We’re approaching the four-year anniversary of an under-the-radar Reds move that has paid and could continue to pay massive dividends for the franchise. On April 1, 2016, the Reds claimed right-hander Dan Straily off waivers from the Padres. At that point, Straily was coming off an up-and-down few years divided among the Athletics, Cubs and Astros, and he spent the vast majority of the 2015 campaign as part of Houston’s Triple-A affiliate. But the Straily pickup proved to be incredibly shrewd for Cincinnati, with which he overcame unimpressive underlying metrics to post a 3.76 ERA across a career-high 191 1/3 innings in 2016.
As a team, the Reds didn’t capitalize on Straily’s presence, winning a mere 68 games and finishing with more losses than wins for the third straight year. They still haven’t registered a .500 or better season since then, though the effect of taking a low-risk flier on Straily a few years back could be felt for a significant amount of time. After all, on the heels of his solid season as a Red, they flipped him to the Marlins in January 2017 in what’s arguably one of the biggest heists in recent baseball history.
In exchange for Straily, the Reds received three players – a pair of righties, Luis Castillo and Austin Brice, as well as outfield prospect Isaiah White. Brice didn’t amount to much in Cincinnati (he actually spent last season back with the Marlins and is now a member of the Red Sox organization), while the 23-year-old White hasn’t advanced past the Single-A level yet.
On the other hand, Castillo has become a gem – a hurler the Marlins no doubt rue trading at all, let alone for someone who was an unspectacular performer in their uniform. Straily was a Marlin from 2017-18, both losing seasons for the club, and pitched to a 4.20 ERA during that 304-inning span. The Marlins wound up releasing him heading into last season, which proved to be a disastrous year in the Orioles org for Straily. He’s now with the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization.
Meanwhile, Castillo has morphed into an electrifying major league starter. After a respectable first two seasons in Cincy, the heat-throwing Castillo truly came into his own in 2019. The 27-year-old pitched to a 3.40 ERA/3.70 FIP with 10.67 K/9 and 3.73 BB/9 across a a personal-best 190 2/3 frames. Along the way, Castillo ranked second among all qualified starters in groundball percentage (55.2) and fourth in swinging-strike percentage (15.9), placing him between Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom. And Statcast loved Castillo’s work, ranking him near the top of the league in several important categories.
The fact that Castillo has evolved into such a standout isn’t wholly surprising. Remember, when the Marlins parted with Castillo, he was regarded as one of their handful of best prospects. Baseball America posited then that Castillo, who was coming off a season of stellar production at the High-A and Double-A levels, had mid-rotation potential. Nevertheless, despite his upside, it was the second time the Marlins had agreed to part with Castillo. They previously tried to send him to the Padres in a notable July 2016 trade, but they got him back after fellow righty Colin Rea’s medicals proved problematic. Had the Castillo aspect of that deal gone through, it also would have blown up in Miami’s face.
It seems fair to say that the Marlins did not properly value Castillo while he was with the organization. The Reds are profiting from that right now. In Cincinnati, Castillo currently finds himself as an integral piece of a quality starting rotation that could help the Reds push for a playoff berth this year (if there is a season). Castillo still has another pre-arbitration campaign left and the Reds have the ability to control him through 2023, making him all the more appealing. If the Reds are going to return to prominence in the near future, there’s a good chance that the Castillo trade will have something to do with it.
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