The trade deadline for the 2022 Major League Baseball season isn't until Aug. 2, so you might say it's too early to be speculating on certain players' value and possible destinations.
Yet the trade rumor mill never stops spinning, and it now contains four interesting names for the summer market courtesy of the legendary Peter Gammons of The Athletic:
Though both right-handers are under club control through 2023, it isn't surprising to hear that the Cincinnati Reds are open to moving Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle. When a team is following a dramatic payroll crunch with a historically bad 6-24 start to its season, said team would be wise to cut its losses and plan for the future.
Though their 12-19 start isn't quite as cringe-worthy, the Oakland Athletics are likewise about where anyone could have expected after they had their own fire sale over the winter. Frankie Montas, who's also controlled through 2023, is therefore a similarly sensible trade chip.
As he's doing just fine in a relief role for a Los Angeles Dodgers squad that has its eyes on the World Series, David Price is in a boat of a different sort. If the veteran left-hander does move, it'll presumably be with the Dodgers' blessing to go try and rebuild his value as a starter before his contract expires at the end of the year.
In any case, the only thing to do now is break these guys down even further and survey the landscape for places they might call home next.
Whither Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle?
Especially given that they had already traded fellow starter Sonny Gray and lineup stalwarts Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart, it was unexpected when Reds general manager Nick Krall then drew a line on Castillo and Mahle in March:
One could have made the case even at the time that this was a miscalculation. And now? Even more so.
Castillo, 29, promptly developed shoulder soreness and started the season on the injured list. The 2019 All-Star only just made his season debut Monday, pitching effectively, yet unspectacularly, to the tune of three runs in 4.2 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. Notably, his fastball was down 2.3 mph from its 2021 average.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Mahle has slipped from a 3.72 ERA across the 2020 and 2021 seasons to a 6.46 ERA through his first six outings of 2022. He's pointed to his command as his biggest shortcoming so far, and it shows in his diminished rates for first-pitch strikes (59.3 percent) and walks (12.2 percent).
As such, patience is the best course of action for the Reds on both players. Ideally, Castillo and/or Mahle will rebound enough between now and Aug. 2 to have similar value to what a year-and-a-half of Jose Berrios had for the Minnesota Twins last year. That is, enough to extract at least two name-brand prospects in a trade.
With Castillo, the Reds can hang their hopes on his fastball velocity returning over time. He does have a history of gaining velocity as seasons progress, after all, and it's good enough in the meantime that he got as high as 97.2 mph in his debut.
And also, that he was still able to do his thing with his trademark changeup:
His command problems notwithstanding, it's a positive that Mahle has mainly gotten burned on his slider and cutter, which are the third and fourth options in his repertoire. His four-seam fastball and splitter have continued to be effective, particularly given that only three of the 11 knocks against the latter have registered as hard-hit.
Regarding where Castillo and Mahle could end up, the Toronto Blue Jays were reportedly in on both pitchers during the winter. Ditto for the Texas Rangers, while the Los Angeles Angels were known to be interested in Castillo. Each of these teams could potentially circle back this summer.
Amid a season marked by depressed offense, the list of contenders with needs in their starting rotations is otherwise shorter than usual. Yet teams that bear monitoring are prospect-rich teams like the Cleveland Guardians and Detroit Tigers. There's also the Minnesota Twins. They dealt with the Reds for Gray, and are reportedly now faced with the possibility of losing right-hander Chris Paddack to elbow surgery.
It's also worth mentioning the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, both of whom could use more quality starts from their rotations.
Whither Frankie Montas?
The short version of the book on Castillo and Mahle is that they'll be in "prove it" mode between now and the trade deadline. This makes them different from Montas, who has been proving it for a while now.
It's still a stain on his record that he was suspended 80 games for performance-enhancing drugs in 2019, but his return to a 5.60 ERA in 2020 overstated the 29-year-old's demise. He finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting for 2021 after posting a 3.37 ERA over 187 innings. So far in 2022, he's holding firm with a 3.77 ERA through seven starts.
Though Montas' fastballs sits in the mid-90s, it's more so his splitter and slider that allow him to stand out from the crowd:
That split is one of the most effective pitches in MLB today, holding opposing batters to an .083 average and only one extra-base hit in 48 at-bats. With a .133 average in its own right, the slider is a more recent revelation for Montas.
As reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the A's are so high on Montas that they asked the Chicago White Sox for former No. 3 pick and current breakout star Andrew Vaughn before the season began. Unsurprisingly, the White Sox balked and a source told Jon Heyman of the New York Post: "That ship has sailed."
Other teams that were reportedly in on Montas include the Tigers (see here), Kansas City Royals (here) and New York Yankees (here). With their starting rotation now posting the best ERA in the American League, the latter is probably the least likely of the three to revisit Montas before the Aug. 2 deadline.
Though the Arizona Diamondbacks also have an excellent rotation, they could be a dark horse to trade for Montas on account of how general manager Mike Hazen and special assistant Jason McLeod were key members of the Red Sox front office when the team signed Montas out of the Dominican Republic in 2009.
There are also ties to Montas in the front offices of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The former, because president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has already traded for Montas once. The latter, because president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi worked under Friedman when that trade happened.
Whither David Price?
In addition to the AL Cy Young Award in 2012, Price won ERA titles that year and in 2015 during a six-year run as one of baseball's premier aces. Even as recently as 2018, he was still a highly effective regular-season starter and, ultimately, a postseason hero.
Now 36 years old, Price is very much in a different phase of his career.
After a rocky 2019 season, he opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and returned to pitch to a modest 4.03 ERA in a swingman role for the Dodgers in 2021. He does have a 1.93 ERA in 2022, but through only five appearances spanning 4.2 innings.
It seems like an obligation to mention Price's fastball velocity, so here goes: it's far from what it used to be, tumbling from a peak average of 95.5 mph in 2012 to 90.8 mph this year.
It matters, though, that Price has all but abandoned his four-seamer in favor of more sinkers and cutters. Small sample size and all, but those two pitches are getting the job done in holding hitters to one hit in 11 at-bats.
Even if Price has yet to make a start for the Dodgers this year, it also matters that he fared well with a 3.92 ERA in 11 starts in 2021. He was good for two trips through the lineup, which is really all the Dodgers needed then and all anyone else should expect from him now.
Still another positive is that the Red Sox are already on the hook for half of Price's $32 million salary. If given a chance to buy a prospect, the Dodgers could conceivably be willing to eat most or all of the other half.
If so, maybe the Tampa Bay Rays would be interested in a reunion with their former No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. Their current starters are only averaging 4.0 innings per outing as is, so Price wouldn't have to be worried about being over-burdened if he did return to St. Pete.
Given their own payroll restrictions, the Guardians are another potential fit for Price if the Dodgers move him for the sake of buying a prospect. They came into the season with a good-looking rotation on paper, but it's thus far let them down in posting a 4.61 ERA.
It's also hard not to think of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possibility for Price. Their president of baseball operations is Dave Dombrowski, who acquired Price on two separate occasions in the mid-2010s. First, via trade with the Tigers in 2014. And then, via a seven-year, $217 million contract that brought Price to the Red Sox in 2015.