The Cincinnati Reds made the trade of Dan Straily to the Miami Marlins official just after noon eastern on Thursday, confirming that they’d shipped away their best starting pitcher (according to bWAR) from the 2016 season for a trio of talented youngsters.
Straily's 4.3 bWAR 2016 constitutes almost the entirety of the 4.8 bWAR he's been valued at in his career, which is one pretty obvious signal why the Reds were willing to move him: not a lot about his track record suggested that he'd be able to replicate the success from 2016 again in 2017, and that made him a classic sell-high candidate. Perhaps more importantly, the variation between how Straily was valued by bWAR in 2016 and how he was valued by fWAR - FanGraphs' proprietary metric - may signal how the revamped Cincinnati front office goes about their analytical business.
To be short, bWAR - Baseball Reference's proprietary metric - tends to value "results" more than peripheral numbers in their valuation models, and a lot of Straily's numerical successes in 2016 were more impressive on the results ledger than were his peripherals. For instance, his 7.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 numbers posted in the 191 innings he threw with the Reds last year fell right in line with the 7.5 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 marks from the previous 260.1 innings he'd thrown in his big league career, but his 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP from last year were vastly better than the 4.60 ERA and 1.31 WHIP he'd had in his career prior to last year. Paired with a declining fastball velocity, an NL-worst 31 homers allowed, and a pitch repertoire that was nearly identical to how he'd pitched in the past, and it's easy to think a lot of the success he experienced in 2016 was good fortune, not a mid-career revelation.
For comparison, that's why FanGraphs valued him at just 1.2 fWAR last year, a number that makes the initial return the Reds received from Miami that much better. Considering the Reds picked Straily up free of charge/exchange by claiming him on waivers from the San Diego Padres just prior to the start of the season, the ability to cash-in with three talented prospects coming in return was simply too good of an overall transaction for Cincinnati to bypass. Factor in that Straily fell just days short of a Super Two status that would've earned him just shy of $4 million(estimated) and instead kept his 2017 salary at league minimum, and his value as a trade piece for the Reds couldn't have been any higher.
To opine for a minute, I'd wager that the Reds weren't exactly shopping Straily, especially considering the comments from the front office this year about potentially bringing in a veteran starter to compete for a spot in the back of the rotation and keep service clocks on the younger arms from starting too early. In many ways, that sounds exactly like how they landed Straily in the first place - needing a veteran potential innings-eater to buy them time, not to lead a staff. But when the Marlins came calling and had an offer fronted by the talented arm of Luis Castillo, the Reds made the relatively easy decision to make the move.
As for Castillo, he's a newly-minted 24 year old righty with a fastball that can reach triple digits, but unlike so many of the raw arms that possess that kind of velocity, he's farm from being wildly inaccurate. In fact, his ability to throw hard, command the strike zone, and limit hard contact is extremely well regarded, and is largely why he checked in as the #2 prospect in Miami's system, according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Yes, Miami's system is thin, but the 4.12 K/BB and 1.00 WHIP he posted in 131.2 innings between A+ Jupiter and AA Jacksonville were no fluke, nor is the fact that he's allowed just 14 homers in 380 career minor league innings - a stat that must make the brass who watched 81 games in Great American Ball Park extra excited.
(MLB Trade Rumors made note that Castillo was originally traded to the Padres in last year's large Andrew Cashner trade only to be returned to Miami when Colin Rea, another arm in that deal, suffered a UCL tear in his first appearance, making this another time they've agreed to part with an arm that's otherwise highly coveted. That's a fair and honest point, of course, but it's also worth emphasizing that when the deal became official, the Marlins become the 5th team Straily has been on since January of 2015, so there's inherent transition on both sides of this deal.)
Joining Castillo in coming to the Reds is righty reliever Austin Brice, a power arm that could only definitively be called a reliever as of the middle of last year. Up to that point, he'd operated almost exclusively as a starter in Miami's system after being selected in the 9th round of the 2010 draft out of high school in North Carolina, but a mid-year switch to the bullpen while with AA Jacksonville allowed him to excel. The hard throwing righty - whose fastball averaged over 94 mph in his initial big league callup - faced 172 batters at the AA and AAA levels as a reliever last year, limiting them to just a .185/.246/.318 line in those PAs, and though his initial work in the big leagues was rough on the surface (11 ER in 14 IP), he owned a solid 1.00 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 in that limited time.
The wild card in the trade at this point is OF Isaiah White, Miami's 3rd round selection from the 2015 Draft. With just 333 MiLB PAs under his belt and an extremely raw profile, it's hard to truly project him at this point, but his ceiling is high enough to land him 16th on MLB Pipeline's list of the Top 30 prospects in Miami's system prior to the trade. (Brice, as you'll notice in that link, ranked 9th). He hit just .214/.306/.301 in 51 G in the New York-Pennsylvania League last year and has 106 strikeouts in his limited MiLB career to date, but he has the potential to be a plus CF and excellent base stealer should the rest of his tools continue to progress. He just turned 20 years old two weeks ago, so there's still a ton of time to let him develop, as well.
This is not to underscore Dan Straily or to suggest that he had zero value. In fact, having shown that he's durable, that he can be effective again after a dip in production, and having four controllable years while still in his prime age range made him a guy that would've still been able to help the Reds both now and when they're ready to compete again. Cashing in by trading him was only one portion of this transaction, however, as Straily's departure now opens another spot in the Cincinnati rotation for the young arms that have been the backbone of the rebuild's direction to this point.
With Straily gone, the top of a rotation featuring Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey, and Brandon Finnegan now has space for both Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson, two arms that need big league innings to further their development after having already plodded through AAA. And with Amir Garrett looming with a likely mid-May callup (for service time reasons), there's enough talent and depth in the current and future rotations to make moving Straily palatable even if his presumed regression isn't as steep as the peripheral numbers would suggest. Adding Castillo to that depth (he'll likely start at AA Pensacola) and Brice to help bolster the bullpen - now and going forward - was likely an easy call for Dick Williams & Co., and will certainly go down solid on-paper as the first major move of his new administration.
Both Castillo and Brice need to be added to Cincinnati's 40-man roster, which means at least one current member of the Reds will need to be moved to clear room. That'll surely be announced shortly.