For La Piedra, it was the feeling of la familia that made him want to eschew the flexibility of his looming free agency and commit to the Mariners for the next five years and perhaps beyond.
Two days after announcing the signing of right-hander Luis Castillo to a five-year, $108 million contract, the Mariners held the formal news conference at T-Mobile Park to discuss the latest long-term commitment to a player.
“I’m just very happy that I’m finally able to join this family long term,” Castillo said through interpreter Freddy Llanos. “I’ve got to give everything, all my heart. We’re prepared to win the World Series. So let’s get out there and do it.”
Acquired by the Mariners from the Reds on July 30 for four minor-league prospects, Castillo has made 10 starts for Seattle, posting a 3-2 record with a 3.34 earned-run average. In 59 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 69 batters with 16 walks.
With four-plus pitches, including two variations of fastballs that reach 100 mph, a biting slider and swing-and-miss changeup, Castillo, 29, has moved to the top of the Mariners’ rotation and figures to be the No. 1 pitcher in a possible postseason appearance.
In 23 combined starts with Cincinnati and Seattle, he’s posted a 7-6 record with a 2.85 ERA with 41 walks and 154 strikeouts. He was named to the National League All-Star team for the second time in his career.
“We acquired Luis, like we have built the rest of this roster with the idea that we were building something that we wanted to maintain over time,” said Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations. “He is one of the best pitchers in baseball and has been for quite some time. What he’s done since he’s been with us in Seattle, reinforced for us that he fit. He goes by La Piedra for a reason.”
La Piedra is Spanish for “the Rock.”
“There is a presence to Luis every day when he steps out there that is good for our team,” Dipoto said. “As we build a championship model moving forward, it’s important to have players like that, players that carry that presence.”
But it was something that Castillo said in English to Dipoto shortly before the news conference that he found reassuring in their decision.
“The thing he said when he came upstairs today as we were getting prepared for this press conference was ‘I really feel like a part of the family,’” Dipoto said. “And that’s an important element as we try to build forward because that’s not always the case. But we’re thrilled that he feels that.”
With the entire coaching staff watching the news conference along with a few of his teammates, including Julio Rodriguez, Castillo talked about how they were key in his decision to commit to the Mariners.
Rodriguez playfully yelled “La Piedra” and mimicked the uppercut fist pump Castillo does after big strikeouts and ending difficult innings. Castillo could only smile at his precocious teammate.
“In Kansas City, I told Julio that I was going to be here for another five years,” Castillo said. “I just saw his face light up because I knew we were expecting big things.”
But it was the eclectic mix of personalities that still had the singular focus of winning that impressed Castillo.
“The first thing that really caught my attention was the personality of the team,” he said. “When I came in here and saw firsthand just the people here and how tight and competitive this team was, it was one of the things that convinced me the most. When I go up on the mound, I want to make sure that I’m giving the best that I can to go as far as I can. But it’s also having the guys around me with that same motivation that I have.”
Getting traded from the rebuilding Reds to a Mariners team fighting to end a miserable playoff drought has thrust Castillo into a new level of intensity.
“When I got here, I realized I’ve got to focus even more,” he said. “If everyone is giving 100%, then I’ve got to give 101%, give that little extra.”
The Mariners gave a little extra to lock up Castillo to a contract extension and keep him from hitting the free-agent market. After trying to trade for Castillo as a Class AA pitcher in the Marlins organization in 2016 and then later trying to acquire Castillo from the Reds in a deal for James Paxton, Dipoto finally got Castillo this season. Being able to keep him beyond the 2023 season was a hope but not a given.
“We thought we’d have a chance,” Dipoto said. “Largely we thought we’d have a chance because we were willing to spend the money to do it. It’s hard to do when players are entering the final year or years of their club control. You never know which way it’s going to go with free agency right there on the horizon. But we were willing to pay free-agent prices to make it happen, and ultimately, that’s what we did.”
The contract features a $7 million signing bonus with a 2023 salary of $10 million and an annual salary of $22.75 million from 2024-2027.
Castillo’s agent Rafa Nieves pushed for a six-year deal, but the Mariners preferred to have a five-year contract. They made it a potential six-year commitment with a unique club option for the 2028 season.
If Castillo were to suffer a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow from 2025-2027 and miss more than 130 consecutive days due to Tommy John surgery, the Mariners would get a $5 million conditional option for the 2028 season.
Castillo also has a vesting option for 2028 of $25 million if he pitches a minimum of 180 innings in 2027 and an independent physician determines he doesn’t have an injury that would cause him to start the 2028 season on the injured list.
The contract also includes a no-trade clause from 2023-25 and a $1 million bonus if he’s traded from 2025-2027.
“As we were finishing up the Julio deal with as long and as hard as we worked on different types of protections, I feel it’s something that we’ve came up with,” Dipoto said. “It’s largely because we’ve never done a contract for a pitcher longer than five years. The option was a way to counter the six years with an option based on the innings. If that doesn’t happen, we get another option. It’s a way to deliver potential upside for the player and protection for the club.”
The deal also includes a $500,000 bonus for winning a Cy Young Award and $250,000 for finishing second through fifth, a $100,000 bonus for being World Series MVP, $50,000 for League Championship Series MVP, $100,000 for Rivera/Hoffman reliever of the year, $50,000 for a Gold Glove or All-Star election and $25,000 for All-Star selection.