Salk: The Mariners don’t look cheap while Luis Castillo dominates

Apr 17, 2023, 3:11 PM

Seattle Mariners Luis Castillo...

Mariners pitcher Luis Castillo tosses a ball in the dugout on April 15, 2023. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The biggest addition that the Seattle Mariners made for their 2023 team didn’t come in the offseason. It was their trade for starting pitcher Luis Castillo last July.

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Castillo, a two-time National League All-Star, was the best pitcher on the market before the 2022 MLB trade deadline, and even though multiple teams like the New York Yankees were reportedly interested in him, it was the Mariners whose offer was deemed the best by the Cincinnati Reds.

The Mariners already received a big return from Castillo last season, who excelled down the stretch and made two strong starts in the playoffs. Along the way, Seattle locked him up on a five-year, $108 million contract extension.

The 30-year-old right-hander has been even better to begin the 2023 season. In four starts, he’s allowed just two runs over 24 2/3 innings, striking out 26 while walking just four. He owns a 0.73 ERA and 0.608 WHIP, and his ERA+ stands at an eye-popping 586 (league average is 100). At this rate, he seems primed not only to make his third All-Star Game, but start for the American League in front of the home Seattle fans at T-Mobile Park.

“I think we need to appreciate what he has done so far,” Mike Salk said Monday on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “… This is complete dominance, honestly, and he’s doing it with his stuff, he’s doing it with his command, and I want to appreciate that this is a guy that was not supposed to start (the season) well. His issues were supposed to be not getting up for April games and not getting up for games that didn’t mean as much. So much for that idea. He is a man on a mission right now. He’s got all four pitches working, he’s hitting the corners, he can execute whatever it is he wants to throw.”

Salk isn’t just appreciating Castillo, though. He also spent time shining a light on the Mariners, saying that while some members of the team’s fan base have accused the team of being cheap, the trade for Castillo (and his subsequent extension) go against that narrative.

“He’s been unbelievable, so I do want to appreciate Luis Castillo. I also want to appreciate the Mariners for getting Luis Castillo,” Salk said. “People think that the Mariners are cheap, don’t want to win, don’t care, etc., when moves like that one I think are often left out of that conversation, and I think that’s unfair. They got exactly what they needed.”

Salk said that as the Mariners went through the phases of their rebuild that started after the 2018 season, it was known that “one of the last pieces” the team would need to find was an ace pitcher. The Houston Astros had done that, trading for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and the Chicago Cubs had added Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta prior to their 2016 World Series championship. Seattle, meanwhile, signed 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray prior to the 2022 season, then went big to make the trade for Castillo.

“They still needed to get a true ace, No. 1 pitcher, and they did at the deadline last year. They outbid the Yankees (for Castillo). They outbid everybody who wanted pitching,” Salk said. “(They chose) to not settle, to not (just) get the guy that was available, (but) to get the best. Luis Castillo was the best pitcher they could get. Better than (Yankees trade addition Frankie) Montas, better than whoever else moved at the deadline. Instead, they went for the best. That’s what you do when you’re trying to win championships.”

Salk said that while some may not be happy that the Mariners didn’t make splashy additions in free agency over the winter, the important thing is the team did what it had to do to get what was its biggest need – a pitcher like Castillo – and make sure he stays in Seattle.

“They got a young guy in his prime and then doubled down by signing him to a long-term extension. It’s hard for me to fathom how that part of the story gets left out. … It’s hugely important. I know he wasn’t signed as a free agent so it doesn’t count for a lot of people, but they did exactly what they needed to do – to not just get a good pitcher, not just get an available pitcher in free agency. Generally, by the way, those (free agents) are older and much a bigger risk as you’re seeing this year with (Yankees pitcher) Carlos Rodón and some of the other guys who have already been shut down. Even Robbie Ray, who in Year 2, has been shut down, and in Year 1 he was good, not great.”

Can Castillo bring a Cy Young to the Mariners?

The last time the Mariners had the AL Cy Young Award winner on their pitching staff was 2010 when Félix Hernández won the award. Does Castillo have the ability to be the next? Salk said that he spoke to former Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger late in the 2022 season, and Haniger believed Castillo was destined for great things in a Mariners uniform.

“One of the things (Haniger) told me that day is that Luis Castillo was going to win a Cy Young Award – probably this year,” Salk said. “That this guy, pitching in this ballpark with this defense, he’s going to win a Cy Young Award. And what you’re seeing right now through the first 16 games of the (Mariners’) season, through his first four starts of the season, is Cy Young-style dominance.

“He’s unhittable. He’s untouchable. He was nearly perfect (Sunday) – was perfect for six full innings. And if this continues over the course of this season, if we keep seeing this guy in not only the big games but every five games when you’re up against the Rockies and it’s just a random Sunday, well, that is going to be especially entertaining for every single Mariners fan.”

Listen to the full discussion from Monday’s Brock and Salk in the podcast below, just before the final segment of the hour.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Mariners Check-In: Status report on offseason departures
Goldsmith: Two veteran bats critical to Seattle Mariners’ success
Dipoto: Improved secondaries created ‘new ceiling’ for Logan Gilbert
Dipoto ‘not too worried’ about Kolten Wong’s slow start
Fann: Diving into Kelenic’s breakout, what it means for Seattle Mariners

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Salk: The Mariners don’t look cheap while Luis Castillo dominates