TODAY: Avila addressed the comments today, telling MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery (Twitter links) and other media that “That’s something where he felt like he needed to express that publicly. That’s fine. [The comments] have no effect on the team or his performance or anything like that. He’ll come in in great shape. He’ll come in and compete and he’ll be one of our better hitters in the lineup and I expect him to have a great season.” The general manager also reiterated that a trade “can’t be forced.”
THURSDAY: Nicholas Castellanos has seen his name bandied about the rumor circuit enough to know that the Tigers intend to trade him before this season’s non-waiver deadline, and his agent, David Meter, tells Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press that Castellanos would prefer to open Spring Training with a new team if it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be moved eventually anyhow. However, Detroit general manager Al Avila said today (link via Will Burchfield of 97.1 FM The Ticket) that the market for Castellanos has been “frustrating” and plainly stated that, “…right now, really, I don’t have anything going on,” with regard to Castellanos talks.
Castellanos, 27 in March, is entering his final season of club control and has already agreed to a $9.95MM salary for the upcoming season. It’s no secret that the Tigers are well into a large-scale rebuild, and as a pending free agent, Castellanos stands out as an obvious trade piece. The two sides have reportedly discussed long-term arrangements in the past but failed to find a common ground.
There’s little denying that Castellanos is a high-quality bat that could deepen the lineup for any contending club. Over the past three seasons, he’s batted a combined .285/.336/.495 with 67 home runs, 107 doubles and 19 triples in 1790 trips to the plate. He’s cut back on his strikeout rate over the past two seasons as well and, in 2018, notched a career-best 7.2 percent walk rate that helped him post a career-high .354 on-base percentage. Castellanos isn’t the premier slugger that the Tigers had on their hands in J.D. Martinez, but he’s also younger and less expensive.
Like Martinez, however, the primary knock on Castellanos is his outfield defense. The converted third baseman shifted to right field full-time last season due to poor defense at his original position, but the results in the outfield weren’t any better. Castellanos graded out extremely poorly (-19 DRS, -12.9 UZR and a league-worst -24 Outs Above Average), which makes him a tough sell to a National League club. While it’s probably fair to expect that his glovework can improve with more reps at a still relatively new position, any team acquiring Castellanos to play in the field regularly would do so knowing that he’d be giving back a portion of the value provided by his excellent bat.
Fenech reports that the Tigers’ asking price for Castellanos has been one “top-level” prospect, adding that Detroit would need to feel it was receiving better value than a potential pick in the 2020 draft. That indicates that the organization considers Castellanos a potential qualifying offer candidate following the ’19 season.
Beyond Castellanos’ defensive shortcomings, the Tigers are in a tough spot with regard to trading Castellanos given that several plausible suitors have recently filled holes in other ways. The Dodgers reportedly struck a deal with A.J. Pollock just a few hours ago, and the Braves re-signed Nick Markakis earlier this week. The Rays, meanwhile, signed Avisail Garcia last week, and the division-rival Twins, who could’ve viewed Castellanos as a DH candidate, instead signed Nelson Cruz to a one-year deal with an option.
The Astros were also said to be in on Cruz and stand out as a speculative on-paper fit for Castellanos, and the Indians are known to be seeking some additional outfield help. Perhaps the Phillies could view Castellanos as something of a fallback option if their higher-profile pursuits don’t pan out, but Rhys Hoskins’ poor defense in left field was a catalyst for this offseason’s trade of Carlos Santana, and Castellanos’ struggles were similar, if not more substantial, to those of Hoskins. The Giants are reportedly in the mix for outfield help but don’t seem likely to pay a premium for a one-year rental (and also surely are wary of the defensive question marks). Similar sentiments could apply to the White Sox.
Of course, teams interested in Castellanos also figure to be reluctant to pay a premium when there are still so many corner-outfield options available in free agency. Marwin Gonzalez, Adam Jones, Carlos Gonzalez, Denard Span and Derek Dietrich are just some of the many alternatives in free agency, and while Castellanos is a safe bet to outperform most of that bunch (excepting Marwin Gonzalez, perhaps), the cost of acquisition would be only money. In the case of all but Marwin, in fact, each of that bunch should cost less than Castellanos’ $9.95MM total commitment. The trade market also has alternatives in the form of Hunter Renfroe, Eric Thames and others.
It’s understandable that Castellanos would want to know his fate sooner rather than later, but at the same time, there’s a greater supply of players with his skill set (or close to it) than there is demand. An injury to a contending club’s designated hitter or corner outfielder in Spring Training could create a new suitor, however, so perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Castellanos if he’s still with the Tigers when camp opens.