A little more than two years ago the Cincinnati Reds persuaded the Miami Marlins to trade five years of Anthony DeSclafani for one year of Mat Latos. Latos made 16 starts for Miami before he was
dumped traded to the LA Dodgers. DeSclafani has earned 4.5+ WAR for the Reds in the intervening two seasons. At the time, a one-for-one trade didn’t seem fair … so the Marlins also sent catcher Chad Wallach to the Reds.
Against that backdrop, today the Reds traded Dan Straily to the Marlins for three minor league players – Luis Castillo, Austin Brice and Isaiah White.
Sequels are rarely as good as the original. There are important differences in the two trades and it would be absurd to expect the same lopsided outcome. Still, it’s not too hard to see today’s move ending up as the Joe Nuxhall Way version of The Dark Knight, if not The Godfather Part II.
The Reds picked up Dan Straily (now 28) from the Padres off the waiver wire last April 1. Straily had spent most of last spring trying to make the Houston Astros roster. As I wrote the day after the Reds grabbed him, Straily wasn’t garden-variety curb shopping:
Straily was out of options, which is why the Padres had to put him on waivers before they could send him to the minors. Feels like Straily was on the borderline of majors/minors for the Astros and Padres. That puts him squarely on the major league side in the Reds organization right now. He’s had experience starting and relieving, he could swing back and forth and serve as a long reliever in the bullpen. He’s young enough and with the raw stuff that this was a good choice for the Reds, all things (like injuries to the entire starting rotation) considered. He’s better than five of the pitchers who will make the Opening Day roster. Straily is no Jason Marquis.
Wishful thinking: Straily puts in a solid two months with the Reds who can then trade him as a starter at the deadline. Dose of reality: Straily’s 4.71 career big league FIP.
Kudos to the front office for jumping on him.
As one of the few healthy pitchers in the organization at the time, Dan Straily made his first start for the Reds on April 18, after three multi-inning appearances as a reliever. The right-hander made 31 starts, tied with Brandon Finnegan for most on the team. He threw a club-leading 191 innings.
Straily finished the season with a glittery-enough ERA of 3.76, a full half-run better than the average for National League starters. Instead of wearing down as the season progressed, Straily pitched better the second half.
Reports circulated at the 2016 trade deadline that the Reds were fielding offers for Straily. But the club held on and Straily rewarded their patience. Going forward, Dan Straily will be paid league minimum again this season, having just missed the Super Two cutoff. The Marlins acquired four years of his services and will use him as a starter.
Were he not traded, and given the way Straily had pitched in 2016, he would have secured a spot near the top of the Reds’ 2017 starting rotation. But as Nick Carrington wrote in September, odds are that Straily will have trouble duplicating anything near his 2016 ERA performance. Every time the Reds gave him the ball in 2017 it would have been forfeiting a sorting opportunity for younger and more promising arms.
Dan Straily’s most valuable role for the 2017 Reds might have been as a multiple-innings reliever. But anytime you can trade a player with that role to an organization that projects him as a starter, you do it. We wish Dan Straily the best with the Marlins (except when he faces the Reds, of course.)
Luis Castillo (24, RHP) is the headliner return in the trade. The San Francisco Giants signed Castillo out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. He pitched out of the bullpen in the Giants organization. The Marlins acquired Castillo in a trade during the 2015 season and converted him to a starter. He pitched at A/A+ in 2015 and A+ for most of 2016. Castillo finished 2016 with three starts for AA Jacksonville.
Castillo, who turned 24 last month, is relatively old for his league. To provide context, he is older than Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan and Robert Stephenson, and a bit younger than Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen. His switch from reliever to starter may partly explain Castillo’s slow progress.
Heading into the 2017 season, Castillo’s ratings in the Marlins system ranged between #1 (Prospect361) to #5 (MLB Pipeline). Most (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law) have him #2. Keep in mind that every major league organization has to have a #1 and #2 prospect. They are far from equal.
Castillo has a fastball in the 94-97 range and occasionally hits 100. He throws a slider and is developing a change-up. The bad news is his strikeout rate as a starter is relatively low for a pitcher with his stuff. The good news is Castillo has steadily improved his control. Last year he had 91 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 117 innings in A+. That’s a double-take K to BB ratio of 5:1. He also works low in the zone, producing a good ground ball rate.
Scouting reports with varying degrees of optimism:
“(Luis Castillo) has premium stuff with a fastball that can bump triple-digits and a slider with a nasty two-plane break. He also shows a feel for a change-up. What improved this year was his ability to throw strikes. He repeated his mechanics much better and the results were impressive. Assuming he stays healthy, and sometimes converted relievers don’t, he has the ceiling of a number two starter. He should begin 2017 back in Double-A with a chance to see Triple-A, or even the majors later in the year.” Prospect 361
“He profiles as a mid-rotation starter that should likely start 2017 in the upper minors, whether AA or AAA, and could see time in Miami this season.” Benjamin Chase, Marlin Maniac website
“Luis Castillo sustainable upper-90s velo, inconsistent, slurvy breaker (he’s already 24), fringe change. #3/4 if you squint hard enough.” Eric Longenhagen, lead prospect analyst at FanGraphs
Baseball America projects Castillo as the Marlins #2 starter in 2020.
Austin Brice (24, RHP) was born in Hong Kong but attended high school in North Carolina. The Marlins selected him in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. They assigned Brice to the starting rotation where he pitched through 2015. Miami converted Brice to a reliever in the 2015 Arizona fall league. He split time between the rotation and bullpen last year, jumping from AA to AAA. Brice made 15 appearances (Brooks Baseball) for the Marlins last year, all in the bullpen, mostly in September.
Brice doesn’t make most Marlins top-10 prospects lists, although MLB Pipeline has him at #9. The scouting reports on him are consistent. Big arm. Reliever profile.
Austin Brice a pure bullpen arm, I’ve seen him up to 97 with a 6 breaking ball and he throws strikes. Low slot limits use vs LHBs. Eric Longenhagen
Good fastball/curveball combination resulting in 2.85 ERA in 98 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, 86/30 K/BB; looks like he could fit best in relief with trial on tap in September and next year. John Sickels
Brice’s fastball averaged 95.5 MPH in his brief tenure in the major leagues. He did throw mostly two-seamers and that’s what led to his 54.5% ground ball rate. He complements his heavy two-seamer with a nice 80 MPH curve ball and a slider that also got it’s share of swing and miss. He does throw a change-up but he shelved it once he moved to the bullpen. Brice has good stuff and the size to pitch at the highest level. His control has improved as he’s gone through the development process and it was enough to pitch in relief. Prospect 361
Brice really made a jump in 2016 in AA-ball in his control, cutting his BB/9 from 4.95 to 2.80. Ignore his stats from the 14 innings for the Marlins, especially the ERA (7.07). He gave up 0 ER in 10 of his 15 games, with 7 clean appearances.
Isaiah White (20, barely) was a third-round selection out of high school by the Marlins in the 2015 draft. He’s a RH hitting outfielder. White spent the rest of 2015 in rookie ball and 2016 playing for A-Batavia Muckdogs (seriously) in the New York-Penn league. In 299 plate appearances, he’s shown no power yet (1 home run), has 104 strikeouts and walked 25 times.
Notably, Baseball Prospectus ranks White #10 in the Marlins system and White has been in Baseball America Marlins top 10. Scouting reports shout stolen base/raw athlete:
Isaiah White: Good frame, some bat speed, runs well, lotta work to do to get him hitting in-games. CIN has a horde of good athletes on farm. Eric Longenhagen
Third round pick from North Carolina high school in 2015, very raw but has blazing speed and some power potential, very high ceiling but a long-term project; hitting just .223/.318/.308 in New York-Penn League; still just 19. John Sickels
White’s speed would pinpoint him a center fielder, but his lack of arm strength has placed him in left field at the start of his professional career. He likens the speed of Marlins favorite, Dee Gordon, but doesn’t have the extra step advantage out of the box like a left-handed hitter. Power likely won’t be a considerable part of White’s game, however he is known to have great bat speed, meaning some power could develop as he develops. Travis Koch, Fish Stripes
Isaiah White could be a Billy Hamilton or possibly a Rajai Davis if he gains some pop. Travis Koch
That last quote was added for Chad’s pleasure. Additional: In high school, White was a perfect 31 for 31 in stolen base attempts, and 13 for 13 in rookie ball.
(Please note, I’m not saying Isaiah White will become Billy Hamilton.)
Maybe Dan Straily can manage to keep all the plates in the air a little while longer and hang out in the neighborhood of league average starting pitchers. Or maybe he reverts to his pre-2016 AAAA-form. Either way, the Reds are on track to have five better starters by 2018, not counting any of today’s acquisitions. Dan Straily, at best, would have been a reliever for the Rebuilt Reds.
In return, the club acquired a promising starting pitcher prospect, a solid bullpen prospect and a Billy Hamilton-type lottery ticket. Chances are decent that, at a minimum, either Castillo or Brice (or both) will be better relievers than Straily would have been. Yes, the players the Reds acquired today are still prospects and could fail to make a major league contribution. Without a doubt, Dan Straily could provide more major league value than the three of them combined. We’ll know in a few years.
The trade isn’t likely to nudge either club’s W-L needle much. But the decision to move Dan Straily is an example of the Reds front office making tough choices to enhance the Rebuild. Falling in love with Straily because of his 2016 ERA would be the opposite of that.
Sitting here today, this sure looks like the Reds selling at peak value on a player. A welcome change from their pattern of holding on too long.