After trading Sonny Gray, the Reds don't need to deal Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo (58) walks off the mound.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo (58) walks off the mound. / Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content

The Cincinnati Reds traded away starting pitcher Sonny Gray on Sunday afternoon. While it was a bitter pill for the Cincinnati faithful to swallow, dealing one of their starting pitchers was a necessary move. Now, with two open spots in the rotation and Gray's $10.2M salary off the books, the Reds have no reason to deal Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle.

Heading into the offseason, it was almost a forgone conclusion that the Reds were going to trade at least one of their starting pitchers. After watching the front office let Wade Miley go for nothing, it was painfully obvious that Cincinnati was looking to slash payroll again this offseason.

After the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Reds' front office non-tender Archie Bradley and traded Raisel Iglesias. Both moves were viewed as cost-cutting measures on behalf of the Cincinnati Reds ownership, as was waiving Miley earlier this offseason. The same can be said for trading Sonny Gray, but at least the Reds receiving a fair amount of compensation in return.

For the Reds, trading Sonny Gray was necessary.

I'm not here to debate whether trading Sonny Gray makes the Cincinnati Reds better or worse; I think we all know the answer to that question. But, it was highly unlikely that Cincinnati was going to pick up Gray's $12M team-option following the 2022 season, so getting a young prospect like Chase Petty was the prudent thing to do.

Furthermore, Gray didn't have a great season in 2021, due in part to his three trips to the injured list last season. Gray's ERA steadily increased over the past three seasons. Gray's ERA+ took a hit in 2021, dropping from 133 to 114, and his strikeout-rate dipped as well, going from 30.6% in 2020 to 27.0% last season.

But trading Gray was more about the future of the Cincinnati Reds rotation than anything else. The Reds have two former first-round picks in Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo who are major league-ready. The Reds invested heavily in both pitchers, and the duo is expected to lead Cincinnati's rotation into the future.

Throw into the mix Vladimir Gutierrez and Reiver Sanmartin, and the Reds rotation is starting to look overcrowded. There's also hard-throwing right-hander Graham Ashcraft. Ranked as Cincinnati's seventh-best prospect per MLB Pipeline, Ashcraft was dominant at times during his 2021 minor league campaign and was invited to big league camp this spring.

By my count, the Reds have seven would-be starters who could see action in 2022, and that's not including Riley O'Brien. There's also Tony Santillan who saw four starts last season, but seemed to be a better fit out of the Cincinnati bullpen.

Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo should now be off limits in trade talks.

With Sonny Gray now part of the Minnesota Twins organization, the Cincinnati Reds front office should stop fielding calls for Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo. Rumored to be on the trade block since the end of last season, the Redlegs need that pair of right-handers to begin the 2022 season.

Now, if things go south and the Reds are 10-plus games out of the Wild Card spots by the All-Star break, I fully expect to hear both Mahle and Castillo emerge as potential targets at the trade deadline. Teams who are desperate for starting pitching will no doubt look to Cincinnati as a possible trade partner.

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But, for now, Nick Krall should hang up the phone if anyone inquires about the possibility of trading for Tyler Mahle or Luis Castillo. As it stands, there's no dominant team in the NL Central, and if the dominoes fall just right, Cincinnati could be in contention for the division crown.