Before I get into any of this, I want to preface that the Blue Jays rotation is far from an issue. Relative to most teams in MLB, the Jays have one of the more consistent groups, and have yet to find themselves scrambling to find starters. That being said, with Hyun Jin Ryu now out for the remainder of the season, added to Yusei Kikuchi‘s recent struggles, and Nate Pearson still a question mark, there exist a few cracks that could be real issues in the future.
There shouldn’t be any panic at the moment, especially how well Ross Stripling has done filling that fifth rotation slot, posting a 3.46 ERA over 26 innings as a starter, but if the Jays really want to compete for a World Series this season, they might want to look at bolstering their staff.
With that out of the way, I want to take a look at two starting pitchers who came up a lot in discussions about the Blue Jays rotation during the offseason, Luis Castillo and Frankie Montas. I know these are probably the two least imaginative names to put out there, but the reality is that they’re the two best available arms, and the Jays are one of few contending teams with the pieces to acquire them.
Both of these pitchers are set hit hit arbitration after the 2022 season, and are both set to hit free agency the following year. With their contract situations being virtually identical, it’s a matter of looking at each pitcher to see whether the Blue Jays should want them, what they could bring to the team, and how much they could cost.
If you want to hear what I thought about Castillo in the offseason, I wrote about him a bit in a piece I did a few months ago, which you can see right here, but I’ll go over all of the important information again. Castillo, who’s currently in his age 29 season, has spent his whole MLB career with the Reds and has been a very streaky pitcher, to say the least. He really broke out in the first half of the 2019 season, when he posted a 2.29 ERA over 106 innings and was named to the National League All-Star team. He struggled in the second half however, and finished the season with a 3.40 ERA over 190.2 innings.
This inconsistency is something that has plagued Castillo throughout his career since, despite having a 3.58 ERA and 132 ERA+ over 487.1 innings in the past four seasons, and that time frame has been filled with both elite and horrific stretches. For example, he posted a 4.65 first-half ERA in the first half of 2021 but was able to put up a 3.18 ERA in the second half. As for 2022, Castillo’s start to the season was delayed by injury, and he didn’t make his first appearance until May 9th, against the Brewers. After letting up three earned runs in just 4.2 innings pitched in that start, he’s posted a 2.88 ERA over 34.1 innings in his last six outings.
Castillo is a true four-pitch pitcher, using his sinker, changeup, fastball, and slider all more than 20% of the time thus far in 2022. His four-seam fastball, which averages around 96 mph but has touched triple digits at times, has been by far his most effective pitch this season, producing a .155 wOBA, but peripherals actually rank it as his worst pitch thus far, producing a .349 xwOBA. Baseball savant also has him in the 84th percentile for barrel percentage, which could be very useful, considering certain Blue Jays pitchers have struggled to limit hard contact.
While he’s obviously had success pitching throughout his career, the majority of Castillo’s appeal lies in his potential. He has a plus fastball, but it’s his changeup that really sets him apart. It acts sort of like a less pronounced version of Kevin Gausman’s splitter, with plenty of arm-side run, and his willingness to throw his sinker and slider into the mix makes the pitch even more deadly. A lot of people talk about Blue Jays pitching coach, Pete Walker, bringing the best out of pitchers who have yet to reach their potential, and Castillo feels like he has all the tools to be a top-tier starter down the stretch if the Jays were to acquire him.
There’s still obviously the question of what would he cost, and I think it would be some combination of one of the Blue Jays better pitching prospects, along with another solid position player. Given what they gave up to get Jose Berrios last season, who was in a similar situation, I think the deal would probably look something like Jordan Groshans and CJ Van Eyk going to Cincinnati in return for Castillo. This may seem like a high price for a year and half of a pitcher who’s known to be streaky, but this is a similar combination of a top 100 hitting prospect with power concerns along with one of the team’s better pitching prospects, like in the aforementioned Berrios deal. If this didn’t bet the job done, I think Orelvis Martinez is a name that could come up in talks, but I’m unsure how willing the Jays would be to move him. I think there will certainly be other suitors, but if the Jays were offered this deal, I would take it in a heartbeat.
Entering the 2021 season, A’s starter, Frankie Montas, was one of the funniest stories in baseball to me. It felt like every year people would hype him up as a big breakout candidate and a Cy Young dark horse, only for him to get hurt and miss most of the season. That did not happen in 2021. Montas put together the first full season of his career, posting a 3.37 ERA over 187 innings, finished tied for first in the American League with 32 starts, and sixth in CY Young voting. In 2022 he’s picked up right where he left off, as he currently has a 3.40 ERA and is tied for the AL lead in starts, with 13.
Over the course of a year, Montas has gone from a pitcher who could never quite breakout, to a model of consistency. His 107 ERA+ in 2022 may not be overly impressive, but his peripherals show that his numbers could improve throughout the season. His baseball savant is filled with red dots, highlighted by his chase rate, which is in the 93rd percentile. Similar to Castillo, he utilizes his fastball, splitter, sinker, and slider all more than 15% of the time, with an occasional cutter thrown in there. His splitter in particular is what generates the best results, as he’s posted a .210 wOBA with it in 2022. All signs point to Montas being a very solid pitcher who could instantly improve the team that acquires him. This is where I have to make a confession though.
In the case of Luis Castillo, I think he’ll be worth what a team pays for him. He has some really special traits and I think he could be a serious difference-maker in a playoff run. While I think Montas will certainly make whatever team trades for him better, I feel like the price that will ultimately be paid for him might be too high. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a good pitcher, I just don’t know if he’s anything more than that. I’m not a pitching expert or anything, but I just don’t see the big upside in Montas that other people seem to.
Regardless, I said that I think whoever acquires Montas will have to overpay, and I think if the Blue Jays were to acquire him, it would be the same as the Castillo, deal. Groshans (or maybe Martinez) and Van Eyk for Montas. This is now the part where I’m going to contradict myself. I think in this specific case, an overpay is worth it. The reality of the situation is that the Blue Jays want to win the World Series this year, and Jordan Groshans and CJ Van Eyk, as good as they could be, aren’t going to help them accomplish that. Frankie Montas can, and for that reason’s I would be willing to overpay in pursuit of a World Series.