfielder and pitcher. Meanwhile, maybe they can get Heaney or Sandoval’s career back on track like they did with Sonny Gray a couple seasons ago? It’s a lot of young capital for the Angels to surrender, but it’s fair value for a pitcher who would be the Angels’ best starter since Jered Weaver in his prime.
Castillo is also better than every starting pitcher on the free agent market at this stage of his respective career with the exception of his teammate of the last two years, Trevor Bauer.
The American League West isn’t a sure thing. You could argue it’s the worst division on paper in MLB. The Oakland Athletics are the favorites. That said, they’ve continued to hit a postseason wall and have lost Liam Hendriks and Robbie Grossman to free agency while Marcus Semien seeks a new contract.
The Houston Astros have outfielders George Springer and Michael Brantley on the free agent market and Justin Verlander is recovering from an elbow injury. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers are transparently rebuilding. Then you have the Angels with a mix of high-level and/or respectable veterans and a conglomerate of youngsters trying to find their footing. The Angels are in the middle of contending for the playoffs and rebuilding.
There’s no reason for them to embark on a rebuild. Their only path forward is to chase the division crown, which is feasible with a blockbuster trade for Castillo.
By the way, it’s possible that MLB returns with an expanded postseason in 2021 (three-game Wild Card round with more than five teams in each league making the playoffs); that would only improve the Angels’ chances of making the postseason with a major roster upgrade.
The Angels gave Trout a $427 million extension in 2019. In the offseason that followed they gave Rendon a $245 million contract. What’s the point of the Angels investing in two of the best players in the sport if they’re not going to have a functioning rotation to complement them? It’s all for nothing without recurring playoff appearances, let alone a World Series title.
The 2020 season marked the sixth consecutive year that the Angels missed the playoffs.
If now isn’t the time to get aggressive, then when is?