X

Playing Matchmaker with MLB's Hottest Trade Targets Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas

Zachary D. RymerJune 29, 2022

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

With Major League Baseball's Aug. 2 trade deadline now barely more than a month away, it's time to wildly overthink whatever rumors come out of the ether.

In this case, we're going to have some fun with the latest on Cincinnati Reds ace Luis Castillo and Oakland Athletics ace Frankie Montas.

As reported by Peter Gammons of The Athletic on Saturday, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is "going to make a run" at Castillo and Montas. But they could have company in that pursuit, as Gammons also tabbed the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants as potential suitors for the two right-handers.

If we're going to determine how Castillo and Montas fit these seven suitors, we must first answer the question of which of them is the more desirable pitcher.

Spoiler alert: This is a trick question.


How Castillo and Montas Stack Up

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Age, Controllability and Salary

To begin, Castillo and Montas are in the same place in their arbitration timelines. Both are in their second years of eligibility and slated for free agency after 2023.

The differences in their ages and salaries, meanwhile, are there but slight. Castillo is 29 years, 199 days old and Montas is 29 years, 100 days old. The former is earning $7.4 million, compared to $5.0 million for the latter.

Though these elements lean in Montas' favor, it's close enough to effectively be a push.


Durability

Montas and the A's recently got a scare when the righty took a line drive off his pitching hand on May 21, but the incident didn't necessitate a stay on the injured list.

Such has been the theme of Montas' career, as he's yet to log even one stint on the IL. The only significant time he's missed was for an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that lasted from June 21 to Sept. 24 of 2019. Though that sidetracked his career, it's hardly derailed it.

For his part, Castillo only just went on the IL for the first time this season. It was nonetheless for reasons that are vaguely alarming even now, as he developed a sore shoulder during spring training in March and ultimately didn't make his 2022 debut until May 9.

Further, it's perhaps a disadvantage for Castillo that he has more professional innings on his arm than Montas. Whereas Castillo has pitched 1,240.1 innings between the regular season and the postseason, Montas is only at 1,114.2 innings.

Of course, the flip side of this argument is that Castillo is more of a known commodity as an innings-eater. He's thrice topped 160 innings in a season, whereas Montas only did so for the first time in logging 187 frames in 2021.

So once again, a push.


Ability

From a career-wide perspective, the scales here tip decidedly toward Castillo.

Even setting aside that Castillo owns more than twice as much career WAR as Montas, he also has key rate stats in his advantage. Take ERA+, for example, which has Castillo's career mark at 124 (i.e. 24 percent better than average) and Montas' at 109. Castillo likewise boasts the superior strikeout rate and, even despite Great American Ball Park's tiny dimensions, also has edges in AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS.

Over the last two seasons, however, Montas (119) has caught up a little to Castillo (124) in ERA+. Though Castillo has a tiny edge in xwOBA, Montas has nonetheless also usurped him in strikeout rate and AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS.

A comparison of the two pitchers' stuff further balances the aforementioned scales. They have largely similar repertoires, with both throwing four-seamers and sinkers in the mid-to-high 90s, sliders in the mid-to-high 80s and mainly putting batters away with a signature off-speed pitch.

For Castillo, it's the changeup:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Luis Castillo, Dirty 89mph Changeup...and bows before the greatness of his change. 👌 <a href="https://t.co/oJgZzNR1fT">pic.twitter.com/oJgZzNR1fT</a>

For Montas, it's the split-finger fastball:

Rob Friedman @PitchingNinja

Frankie Montas, Wicked Splitters. 🤢<br><br>5th and 6th Ks. <a href="https://t.co/mj7jgXaSia">pic.twitter.com/mj7jgXaSia</a>

The reputation of Castillo's changeup precedes it, and justifiably so. Since 2017, it's racked up the most strikeouts of any off-speed pitch and lags behind only Kevin Gausman's splitter in cumulative run value.

As with their overall results, though, Montas fares better here if the focus is narrowed to the last two seasons. His splitter bests Castillo's changeup in both strikeouts and run value.

That obviously speaks to how nasty Montas' splitter is, but also the degree to which Castillo's changeup has been malfunctioning. Especially this year, wherein the whiff rate and expected slugging percentage against it are both career worsts for the veteran.

And yet, the results probably overstate the decline of Castillo's changeup. The pitch is doing just fine in velocity and active spin, suggesting that the real issue is that he's throwing it too high. If so, that's correctable.

So all things considered, another push.


Potential Game-Changers

AP Photo/Jeff Dean

Given that he's spent his entire career pitching his home games in an extremely small ballpark, it's a feather in Castillo's cap that he hasn't needed to hit the road to be successful. He boasts a 3.28 ERA at home and a 4.21 ERA on the road.

As for how he's been able to do this, it helps that strikeouts and ground balls are his preferred methods for getting outs. Strikeouts play well anywhere, as do the ground balls if a pitcher has a good infield defense behind him.

To the latter, Castillo very much does not have good defenders behind him on Cincinnati's infield these days. Between 2017 and 2020, his average on ground balls was 16 points lower than expected. Since the start of 2021, it's 34 points higher than expected.

Are you paying attention, Yankees? Because that concerns you most of all. And to a lesser extent, also you, Blue Jays, Astros and Dodgers.

Though Montas is a decent ground-ball pitcher and a quality strikeout pitcher in his own right, his home/road splits betray how much he nonetheless benefits from RingCentral Coliseum's plentiful fair and foul territory. Since 2017, his road ERA (4.22) is nearly a run higher than his home ERA (3.31).

The same trend holds true of the expected performances of his fly balls and line drives. In Oakland, their actual slugging percentage is 40 points lower than expected. Elsewhere, it's two points higher.

To this end, the Giants and Mets could feel confident that Montas would be able to survive at Oracle Park and Citi Field, respectively.


Matchmaker Time

Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

In relation to what each of the seven purported suitors for Castillo and Montas are getting from their starting rotations in 2022, wins above replacement puts the order of need like so: White Sox, Blue Jays, Astros, Mets, Giants, Yankees and Dodgers.

Yet there are also health concerns aplenty among these clubs, and particularly among the Dodgers, Mets and Blue Jays.

Los Angeles won't have Walker Buehler (forearm), Andrew Heaney (shoulder) or Dustin May (Tommy John surgery) for the foreseeable future. The same is true of Tylor Megill (shoulder) in New York, which also hasn't yet welcomed back Max Scherzer (oblique) and Jacob deGrom (shoulder). Meanwhile in Toronto, Hyun-Jin Ryu (Tommy John) is done for the year and Nate Pearson (mononucleosis and lat) is shut down for a while.

Though their rotations are healthier than most, the Astros and White Sox and especially the Yankees and Giants nonetheless have reason to be skeptical about sustainability. The Yankees lack proven innings-eaters behind Gerrit Cole, and the Giants need a reliable arm behind Logan Webb and Carlos Rodon.

There's also the matter of the cost of acquiring Castillo or Montas. Per ESPN's Buster Olney, it's going to be steep:

Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN

About the starting pitcher trade market: the perception of some of the execs involved is that any team interested in starting pitching from OAK (Montas) or the Reds (Castillo, Mahle) needs prospect-laden proposals. Neither of those teams have to move money.

To this end, it bears noting that among the seven suitors for the two aces, the Dodgers have the best farm system and the Astros have the worst.

Should each team's place in the standings also count? Perhaps, but certainly not as much as it would with a rental trade target. Because Castillo and Montas are controlled through 2023, it's not necessarily "World Series or bust" for whoever trades for them.

As such, here's how we'd rank these teams as fits for Castillo and Montas:

  • 7. Astros (lean Castillo)
  • 6. White Sox (lean Castillo)
  • 5. Yankees (lean Castillo)
  • 4. Giants (lean Montas)
  • 3. Mets (lean Montas)
  • 2. Dodgers (lean Montas)
  • 1. Blue Jays (lean Castillo)

Though all of these teams could use a starter like Castillo or Montas, the Blue Jays truly need one of them. Sans Ryu, they're the one team on this list that's confirmed to have lost a key starter for the rest of the season. And that's without even getting into the 5.53 ERA they've gotten out of Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi.

The Blue Jays also offer potentially the most relevant precedent for what a trade for Castillo or Montas might look like. Berrios also had a year-and-a-half of club control when they acquired him from the Minnesota Twins last July, and it cost them their No. 1 and No. 8 prospects at the time: infielder Austin Martin and right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson.

Since both Castillos and Montas are older now than Berrios was then (27), the Blue Jays could probably resist if Cincinnati or Oakland went after Gabriel Moreno, who's the best catching prospect not named Adley Rutschman.

But if they offered infielders Orelvis Martinez and Otto Lopez, the package would be similar to the one Minnesota got last summer in one respect: It would feature both a Tier 1 and a Tier 2 prospect.

Good enough for one of the summer market's top two starting pitchers? Since there's no more wild overthinking to do, one supposes there's only one way we'll ever find out.


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.