ARLINGTON, Texas — After sending closer Kendall Graveman to the Astros, in a largely unpopular trade among the team and most of the fan base, the Mariners, specifically general manager Jerry Dipoto, turned to a familiar dance partner, the Tampa Bay Rays, to acquire a new closer, Diego Castillo.
In his 13th trade with Tampa, Dipoto found a suitable replacement for Graveman this season, acquiring hard-throwing right-hander Castillo in exchange for right-handed reliever J.T. Chargois and minor league third baseman Austin Shenton, who was rated as the No. 12 prospect in the organization by Baseball America.
“Diego has been among the league’s better relievers since coming on the scene in 2018,” Dipoto said in a statement. “We believe this move adds impact to our pen, both now and in the years ahead.”
Dipoto said discussions on this deal began a few days before he made the Graveman trade, which is a reason he seemed confident in saying more moves would come a few days ago.
“This was the next part of that,” Dipoto said in a video media conference Thursday evening. “We felt like there was a chance that we could get this across the goal line. Today, it really picked up, and we were able to you know get to the right marriage on a second player in the deal, which we knew we were going to have to add in order to make it work. Ultimately we arrived at Austin Shenton, which was painful for us. We really like Austin. He can really hit. He’s a great kid, but you have to give to get.”
Castillo, 27, has converted 14 saves in 16 opportunities this year as Tampa Bay’s primary closer. Beginning June 23, he has posted 10 consecutive scoreless outings. pitching a total of nine innings. During that span, he’s struck out 11 batters and walked one, while holding opponents to a .069 batting average. The last run he allowed came against the Mariners on June 20 at T-Mobile Park.
The Mariners play the Rays next week in the second series of a three-city road trip.
“He’s been consistently good since he came to the big leagues,” Dipoto said. “He’s just 27 years old. He strikes them out. He throws strikes and is surprisingly athletic for a big guy. We’re really happy to have him, and he seems to be a wonderful guy based on my first interaction. He’ll fit in very well with what I think is a super clubhouse here.”
Castillo also has 14 postseason appearances, posting a 1.08 ERA in 16 2/3 innings pitched with 20 strikeouts and eight walks.
“Those kinds of experiences are a big deal,” Dipoto said. “And he’s been in the really in the hottest fire there is in leverage innings against real lineups and I guess lived to tell the tale.”
Given all that success, why would the Rays trade Castillo?
While he does have three more years of club control, which is something the Mariners prioritized in any deadline deal, they are all arbitration years, meaning his salary will increase steadily over the next three seasons. The Rays often trade players once they reach arbitration eligibility to control their limited payroll budget.
MLB sources said the Rays had also grown frustrated with Castillo’s conditioning and offseason work habits. They think some significant weight gain over the past few seasons — he’s listed at 250 pounds — have made him less effective and less reliable, believing he has trouble bouncing back after outings.
But his stuff is undeniable. He has two fastballs — a sinker, which averages 94.8 mph, that he uses more often and a four-seam, which averages 95.5, that he throws at the top of the strike zone. His slider is a wipeout pitch. He’s thrown it 407 times out of his 578 total pitches and generated swings and misses on 40% of them.
With veteran closer Ken Giles and hard-throwing prospect Andres Munoz recovering from Tommy John surgery in Arizona and expected to be ready next season, the Mariners’ projected bullpen for 2022 should have plenty of power arms with current holdovers Drew Steckenrider, Erik Swanson, Paul Sewald, Anthony Misiewicz, Casey Sadler and Keynan Middleton.
“We still have two months of this season to play,” Dipoto said. “So we’re hopeful that this group can be as formidable. But anticipating Andres Munoz and Ken Giles joining this group in 2022 is pretty exciting.”
Chargois, 30, has made 31 relief appearances for the Mariners this season. He went 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA (10 earned runs in 30 innings pitched) with 23 hits allowed, six walks and 29 strikeouts. Chargois held opponents to a .217 (23×106) batting average and proved to be versatile, pitching in a variety of roles and showing the ability to be more than a one-inning reliever.
The Mariners are definitely selling high on Chargois considering he was signed as a free agent this offseason to a minor league contract with an invite to MLB spring training. He didn’t make the Mariners opening day roster coming out of spring training but has excelled since being called up.
Shenton, 23, is a Bellingham native whom the Mariners took in the fifth round of the 2019 draft out of Florida International. He has appeared in 67 games between High-A Everett (57) and Double-A Arkansas (10) this season, batting .300 (80 for 267) with 61 runs, 29 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 61 RBI, 45 walks and 72 strikeouts.
So is Dipoto done?
“I’ve said all along that we were focused on doing what we could to improve our team now, and to continue to improve our team for 2022 and beyond,” Dipoto said. “We feel like we’ve accomplished that. I can’t tell you that we will make another deal between now and the deadline, but we’re not intentionally done. If we’re done, it’s just because we weren’t able to get anything across, but we do have other things going.”
Dipoto is still looking to add a proven MLB hitter and would also look to add to starting pitching depth even with the acquisition of lefty Tyler Anderson from the Pirates. Anderson is a rental player, who will be a free agent after the season.
“We’re certainly open to it,” Dipoto said. “We have been very active this week on a lot of fronts. As you’ve seen with these moves that we’ve made, we are very cognizant of the present and the future. We are much more interested in the notion of a controllable starting pitcher, if we can achieve that. If we can’t, it’s unlikely that we would go with another short-term addition.”
They would consider a rental hitter for the lineup.
“If we can add another bat to help this club, we’re going to be pretty active in the hours ahead to see if we can do that,” Dipoto said. “We’re doing what we can do to make sure that we are as good as we can be in ’21 while as best we can, not taking away any meaningful part of what we’re doing building for the future.”
It’s been an active day for teams vying for the wild card spots. The A’s who lead Seattle by two games for the second wild card spot, added All-Star outfielder Starling Marte. The Yankees, who trail Seattle by a game, made two huge moves for two huge players, acquiring lefty slugger Joey Gallo from the Rangers and then Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Seattle closes out the road trip with four games at Yankee Stadium.
Dipoto won’t get caught in a trade race with other teams.
“We’re not going to empty the coffer to try to keep up with what others are doing on trade deadline day,” he said. “We’re one of the youngest teams in the league. The fact that we’re here has surprised many. We don’t want to forsake the fact that our players did a wonderful job in getting us here and deserve our help. There are a lot of ways that we can get better without going to market and just trying to pour it out to keep up.“