You know the drill well by this point.
Small budget team either struggles to win, or struggles to keep their payroll in check while squeezing out the wins they can. Major League Baseball is a monopoly, mind you, and there are only 30 franchises out there, meaning the total market for impact players is pretty well fixed. As a result, the teams with resources to shop are always, always shopping, with some able to afford the Maseratis or the Gucci handbags more than some of their peers.
Luis Castillo, resident ace of the Cincinnati Reds, got off to a dismal start to the 2021 season, posting an ERA over his first 10 starts that made you want to rub your eyes until they bled. Nevertheless, he quickly turned that around and has pitched like the dazzler he truly is since then. But with the Reds being frugal on an obvious level and Castillo now in the midst of his arbitration years, it’d be ostrich-head-in-sand to assume the sharks out there would do anything other than circle the Reds.
That’s happening again, as Jon Morosi of MLB Network relayed.
Baseball update: Luis Castillo is one of the most coveted pitchers on the @MLB trade market, with a 1.76 ERA over his past 9 starts. For now, however, a trade remains unlikely. Castillo, 28, isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season. @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 24, 2021
Look, elite starting pitchers do not grow on trees, and if they did, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox would own all of the trees. Instead, they have to identify the obvious ones out there in the vacuum-league in which they play, and make it well known that they’re interested even when the teams who employ those pitchers ain’t about to give them away.
Every now and then, though, a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates goes bonkers to get a Chris Archer, and a team like Tampa says yes. The Chicago White Sox transformed their entire team in the Chris Sale deal. If you’re the Reds, you listen, because you work with these other front offices and it’d be an ass move not to - but you make it very, very clear that it means a franchise-altering return needed to trade a franchise-altering starting pitcher like Castillo.
I’m not going to get worked up over this right now. Not this time, at least. If the Reds chose to cash-in on Castillo right now, there’s still the argument that whatever they got in return paired with what’s still around on this roster could still cobble together an outside chance at the playoffs this year, and the idea of a rotation featuring Sonny Gray, Wade Miley, Tyler Mahle, Vlad Gutierrez, Tony Santillan, and [coughs] Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo next year does at least make you tingly a bit.
What’s clear in all of this, though, is that it’s less because these Reds need to rebuild that has the sharks circling, and more because other franchises know this Reds team is being cheap. Castillo’s going to get a hefty arbitration raise this winter, and it sure doesn’t look like the Reds are going to guarantee big money extensions to anyone given their abdication of bullpen management dating back to last year despite this team being otherwise built to win. So, this shark-circle is merely a byproduct of the larger implications here - baseball is a big, big business, and when a selling club has a pretty piece, well, that potential transaction is going to stick out like a sore thumb for all to see.