With Detroit in a rebuild and one of its best players, right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, only under control for another year, this weekend may be his last as a Tiger. But general manager Avila suggested Saturday that the team’s not a sure bet to trade Castellanos during the offseason.
“Where he fits in the future of the Detroit Tigers, we’re still working through that at this point. But right now, I see him as our starting right fielder in 2019,” Avila said (Twitter links via Jason Beck of MLB.com).
Avila added that revenue sharing could factor into whether the Tigers keep Castellanos, given that they may go from paying it to collecting it. As Beck notes, by becoming a revenue sharing collector, Detroit would stand to receive a more valuable compensatory draft pick should it retain Castellanos through next season, issue him a qualifying offer after the campaign and then watch him depart in free agency.
Offensively, Castellanos has made a case that he’s a qualifying offer-worthy player since 2016 – his breakout season. And the former top prospect’s now on the verge of wrapping up his best campaign at the plate, having slashed .297/.354/.495 (129 wRC+) with 22 home runs in 670 trips. Castellanos has posted a terrific .362 weighted on-base average along the way, though his .388 xwOBA (via Statcast) suggests he has deserved even better results.
Although Castellanos has emerged as a key offensive piece, he hasn’t established himself on the other end. After struggling as a third baseman from 2014-17, Detroit moved Castellanos to the outfield on a full-time basis this year, but the returns haven’t been encouraging. Castellanos ranks last among outfielders in Outs Above Average (minus-25), third worst in Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-12.9) and fifth from the bottom in Defensive Runs Saved (minus-19). The 26-year-old’s limitations as a defender obviously help tamp down his impact, but thanks to his prowess as a hitter, he has still posted 2.8 wins above replacement. Castellanos has been a valuable player this year, then, and the Tigers will have to decide whether to continue with him in 2019 – his third and final arbitration-eligible season, in which he’ll earn a raise over his current salary of $6.05MM – or deal him during the winter.
Along with making a decision on Castellanos, Avila revealed that catcher, second base and shortstop will be among his areas of focus in the offseason (Twitter links via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). The Tigers will have a “tough” call to make on catcher James McCann, Avila admitted, adding: “We have not made any decisions yet, but he’s one guy that we have to look at and determine do we bring him back or not?”
McCann, 28, looked like a promising piece for the Tigers as recently as 2017, but he has limped to a .220/.267/.314 (58 wRC+) batting line in 453 PA this season. Both that and his his subpar defensive work (per Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner) have seemingly put his Detroit tenure in jeopardy. On the heels of a rough 2018, in which he earned $2.375MM, McCann’s slated to go through arbitration for the second-last time in the offseason.
While McCann’s future is unclear, it’s obvious Avila plans to address the team’s middle infield, where shortstop Jose Iglesias is among its pending free agents.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sign both but at least we’ll try to sign one,” Avila said of the two middle infield spots.
Going by fWAR (2.5), Iglesias was the Tigers’ second-most valuable position player this year before suffering a season-ending abdominal strain in late August. Never much of a threat at the plate, the 28-year-old Iglesias managed passable offensive production, as his .269/.310/.389 line and 90 wRC+ in 464 PA show, while providing his typical brand of plus defense (8.3 UZR, one DRS).
Whether the Tigers are interested in re-signing Iglesias is unknown, but it’s worth noting they reportedly had him on the trading block for the majority of the past couple years. Assuming his Tigers tenure is over, Iglesias will be one of the most proven non-Manny Machado shortstops available in free agency. It seems the Tigers will be prepared to sift through that group of players, given that they might not have an immediate Iglesias replacement on hand.
Detroit may also be lacking a capable starter at second heading into the offseason, but it’s possible it could turn to Niko Goodrum as its main option there. After inking a minors deal with the Tigers last offseason, Goodrum, 26, has batted a solid .244/.313/.433 (102 wRC+) with 16 HRs and 12 steals on 16 attempts across 486 trips to the plate. Goodrum has spent the majority of 2018 at the keystone, where he has racked up 64 appearances, but has also recorded double-digit showings at first, short, third and in the outfield.
The Tigers may want to keep Goodrum in a similar type of utility role next year, especially if aging, big-bodied first baseman Miguel Cabrera sees more time at designated hitter in the wake of Victor Martinez’s retirement. In that event, Detroit could look to free agency for help, to which Avila alluded. There will be some veteran stopgaps on the open market, perhaps including Brian Dozier, Logan Forsythe, old friend Ian Kinsler, Neil Walker and Josh Harrison.
Now on the cusp of wrapping up their second straight season as one of baseball’s worst teams, it’s fair to say the Tigers won’t be operating as aggressive buyers in the offseason. The rebuilding club still has some intriguing offseason calls ahead, though, particularly with respect to Castellanos.