by Steve Mancuso,  Hot Stove

About those Castillo-for-Correa trade rumors …

Ah, the baseball Hot Stove. When we’re soaked in a Twitter-fueled witches brew of rumor and reporting. When fans are rocketed across the baseball cosmos in an instant. Remember when the hyperdrive (and $64 million) transported us from a world where Jose Peraza was the team’s second baseman to a strange new place where Mike Moustakas mans the keystone?

Understandably, Reds fans are perched, waiting for any news from the front office. All it takes is a single 280-character message to set us off. A recent Tweet about Luis Castillo and a possible trade for Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros rattled our cages.

Alex Jensen writes for a couple baseball prospects sites and claims to have a source. He’s followed up that Tweet from last night with this one:

Bracketing the credibility and plausibility of this rumor, here are a few thoughts about the trade idea it floats.

Luis Castillo is Valuable

Correction, Luis Castillo is extremely valuable. He’s a 4-WAR pitcher with four years of team control remaining. Absent a negotiated contract extension, he’ll pitch this year for less than $600,000. He qualifies for arbitration the following three years, eligible for free agency in 2024. While it’s right to point to contracts like the one Garrit Cole just signed with the Yankees (9 years, $324 million) as proof that top-tier starting pitching is uber-valuable, Castillo isn’t Cole. A closer comparison is the free agent contract Zack Wheeler just signed (5 years, $118 million). Castillo projects to be a little better than Wheeler, but nowhere near as good as Cole.

Luis Castillo is Not Infinity Valuable

To repeat, Luis Castillo is a 4-WAR pitcher. You can make a case that he fixed his walk-rate the second half of 2019 (reduced from 12.3% to 7.4%) and therefore he’ll be even better in 2020 than he was in 2019. So maybe he’s a 5-WAR pitcher. Those numbers, 4 and 5, are what we called integers math class. They are not infinity, which is not an integer. The less sassy point is there’s a difference between being massively valuable and being infinitely valuable. Here’s the warning: Overvaluing things we know, in this case a Reds player, is a common psychological bias. Reds ownership has been guilty of that over the years. See Harvey, Matt. Such bias leads to suboptimal outcomes. Yes, Luis Castillo may be the most valuable Reds player and the one most difficult to replace. That said, there are integer-based returns for Castillo large enough that it makes sense to engage in certain trade discussions.

Searching for an Elite SS Makes Sense

If the Reds can find a deal for an elite shortstop it would fix the largest weakness in the organization. Even if Castillo-for-Correa is a non-starter, for reasons I’m about to get to, it’s not a surprise if the Reds are taking a look at similar deals. That marquee shortstop has to come via trade. There aren’t any on the free agent market. The top available SS was Didi Gregorius, who ended up signing a sort-of-disappointing 1-year, $14 million deal with the Phillies. If the Reds have made progress searching for a better, long-term solution at short, it makes sense that the Gregorius market collapsed.

Carlos Correa is a Great Player

Carlos Correa is a 25-year-old shortstop with two years of team control remaining. Correa put together 5- or 6-WAR seasons in 2016 and 2017, depending on who is measuring. In 2017, when he earned 5.1 WAR (FanGraphs) or 6.1 (Baseball-Reference) Correa only played in 109 games. Last year, he produced 3 WAR in 75 games (.279/.358/.568; 143 wRC+). To put that in perspective, Jose Iglesias produced 1.6 WAR for the Reds in twice as many games. Correa had 21 homers. All Reds shortstops combined for 11 home runs in 162 games. Like Luis Castillo, Correa is also enormously underpaid. He’s in his second year of arbitration with a projected earnings at or just below $8 million. A 6-WAR season is worth about $50 million on the open market.

Carlos Correa has Been Injured A Lot

No serious analysis of a trade like this can take place without considering injury risk. Correa stayed healthy his first two years in the majors (2015-16). In 2017, he missed 1.5 months with a thumb ligament injury. In 2018 he missed 1+ month with lower back soreness. In 2019, he hit the DL twice, once for 2 months due to fractured ribs from a message. The second time was another month (largely precautionary) due to back discomfort. Normally, with a young player, injuries like the thumb and ribs are bracketed and ignored as one-off events. But being a repeat customer on back pain is worth a deeper look. The Astros had a huge lead in the division so there was no reason to rush Correa back. Correa did play all 18 of Houston’s postseason games in 2019.

Pitchers (Including Castillo) Still Have Elbows and Shoulders

Luis Castillo has not found himself on the DL or IL at any point of his minor league or major league careers. That’s a remarkable 7+ year stretch, especially for a pitcher. For instance, about 15-20 major league pitchers have Tommy John surgery each year. Add rotator cuff and other elbow and shoulder injuries and you have a decent-sized annual risk. Most pitcher trips to the DL end up at least 60 days and TJS means a lost year or more. If you ascribe to the theory that Castillo’s changeup-heavy portfolio will protect his arm, you might want to check on that with Jose Rijo and his (at least) three Tommy John surgeries.

So yes, factor in Correa’s recurring back injury. But also account for the risk that Castillo, as a pitcher, might miss an entire season.

Astros Selling Low?

The Astros have told reporters they are looking to shed payroll. That knowledge, plus Correa’s injury history, might mean the Astros could sell a little low on their shortstop. If, for example, Correa stayed healthy and provided the Reds two years of 6+ WAR, that would be a lot. Houston might have been in the Cole market, meaning they now have a turbocharged interest in Castillo or another SP.

Reds Future Rotation

The Castillo-for-Correa deal made more sense when the Reds were known to be shopping for Wheeler. Wheeler could have slotted in for Castillo across several years. Given that two other members of the Reds rotation, Anthony DeSclafani and Trevor Bauer, could become free agents at the end of 2020, it seems unlikely the Reds would trade Castillo without a plan to replace him. The Reds could partly mitigate that by reaching an extension agreement with DeSclafani. Reporting out tonight indicates the Reds viewed Wheeler as in a category by himself and aren’t pursuing other big name starters.

Other Players in the Deal

The Castill0-for-Correa deal, or something similar with another team, doesn’t have to be a one-for-one trade. The Reds could ask for a pitcher as part of the return package. Houston could request a minor league shortstop. Again, the Reds shouldn’t rule discussion of Castillo (or Sonny Gray) as out of question. The particular package suggested in the tweet above doesn’t make much sense as an add-on for the Reds. Josh Reddick is set to earn $13 million in 2020 then become a free agent in 2021. Reddick is a left-handed bat that plays right field. But unless he plays full time, which seems unlikely, he wouldn’t earn his $13 million. The Reds could ask for a young arm like Jose Urquidy who could slot in right away (don’t even think about Forest Whitley).

If Not Castillo, then Who?

Is there a way to save the Correa trade without giving up Luis Castillo? Probably not, but let’s take a look. A key attribute for being a good dealmaker is empathy. You have to understand what the other side needs or wants. In the Astros’ case, they’ve said they’re looking to shed salary. Correa costs only $8 million, but they might package him with Reddick to ditch another $13 million. The Astros also want to strengthen their rotation after the loss of Cole. So loading up an offer with a bunch of guys in the farm system isn’t showing much empathy. The Astros aren’t going to trade Carlos Correa for prospects.

How about Raisel Iglesais? Let’s say the Reds won’t do Castillo. The Astros winning window is now so the counteroffer would have to include major league help. Iglesias is a rock solid bullpen arm, one under team control for 2 years at a reasonable price. The Astros might not go 1:1 with Correa and Iglesias, but it could be the starting point of a workable framework.

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Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.